A motion to compile data on the gender of Class Reps and other elected student officers was pushed to next Council this evening following concerns raised over data protection issues.
Gender Equality Officer Aoife Grimes raised the motion at Council in response to growing discussion on campus regarding diversity and leadership. Grimes said it was clear “that there has been a discrepancy in recent years with elected positions” and that “by having the data we can put policies and campaigns in place” to combat the apparent discrepancy.
Joint Programme Convenor Hannah Keating raised concerns over potential data protection breaches, ensuing debate as to the legality of the motion. Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Communications and Marketing Officer Paraic McLean and Grimes defended the motion stating, with Grimes explaining that giving this information would be optional.
“When you are signing up, you consent to being part of this data at the bottom of the form,” said Grimes. “That data doesn’t have any names or numbers attached to it,” said Grimes.
In response to the ongoing dispute whether the motion violated data protection rights, Lawrence Hennessy, who announced himself as a lawyer present at Council intervened: “I’m a lawyer and it [the motion] actually does breach data protection. If you require information from anybody and it goes farther than the purpose stated, then the Student Union would be held liable.”
The motion is now to be discussed in more depth at next Council, which is to take place in November.
The motion in question sought to mandate that data is collected on the gender of Class Reps and those who nominate themselves for the position, Part-Time Officers, School Convenors, Academic Senators and Sabbatical Officers. The Education Officer, Gender Equality Officer, and Chair of the Electoral Commission would be mandated to gather the data collaboratively.
Only 30.2% of candidates for TCDSU sabbatical positions since 2011/12 have been women, with only three women running for TCDSU president while 21 men ran for the position in the same time frame. Comparatively, women currently comprise 42% of Trinity’s society heads.
Speaking to Trinity News earlier this year, former Education Officer Alice MacPherson explained that “when running in a society election, you will most likely know the voters personally. To run for a sabbatical position in TCDSU, a woman has to stand up in front of the entire student body to be judged. Female students are used to being judged more harshly than their male peers in every aspect of their life, inside and outside of College”.
“Moreover, an election with thousands of voters is far more daunting than an average society or sports club AGM. In wider society, this is reflected, where we see greater involvement of women in politics in the local level than on the national level,” MacPherson continued.
TCDSU ran a series of Diversity in Leadership workshops prior to elections last year to encourage students with disabilities, ethnic minority students, women, working class students and LGBT+ students to take on leadership roles. However, women’s participation remained low in this year’s race, with only two women candidates of 12.
Council took place this evening in the Stanley Quek theatre in the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute (TBSI) building.
Additional reporting by Eliza Meller, Finn Purdy, Victoria Mitchell, Maximilian Henning, Ciarán Sunderland, Niamh Lynch, Peter Kelly, and Michael Gilna.