“We’re rewriting the rulebook:” Interview with GSU vice-presidential candidate Joseph Keegan

Keegan, in his campaign for vice-president, sees postgraduates as the “cornerstone” of college

Covid-19 has opened a new page in a book that Joseph Keegan wants to write for the Graduate Students’ Union. After pursuing and completing a post-graduate certificate in Creative Thinking, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship in Trinity last year, he hopes to deepen his relationship with Trinity and benefit the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) in new ways if elected as next year’s vice-president, and he highlights the blank slate left by Covid-19 uncertainties as one of his many platform positions.

Hailing from Dalkey, Keegan has pursued a multitude of academic studies, starting with receiving a degree in Information Systems from Trinity in 2014. Pursuing this degree as a night-time student, he says that he failed to become significantly involved in student groups such as societies. However, after graduating from Trinity, he “sort of got addicted” to learning, following his first degree with one in Project Management from Technological University Dublin (formerly the Dublin Institute of Technology); International Finance from University College Dublin, and an honours degree in computing, specialising in data analytics, from the Dublin Business School (DBS). 

While in DBS, he laughs while remembering feeling “fed up with other people going for class representative and not doing anything”. Therefore, he decided that it was up to him to run for class rep, and he won the position. Last year, after returning to Trinity, he ran for the same position and was named joint class representative in his course of over forty students. This time, he joined five societies: the Sailing Club, the Rifle Club, the Mature Students Society, the Climbing Society, and DU Players — he notes that, “in [his] other life”, he is a film extra. 

His experience as a class representative in two courses across different universities is what prompted him most to run for GSU vice-president in the coming academic year. Speaking to Trinity News, he emphasised the importance of postgraduates to Trinity as a whole, going so far as to claim that they are the “cornerstone” of the university itself, and he sees it as his responsibility to make the GSU even more outward-facing. Finally, he sees himself as quite outgoing and approachable, and as he likes to help people, he “gets a lot of satisfaction from providing solutions”. 

In this race, Keegan hopes to capitalise on the idea that Covid-19 has cleared a pathway for him to elevate the GSU if elected. He concedes that he sees himself “having a huge amount of work to do this year; more than previous vice presidents because of the scenario”, but after having closely watched and understood the proceedings of the GSU last year, he feels as though he would be ready for that challenge. 

 “There’s a new shape of academia” that will emerge as the world recovers from the crisis.”

“There’s a new shape of academia” that will emerge as the world recovers from the crisis, he states. However, “at the end of the day, we all want to succeed”, and the new way in which post-graduate studies may have to operate will be entirely new terrain, and Keegan feels the need to help everyone succeed. As postgraduates in particular are in the midst of composing papers to defend, Keegan believes that they might have the most trouble “bouncing back” in returning to Trinity. “Instead of the communal table in the Buttery, there’s going to have to be some kind of a Zoom meeting or Teams meeting set up that people from all over the world can chat away in,” he ponders, considering ways that he might make himself accessible in a way that differentiates from what students will be used to. 

However, he remains optimistic in his view of how the GSU might emerge from Covid-19, saying that “in a way, I think GSU might be able to even work better”. Seeing as all candidates for the election have been working from home without distraction over the election season, a practice which he seems to believe will have to extend into next year for post-graduate students, he says one would “be able to engage a lot more with people because you’re in one space rather than having to run from one end of the campus to another and missing something or missing an event.” 

As he works from home, Keegan hopes also to maintain ties with the university establishment even from a remote setting, working closely with both the GSU and the university itself to deal with issues “when the campus comes back to some kind of sense of normality”. Furthermore, a major component of his campaign is to continue promoting diversity within the university, especially among the LGBTQ+ community, and if elected, he would be sure to continue the work of those in the positions before him, “albeit in a different way” due to the unprecedented and yet-undecided return to campus. 

Indeed, Keegan highlights the relationships that he says he established with both the current president and vice-president of the union. He admits that last year, upon his return to Trinity, he “may not have availed of all the services of the Graduate Students’ Union”, but in spite of this, he still has an understanding of and appreciation for the work it does to help students after having seen the work done by Gisèle Scanlon, the incumbent vice-president and sole candidate in this year’s presidential race. He has seen “Gisèle working 24/7, running from one place to another”, and although he allows that assuming that much work and more this year in the wake of Covid-19 will be hard, he believes he is up to the job. 

In the last academic year, Scanlon and her presidential counterpart, Shaz Oye, initially ran on a joint platform, but publicly took different stances on issues later in the year. Keegan remains calm about his prospects, asserting that his view of last year’s struggles emerged because “the positions were overlapped slightly”, whereas he sees the roles of president and vice-president as “very different positions” into which he and the incoming president would “put more definition…so therefore the clashes wouldn’t occur”. Although he did not campaign with Scanlon on any particular fronts, he believes that the two of them have very similar opinions on the way the upcoming GSU should function, especially in terms of the diversity in the community. He claims that they “both have the same empathy towards our members”, meaning that a lot — if not all — of his policies would be reflected in Scanlon’s platform. 

In summation, Keegan says he has seen the GSU become more progressive and taken more seriously across his years in Trinity, but that he still would strive to “be pushing more to be outward facing”. With regards to committees both within and outside college, he asserts that as a two-time alumnus, he often uses the ties that he has developed and would continue doing so “to push what the GSU is looking for within their members”. 

“As your vice-president, I’m going to ensure that all your problems will be addressed.” 

To conclude his conversation with Trinity News, Keegan addressed the postgraduates directly: “As your vice-president, I’m going to ensure that all your problems will be addressed—discreetly, of course—and any campaigns that you feel are relevant, myself and the president and the committee members will hopefully be able to indulge. Because it’s going to be a very tough year academically, and I recognise this, and I’m not afraid of taking the challenge should I be elected.”

After years of academic pursuit and deeper involvement, Keegan understands that the problems that Covid-19 will produce are many, but he is willing to work to gain even more visibility for the GSU if elected vice-president. He allows that “it’s not a blank piece of paper” that we have been afforded, as there are still many ongoing problems that he hopes to pursue and change if elected, but “we’re rewriting the rulebook really” in response to Covid-19, and Keegan hopes that this rulebook will benefit the GSU in new ways.

Audrey Brown

Audrey Brown is a Deputy News Editor of Trinity News.