Student representatives are to try to provide “clarity” for residents in Trinity Hall (Halls) who have asked questions and raised concerns about the implementation of Covid-19 restrictions.
At a Town Hall this evening, students expressed to Trinity College Dublin’s Students’ Union (TCDSU) and the Junior Common Room (JCR) their worries about fines and the level of repercussions for breaking restrictions in Halls, as well as the overall experience of living in Halls this year.
A Halls survey conducted by the JCR identified frequently asked questions around events for residents, living alone, and the Halls gym, which is closed during Level 5 restrictions.
Students living alone in Halls are allowed to “bubble up” with another flat, or move to a spare room in another apartment, the JCR said.
Students have raised concerns in recent days around Covid-19 restrictions at Halls, which they say they understand are necessary, but that the treatment of students by staff in implementing the restrictions has caused stress and upset.
Restrictions are in place at Halls to limit in-person social interaction in line with government guidelines under Level 5 to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
One student asked if a defined list of “punishments” could be issued. The student said that students would benefit from receiving a defined list and understanding the consequences for breaking the restrictions.
Another student who said they had broken restrictions said that an assistant warden swore at them, spoke in a manner “totally beyond what [they] would have needed to do their job” and “made attacks on someone’s nationality”, alongside attacks on relatives.
“We would like to ask that that kind of thing be stopped,” the student said.
The student concluded that the “verbal abuse” was “way beyond what was remotely necessary to do their job” and “swearing and completely talking down to us” was “way too far”.
Another student at the meeting said that an assistant warden said a situation was “f-ing disgusting” and told students “you’re f-ing disgusting”. The student said the warden was “threatening things worse than a fine” directed at students who held a gathering in their apartment.
The student said the experience “made [them] feel really uncomfortable” and “we don’t want anyone else to have to go through this”, but they understood that they broke the rules and wouldn’t be filing an official complaint.
Responding to this issue, TCDSU President Eoin Hand said students should reach out to the welfare team if they have any concerns and that he was sorry to hear the students were distressed.
He asked students to “be mindful that everyone is quite worried at the moment”.
“Staff and students can both lose their tempers, left, right, up and down, lose the plot completely,” Hand said.
Hand reminded students that they can reach out to the welfare team if they are worried.
TCDSU Communications and Marketing Officer Philly Holmes said that “it doesn’t matter whether you broke the rules or not, everybody deserves fair treatment”.
Holmes said that the issues raised “questions of power dynamic at play” and that “Halls residents are adults and should be treated as such”.
Director of the College Health Service Dr David McGrath asked students to be mindful of the dangers posed by the spread of Covid-19.
Dr McGrath said that he could “see both sides of things” and “wouldn’t excuse behaviour on either side”.
“It’s normal to want to have parties” but the “fallout from it can be very complicated”, McGrath said.
Students also asked questions regarding privacy concerns in Halls, and whether an appeals system is in place for fines issued to students.
It was suggested that students would appreciate a document outlining the defined role of assistant wardens and security staff. They said that there is “confusion” among students around the remit of staff and that students “haven’t a leg to stand on” if they feel a staff member has overstepped.
Acting Director of the Student Counselling Services Patricia Murphy emphasised that counseling services are in place for students, stating that there is “a lot of genuine suffering out there”, and urged students who are struggling to reach out for help.
Last week, concerns were raised at a meeting of the Trinity College Dublin Renter’s Union (TCDRU) around students living in Halls feeling that they had been treated unfairly after breaking Covid-19 restrictions.
A spokesperson for College told Trinity News that an outbreak of Covid-19 had been avoided in Halls to date “in large part due to the students who continue to make significant sacrifices to stick to their apartment bubbles and do the hard work of social distancing, wearing masks, and washing their hands”.
“The Covid-19 environment and the Government’s Level 5 restrictions have meant Trinity Hall residents have had – since Semester 1 – to follow stricter rules of conduct than normal to keep themselves and the community safe,” the spokesperson said.
“We are now in a situation of even greater transmission risk regarding Covid-19 than we were last year. There have been more than 1,000 deaths from COVID-19 and 100,000 cases in January, more than for the whole of 2020.”
“Lives are at stake. We need to ensure that everyone shows respect for Level 5 rules and Hall rules, which we will continue to apply as fairly and consistently as possible,” they said.
This article was updated at 10:14 on Friday February 5, to correct the reference to “a warden” in Trinity Hall to “an assistant warden. There is only one warden on Trinity Hall, and the rest of the staff in Trinity Hall is made up of Assistant Wardens, Accommodation Staff, RSAs and Noonan Security staff.