Student representatives call for “lowering the barrier” to accessing union

TCDSU discussed proposals for increasing student engagement with the union at Council this evening

Student representatives have suggested “lowering the barrier to entry” to the union, creating a breakdown of of the structure of Council to be released on social media and mandating class representatives to share the points of Council with their courses as part of a discussion on how to expand engagement with the student’s union.

Junior Fresh PPES Class Representative, László Molnárfi raised an item on student engagement with the union at TCDSU Council this evening, sparking a discussion among reps 

Deputy STEM Convenor Bev Genocke suggested posting a video breaking down the structure of Council, and have class reps vote on opinions of their course. 

 JS Environmental Class Rep, Dylan Krug, said that “lowering barrier to entry” is “a big thing Council can do” to help engagement with the union in future, in a way to address the “horrible problem” of student engagement within the union.

Raising the issue of engagement with TCDSU, Molnárfi outlined two points, the first of which was the union being “scant” on political engagement and “perception of elitism”. Proposing a solution to this, Molnárfi suggested that class representatives should be asked to “discuss all agenda items before the SU Council with their courses”. 

The second point raised by Molnárfi was to mandate class representatives to “carry out our union’s work as a solution to student disengagement”. 

Molnárfi said that class reps are “here to work” for the students, but there is an engagement issue with the union. He said that class reps should be formally mandated to help carry out any proposal passed “just like the sabbats”.

“Non-completion would be grounds for a reprimand and eventual impeachment,” Molnárfi proposed. 

TCDSU Communications and Marketing Officer Philly Holmes, however, said that engagement is significantly up this year compared to previous years. “There is a feeling that people are engaging with us a lot more,” Holmes said, saying that compared to previous years, there has been a significantly larger engagement.

He explained that “We were getting 40-50 messages on social media every single day”  during the first term and there is “a genuine feeling” that people are engaging.

STEM Convenor Daniel O’Reilly moved to echo this point, and said that low engagement in a referendum held in the first semester was because it was “just a boring referendum”. 

“There’s 18,000 students in this college and I think it’s okay that the vast majority of them don’t care,” he said. 

TCDSU Education Officer Megan O’Connor said that the union has “Covid to deal with this year”, and that’s the union’s priority this year over other political issues. 

A procedural motion K was introduced halfway through this discussion on engagement to defer it until a later council meeting. However, the motion was voted down and the discussion continued.

Answering other points of discussion, Molnárfi said that students “elect class reps who care”, and that if class reps “put in 100%” they could “get students excited about the union”. 

Ben Cummings, SS BESS class rep, also chimed into this discussion, stating that “you can’t force people to be engaged” with the union. 

Catherine Arnold, a Philosophy class rep, added that “students aren’t there for the student union”, but that “we are there for students”. She emphasized that “we need to be getting in their heads not as a political entity”.

Speaking to Trinity News this afternoon, Molnárfi spoke about this discussion, stating: “Our student union, while garnering impressive engagement from students vis-à-vis the services it offers, has a dire lack of political involvement from the mass of the student body.” 

He explained: “This is evidenced by the low number of students who voted in the last constitutional referendum and the relatively scant percentage of students who signed the petitions put forward by the union.”

“There is strength in numbers, and this strength, our union lacks due to not being able to mobilize the students.”

Molnárfi acknowledged to Trinity News that this is “both a structural and cultural issue”. 

“Class representatives seldom share the agenda and motions proposed with their courses, even though they are technically mandated to do so, nor do they communicate the campaigns and services of the union,” he explained. “This results in the perception of elitism that has long haunted our union.” 

“Students, on the other hand, do not engage with the union despite being paying members, and oftentimes they do not read the Weekly Emails, thus are unaware of union developments.”

Molnárfi continued: “I also think that the TCDSU has become party institutionalized as part of Trinity College Dublin, and that there is political dealignment at play.”

“Whereas students expect a radical push for progress, the union leadership often resigns itself to working within the already existing framework of bringing about change, thus suppressing alternative methods of bringing about change.”

Molnárfi explained to Trinity News that an example of this is when “our union failed to support a proposed collective rent-strike last year”. 

“At the USI, this institutionalization is even clearer, with many representatives in the past having been linked to higher-ups in the government structure,” he continued, “I do think that compromise and working with the powers that be are important, but in order to expand the realm of the possible, one must push for the impossible.”

Additional reporting by Kate Henshaw, Sarah Emerson, Connie Roughan, Jamie Cox, and Kate Glen. 

Shannon Connolly

Shannon Connolly is the Editor-in-Chief of the 69th volume Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister student of English Literature and Philosophy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.