Running unopposed for Vice-President of the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), Gisèle Scanlon identifies a living stipend for postgraduate research students, postgraduate student spaces, and the visa system for international students as three key issues she would hope to address during her term as Vice-President if elected.
Scanlon, the union’s current Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) Officer, intends to lobby the government on a living stipend for postgraduate research students amounting to €21,000, and wants to expand the number and variety of spaces available to postgraduate students. She is emphatic on her thoughts regarding the visa system. “I’ll be taking that nationally,” she said. “We have to go to the Government to sort out visa reform… If a postgraduate-taught student arrives a couple of weeks late because they have a visa issue, that means the poor student is on the back foot before they ever start.”
Trinity’s postgraduate community comprises students who come from all areas of the globe. On what she can offer to students who may be marginalised along race lines, Scanlon outlined that “at the heart” of her politics is a need for social justice and a desire to see that no one is excluded or mistreated. “I believe education is a right for everyone and postgraduates are bottom of the agenda,” she explained, and said that she would look to promote “diversity, gender equality, [and] inclusion”. She brought up the LGBT+ community and said she would like to conduct a survey looking at the experience of LGBT+ postgraduate students and how the union could tailor services to meet their needs.
Touching on the balance between local issues and national issues, Scanlon stated: “It’s important to make promises that you can keep.” She put a focus on local issues, including an “audit of College space so that we can offer multi-space for postgrads”. She identified a need for postgraduate students to have a variety of spaces to cater to both study and leisure needs. “With regard to taking it outside College gates, the only time I’d probably be leaving is to take that local issue to work with other students’ unions and the USI [Union of Students’ in Ireland].”
Although postgraduate students in Trinity pay the annual levy which is put to USI, the national body does not recognise GSU as a union. She identified a lack of engagement among postgraduate students with USI, and noted “I have to look after, first and foremost, Trinity College Dublin students.” She stated: “The most important thing that I want to make clear is how important the GSU community is.” When questioned on whether she felt the solution would be to push for recognition, or look to end the levy for postgraduate students, Scanlon did not come down one side or the other on the issue, saying that she would need to refer to the GSU’s executive committee.
Scanlon has aligned herself firmly with Shaz Oye, one of three candidates for GSU President. “I will be running with Shaz,” explained Scanlon. “We have the same policy ideas and we have discussed what changes we would make,” she said. “Two women are better than one.”
This year has seen a turnaround in women’s participation at leadership level, with Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) electing five women to sabbatical officer positions in an unprecedented election, while the gender of this year’s GSU candidates is evenly split. Are there any steps Scanlon would take to encourage women’s increased participation to continue next year? “Yes,” Scanlon said. She would look to push for the Athena SWAN policy to be implemented across all faculties in Trinity, and work on a national level to lobby the government to “play a stronger role in gender equality in education”.
Discussing how she would increase postgraduate student engagement with the GSU, Scanlon identified that there is an existing “postgraduate community” which has always “turned out and shown up” for each other. She outlined the role of the GSU in bringing together students from faculties across campus and facilitating discussion, noting that her own involvement in the GSU was “enriching” due to her interactions with students from other faculties. She feels that it is “very important to have a wider network” among students.
“We [Scanlon and Oye] were discussing the types of things that we would like to see happening across campus, things which would bring more engagement. We’re going to bring a GSU lunch table every fortnight to the Buttery, where anyone can turn up and join in the conversation,” Scanlon explained, crediting Oye for the idea. “We discussed a listening clinic once a month, events targeted at minorities, a lot of literary events – when you scratch me, I’m a writer at heart!” Scanlon laughed.
If Oye is not elected, will that impact Scanlon’s term as Vice-President? “How would I feel if I had to be Vice-President to another candidate? I’d still be doing the same thing with a mandate from the executive,” Scanlon said. “I would be hand in glove, as one has to be as Vice-President, with any President, but I’ve learned over the three years [of her involvement in the union] that the job of every member of the GSU is the protection of the Graduate Students’ Union on behalf of the postgraduates and on behalf of the union itself. If there came a situation where we were beginning to have difficulties, I’m very honest and I would raise that publicly.”
Scanlon draws on her extensive experience within the union and further afield in College, including her term as GSU AHSS Officer and Editor-in-Chief of the College Green Literary Journal. She is on her third consecutive Masters in Trinity, which has seen her engage with the Department of English and the Department of Art History.
“I want to make a difference and I want to give something back,” Scanlon explained. “I’ve had three lovely, lovely years in Trinity, and the GSU and everybody in Trinity has made that happen, and I just feel very privileged to have had that. I want to bring that feeling of goodwill back into the conversation,” said Scanlon, finishing on a heartfelt note.