In many ways, societies form the bedrock of student life at Trinity. They are a sphere within the college that is managed and operated by the students themselves, making them an important representation of student interests and values on campus. As a result, acting as leader of a society can come with significant responsibility. In order to understand more about their role and how they came into it, Trinity News interviewed three society auditors – Bríd O’Donnell, Auditor of The Historical Society, Jared Miller, Auditor of The Classical Society and Clíodhna Kate O’Toole, Chairperson of The Engineering Society.
With approximately 10,000 registered members, The Historical Society, or The Hist, is one of College’s largest societies, and has a significant on-campus presence. As the oldest Trinity society, one might imagine a stereotypical Oxbridge-esque formality within the committee.Yet O’Donnell, as auditor, represents the antithesis of this kind of atmosphere. Friendly and unpretentious, she explains how her path to auditor was almost accidental.
“The prospect of leading The Hist was daunting, but O’Donnell jokes that she reassured herself with the thought that ‘even if I mess up as auditor, we’re in a pandemic, who can blame me?’”
In her first year, she became an MC (Member of Committee), the “lowest” ranking committee member. While in her second year at Trinity, O’Donnell was somewhat “co-opted” into assuming the role of Ents officer, after the previous officer resigned. In her third year, she became Treasurer, the “second-in-command” position. O’Donnell also did not originally plan to run for auditor. She explains that the auditor of The Hist is expected to take a year’s break from their degree to devote their energy to the position, something neither she nor her parents were particularly keen on. However, amidst the upheaval of Covid-19, O’Donnell decided that it might actually be the perfect moment for her to take a year out from her degree to be auditor. The prospect of leading The Hist was daunting, but O’Donnell jokes that she reassured herself with the thought that “even if I mess up as auditor, we’re in a pandemic, who can blame me?”
One should not be fooled by O’Donnell’s easy-going demeanour. It is clear from her description of what she does that this is a formidable and time-consuming job. “I always make the joke that I’m like a mom with ten kids… there’s so much stuff to keep track of.” As auditor, she oversees the activities of The Hist’s ten subcommittees, and also spends a significant amount of her time liaising with the CSC and Trinity Estates and Facilities, something especially important this year due to social distancing restrictions on campus.
“With regard to any “unspoken rules” of who can be elected onto the committee, Miller suggests that there may be a tendency to “cede” to older members, but that in general the process is quite democratic.”
All three auditors describe their position as an integral, behind the scenes organiser, ensuring that everything runs smoothly. Auditor of the Classical Society, Jared Miller, also adds that “75% of being auditor isn’t about asking people to do things, it’s following up on them and making sure that those things happen.” In contrast to O’Donnell, Miller made the leap straight from OCM (Ordinary Committee Member) to auditor of the Classical Society. Although this isn’t terribly unusual, he also mentions that the committee experienced something of a turnaround of members this past year, as much of the committee had been fourth years that are now graduated, or second years who had intended to study abroad this year. With regard to any “unspoken rules” of who can be elected onto the committee, Miller suggests that there may be a tendency to “cede” to older members, but that in general the process is quite democratic.
When it comes to being elected auditor, each society has different election procedures. The Hist has a uniquely strict set of rules – perhaps a relic of its 18th century origins. Among other requirements, candidates must have spoken in at least seven debates and have attended over half of the debates in the last term’s debating session. Bizarrely, candidates running for election to any of the committee positions are forbidden from campaigning or canvasing, and according to O’Donnell this can extend to letting others know whether you are even running. O’Donnell recalls her panic after sending a home-made meme to a friend that alluded to her decision to run for auditor – could this be perceived as campaigning by the election subcommittee? In promoting themselves, candidates are limited to their manifesto, and The Hist hustings, an event where each candidate puts forward their policies in front of an audience and is then asked questions. Only members that have attended at least three debates are eligible to vote in elections. Although these rules sound a little restrictive, the formality and integrity they insist upon serve to prevent what may be referred to as “popularity politics” – friends voting for friends.
“Clíodhna Kate O’Toole, chairperson of the Engineering society, explains that it is often the case that those who vote in the Engineering Society Committee elections are often friends of candidates.”
Clíodhna Kate O’Toole, chairperson of the Engineering society, explains that it is often the case that those who vote in the Engineering Society Committee elections are often friends of candidates. Although this makes sense, it could result in a situation whereby the most popular candidate receives the most votes. However, there isn’t much one could do to prevent this, bar offering society members free pizza at voting events, something which has been done in the past to entice members to vote, according to O’Toole.
Right now, O’Toole and her committee are trying to set a “skeleton for the year”, which is an increasing challenge under the circumstances. Generally, the chairperson would be able to inform their committee of what would be feasible to organise for the upcoming year, but as O’Toole explains, “That’s actually quite hard with Covid, because we don’t know what we can do, the college doesn’t know what we can do, its constantly evolving.” However, like all chairpersons, O’Toole hopes to put a positive spin on the situation, taking the year as an opportunity to “think outside the box”.
“The position of chairperson, and all that it entails, will have to adapt to the environment created by Covid-19, and will continue to change throughout the year.”
In many ways, O’Donnell, Miller and O’Toole will not be undertaking the role that they originally ran for. The position of chairperson, and all that it entails, will have to adapt to the environment created by Covid-19, and will continue to change throughout the year. The challenges current chairpersons face will be different to those faced by their predecessors. As Miller remarks, “Anything that normally would have seemed like a challenge, I think seems a little bit less so. Now we have bigger fish to fry.”