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Charleville's Chrisdina to feature in documentary about 'Life In Uni'

'Sharing my experiences was important to help break down barriers and stigmas within marginalised communities'

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A member of the Traveller community from Charleville is to feature in a fascinating new RTÉ documentary series charting the lives of seven students as they progress through third-level education.

Back in 2016 UCC student Chrisdina O'Neill opened up on the discrimination she faced during her time in primary school, saying she was often taken away from the mainstream classroom from other Travellers and her ability was not taken into consideration.

"I had good and bad experiences in school. In infant school, straight away, there were preconceived ideas that I needed to be taken out of the mainstream classroom and put into different classes with other members of the Traveller community. From very early on, they said that we were different," she said at the time.

"I used to ask why couldn't my friends come out with me because my best friend was from the settled community. I'd have to go out with the other Travellers. They said 'She stays here, you go out'."

Chrisdina said things changed dramatically when she went to secondary school, where she was shocked that teachers believed in her ability and encouraged her in class.

"I had the greatest, most dedicated teachers that I could ever know. They really influenced me and what I am going for now, in college. They were very good to me and they treated me like the rest of the class, which is what I really needed," she said.

In the new five-episode series 'My Uni Life, created in partnership between RTÉ and the Irish Universities Association, Chrisdina is one of two UCC students from Cork who will chart their path to third level education through UCC's Access and Participation programme.

The aim of the series is to shine the spotlight on the unique path of more than 5,000 students each year whose drive to succeed at third level education is facilitated by the programme.

It documents each of the featured students' journeys through university life as they deal with issues including the challenges of having a disability, overcoming the stereotypes often associated with socially disadvantaged backgrounds and having the courage to return to education as a mature student. Shot over the course of the last 12-months, 'My Uni Life' also charts how they coped with student life during the Covid-19 pandemic, as they grappled with personal challenges and the move to remote learning.

In the first weekly episode, which will be aired this coming Friday at 7.30pm on RTÉ One, Chrisdina a Professional Masters of Education student who is following her dream to become a teacher speaks about her life at UCC.

The first person from her family to progress into third level education, Chrisdina admitted she gave serious thought to taking part in the series when it was first mentioned to her.

"Taking part in the documentary has meant a lot to me as it was initially a very daunting prospect, but after considering it, I then knew that it would be for the betterment of the Traveller community," said Chrisdina.

"Getting to share my experience of university was so important to break down the barriers and stigma around university within marginalised communities."

Denise Kelleher from Mayfield in Cork City, a first year International Development student at UCC will also feature in the series. She said: "it was great to show that no matter your background, university is for everyone."

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