SU Elections: Ryan Carey believes that “visibility is the most important thing”

Coming from inside the union, Carey wants to “remove as many barriers to accessing the sabbatical officers as possible”

In a three way race for President, Ryan Carey’s SU experience stands out as the distinguishing feature of his candidacy. The current Gender Equality Officer promises a restructuring of office hours, a revamped Empowerment Week and a weekly online forum, with a heavy emphasis on increased access to the sabbatical officers: “It’s about getting out of House Six and being more visible.”

The fourth year History student, who uses the campaign hashtag #ExperiencedLeadership, has followed a relatively traditional path to the SU presidency, having been a class rep, school convenor and part-time officer in his two years of SU involvement. However he’s quick to emphasise that he’s been on both sides of the SU experience. Commuting from Meath in first and second year, he says, has given him a “really good understanding of what works for people and what doesn’t work for people, what makes people disengage from the union”. 

Carey first got involved in the SU through Take Back Trinity; being one of the students to occupy the Dining Hall in protest against supplemental exam fees “opened my eyes” to the potential of organised campaigns, he said. He believes “there has to be more support from the union for grassroots campaigns” such as Cut the Rent, which is “an absolutely fantastic movement”. When asked about the SU’s role as a national political body, Carey emphasises the need to “keep it relevant” to students. The scope of the SU’s campaigns has been a clash between the three presidential candidates, with Harry Williams and Eoin Hand both advocating for a focus on local issues. In contrast, while acknowledging that “there’s so much work to be done inside Trinity”, Ryan Carey feels that there’s “a lot of potential that we can’t really waste” in the union’s capacity to lobby for wider change. However, while upfront about his own leftist politics, he is conscious that as the SU “we represent the 18,000 students in Trinity”.

Carey names the housing crisis and student fees as the biggest issues currently facing students, stating that the government and college administration are “out of touch” with “how much money €3,000 actually is to a person”. He believes the “union has the potential” to successfully lobby College and the housing minister, referring to a “willingness for cooperation with students and the students union” among college administration and the success of Take Back Trinity. 

Asked why he is the best candidate for the job, Carey’s first response is that he is “approachable”. He has “a certain level of expertise” from being in the union and interacting with staff members, but also believes he understands the perspective of the average student: “I think I understand where the union is failing in trying to engage people”. The SU’s engagement problem is regularly brought up during election season, and Carey has clearly given it a lot of thought. On the topic of why people disengage from the union he says “I think it seems really clique-y”. Carey sees the lack of engagement as a communication issue rather than a structural one. “Every single person has a representative in the union…there’s a lack of understanding of what the representation structures are and how it can benefit people”. He acknowledges that “it’s really intimidating” to walk into the Welfare or Education Officer’s office hours to ask for help, and wants to “remove as many barriers to accessing the sabbatical officers as possible”.

As part of an effort to increase engagement, Carey wants to talk to EMS and Health Sciences students to find out “what they want out of a union and how the union can best serve them”. He says lack of engagement with the SU “disproportionately affects” these students due to longer hours and “the physical location of House Six”: “If you want to talk to a sabbatical officer on your lunch break, and you study biomed…that’s a 15 minute walk up and down”. In his manifesto, Carey promises to provide an equal number of office hours in each of D’Olier Street, Tallaght and James’, and introduce late night hours in House Six for those on placement or with long hours. He would also set up an SU stand in the Hamilton and D’Olier Street during Freshers’ Week.

Carey has consulted with the Transition to Trinity Officer on ideas for a “revamped” Empowerment Week, which this year recorded very low attendance. Carey talks about “putting myself back into my shoes when I was 17-years-old in my first year of college” to put together “chilled out and fun” events to communicate to students the services that are available to them, including a services expo in the Hamilton.

As Gender Equality Officer, Carey believes in the need for “visibility of women, or non-binary or trans people” in the SU. Based on recommendations from LGBT students he wants to implement an anonymous complaints procedure and make running for election more accessible. He notes that it’s important to communicate that marginalised students have representatives in the SU: “These people exist, and they work for you.” Carey’s Women’s Week events this year will be “as chilled out as possible”, focusing less on panels and workshops which he describes as “intimidating”. 

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has been brought into the spotlight by presidential candidate Harry Williams’ promise to hold a referendum on USI membership if elected. Carey notes that membership “has been controversial in the past”, but that Trinity and the USI now have “such a good relationship” thanks to current President Laura Beston’s work. Asked if he would be in favour of combining two sabbatical officer positions to reduce SU expenditure Carey says that, given there is currently “no drastic situation”, all the positions are necessary: “Well they’re all busy. They all have full time jobs.” He suggests that budget cuts could come from external campaigns instead.

Drawing on his experience as a member of various executives and committees, including the Education Council, Carey feels that he is well positioned to advocate for students on issues such as the Trinity Education Project (TEP). He has found most college staff to be “willing to listen” and “receptive”, but stresses a need to support sabbats who represent students: “It’s so intimidating to walk into a boardroom with people who are all 20 years older than you and don’t really care what you say”. It’s also important to “hold that person to account” if they aren’t raising students’ concerns. 

Carey is keen to emphasise that he doesn’t only care about voices within the SU, however: “I don’t think it’s fair to rule out the other candidates either just because they have no union experience. If somebody has a really good idea and that’s what the students want then that person deserves to win just as much as anybody else”.

When asked what he would say to a student who doesn’t know anything about the SU or the position of President, Carey said: “I want to talk to them. I want to understand what they want out of a union, and if they don’t want anything out of the union that’s fine as well, I’m more than happy to walk away with that piece of information. But if there’s anything that a student doesn’t know or wants to know, the union has so many connections, and if you contact a sabbatical officer they’re going to know the exact person who can solve their problem.” Speaking about students who come from outside Dublin or don’t know many people in Trinity, he says: “It’s so so easy in a massive college like this to just slip through the cracks, so I think we need to find a mechanism to minimise that as much as possible”. 

Carey would try to reach out to students through town halls, online suggestion forms and a weekly Facebook forum. He stresses that “visibility is the most important thing” as the SU President: “If somebody sees you face to face and has a conversation with you they’re much more likely to send you an email”. 

Maggie Larson

Maggie Larson is a Computational Journalist for Trinity News, and a former Deputy Societies Editor.