The impeachment of the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Student Parents’ Officer last week has raised a number of questions about how the union takes care of the needs of student parents. This is not the first year that the Student Parents’ officer has been impeached for what has been described by the union’s Oversight Commission as a lack of communication, but the second year in a row. Student parents can be one of the groups most in need of additional supports in college, and recent events may force the SU to rethink how it provides these supports.
One option the SU might consider is the requirements for nomination to the role of Student Parents’ Officer. The TCDSU constitution states that “any member of the Union who identifies as a parent or legal guardian may be nominated to the position of Student Parents’ Officer”. This entry requirement is similar to that of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Officer and the Officer for Students with a Disability, each of which specify that a member must identify as LGBT or as a student with a disability respectively in order to be nominated.
While student parents can bring a degree of experience to the role, by requiring that the officer themselves be a parent the SU may be limiting the pool of candidates that can be nominated. Student parents naturally have significant responsibilities outside of college and many may feel that they do not have time to take on a Part Time Officer role in the SU. By opening the role up to any member of the union, the SU would widen the pool of candidates. An officer who is not themselves a parent may have more time to address the needs of student parents without the need to take care of their own children.
The role of Student Parents’ Officer is not common across students’ unions in Ireland. A number of unions offer support to student parents directly through their welfare office. The University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU) constitution states that the Welfare Officer is responsible for issues relating to student parents. TCDSU’s Oversight Commission noted that, in the period leading up to impeachment this month, the responsibilities of the Student Parents’ Officer were being fulfilled by other officers. With this in mind, the SU may also consider abolishing the role of Student Parents’ Officer entirely, and making the Welfare Officer responsible for addressing the issues faced by student parents.
Whether the SU changes the criteria for nomination to the role of Student Parents’ Officer or not, the election of the next officer will likely be marked by an emphasis on the candidates’ commitment to the role. Those putting themselves forward will need to reassure the SU Council that they can fulfil their responsibilities to student parents, and maintain communication with the union by submitting their officer reports.