Communications race: Aoife Cronin says raising awareness of welfare supports the “number one priority”

The sole Communications and Marketing Officer candidate Aoife Cronin said of TCDSU’s financial position that if students return to campus “the union will be fine”

Aoife Cronin is the sole candidate running for Communications & Marketing Officer in this year’s Trinity College Dublin Students Union (TCDSU) elections. The Communications Officer often represents the first point of contact between students and the SU. With the potential of lockdown continuing into the next academic year the role is particularly important for the union wishing to reach an isolated, dispersed and ‘screen fatigued’ student body.

Cronin aims for continuity over change, hoping to build upon incumbent Officer Philly Holmes’ efforts at increasing student engagement and accessibility. Cronin’s manifesto focuses on supporting students, rebranding, securing sponsorship, and increasing the union’s transparency.

Speaking to Trinity News on her ambitions for the role Cronin admits that “it depends a lot on Covid,” but says her plans would involve providing “crucial student support, like the student union has been doing this year”. She added that if lockdown ends, “it would be a situation of recovery … getting back to where we were [before]”.

Cronin sees providing relief and support for students “going through unprecedented difficulties” as “the number one priority”. She commented that “there is kind of an unfortunate boxing of welfare” as solely the responsibility of the Welfare and Equality Officer, but said it was “by far the most important” duty of the entire union during Covid-19. Cronin acknowledged that the pandemic has affected multiple areas of students’ lives, including mental health, exams and accomodation. She said she would ensure that supports were “very present in students’ lives, and every student knows how to access that as quickly as possible.”

Describing how she plans to reach these goals, Cronin mentioned updating the website to further highlight SU services, producing new publications on accommodation and budgeting, and expanding the Fresher’s 101 series, begun by the current union.

To make sure all students “can actually reach [the union’s] services,” Cronin wants to build upon the “fantastic work” of Philly Holmes to increase the accessibility of the union’s communications. Cronin mentioned that she had met with TCDSU Disabilities Officer Ní Hoireabhaird to discuss how to improve this further. “I plan on following the advice of the Ability Co-op and the Disability Service,” Cronin said, referring to their guidelines on social media accessibility. She intends to continue the audio version of the weekly email, and would expand the use of closed captioned videos, alternative text and Irish sign language on social media.

Though Cronin acknowledges that not all students care for the union, she hopes to increase student engagement. She said: “it’s easy to dismiss people,” but “I don’t think you can ignore [their] complaints, because a union only works if everyone’s involved.”

Cronin intends to engage students by working with non-union services, including schools, societies, and the JCR. She also believes that improving the union’s “public image” can increase engagement. She explained that many feel “isolated” from TCDSU because they don’t understand “what [it] is doing for them”. Rather than “giving students tokens”, “like more microwaves”, Cronin argued “the way you solve [disengagement] is by showing what the union does”. Cronin plans to publish the Sabbatical Officers’ reports monthly, so that students know what the officers are “fighting for.” She also intends to “[personalise] the union” by increasing the visibility of part-time officers and faculty convenors.

Additionally, Cronin wants to “break out of the blue”, altering TCDSU’s branding by adding more colours and fonts, while keeping it “recognisable”. Explaining her reasoning, Cronin said: “if I saw a white and blue Instagram post, I’m not going to engage with it.”

Cronin’s manifesto outlines her intention to increase TCDSU’s transparency. She aims to organise the union’s archive, make financial records from the last 10 years available and ensure information is “easy to find” online. Organising the archive is not “a top priority” for Cronin, but increasing the SU’s accountability “right now” is important. Cronin is also considering publishing relevant content from TCDSU Council meetings in “digestible bite-sized information”.

Cronin said that her societal involvement has taught her the importance of “institutional knowledge”. “It seems that the union really does have this kind of 4 year memory problem”, she continued. “There’s a lot of great ideas that are just being buried that never go anywhere, and I think by … combatting [this], you’re helping the union’s efficiency, you’re helping it work better.”

Discussing the union’s financial stability, Cronin admitted: “I can’t tell how much of it is up to the union, and how much of it is just like, kind of bound to fate.” She blamed TCDSU’s current deficit on the impact of Covid-19 on services such as the SU cafe and Ents. If students return to campus, “the union will be fine,” Cronin reasoned, adding: “then we just do what we always do, which is like trying to be conservative … with the money.”

Cronin wants to secure sponsorship “no matter what happens”. She did not name potential new sponsors, but mentioned continuing UT advertisements organised by Holmes, working with Ents, and establishing a sponsorship sub-committee, if the need arises. Cronin maintains that her competence in social media analytics would help her to attract sponsors.

Asked about the SU’s commercialisation, Cronin expressed hesitancy in making unrealistic promises. She said: “I’m trying to be careful about how I talk about this … it’s almost like every year [the comms officer] is just trying to find a new way of saying ethical sponsorship, like ‘I’m going to do sponsorship but it’s going to be really good and nice’.” Cronin explained she is “trying to be honest about what the Comms Officer does”, but would be “very aware” of commercialisation. She said: “the union is foremost a union, it’s not a business,” but “unions have always provided things for their members”. Echoing Holmes’ campaign, Cronin hopes to avoid commercialisation through “student first” sponsorship and partnering with local businesses.

Asked how she plans to address structural inequality and racism within College, and the SU’s own lack of diversity, Cronin said: “the most important thing in terms of tackling … racism and inequality is that we need to do it for real, [by] supporting tangible changes that … actively make a more equal society.” Cronin mentioned the importance of supporting student-led initiatives, referring to the current union’s support for the Black Studies Module petition. Cronin said that as well as challenging College, the Union “need[s] to turn in on ourselves and deal with those inequalities”. Cronin said the “only solution” is “listening, like having more people of colour on these committees, making these decisions”.

Cronin explained that as Communications Officer, she would “[show] that the union is a place that is welcoming” to minority groups, and work with the Ethnic Minorities Officer, the Disability Officer and the LGBT+ Officer.

Explaining why she is running for the position, Cronin described her longstanding interest and appreciation of TCDSU. After “[building] a lot of experience … with societies and publications,” she realised that she could bring those skills to the union.

Cronin was on the PRO team for the Philosophical Society (the Phil), before leading the team in 2019-20. This year, she is the PRO for College’s Icarus Magazine, and Trinity Arts Festival. In these roles, Cronin designed hundreds of graphics, boosted social media engagement, and developed skills in website design, photography and videography.

“I’ve run social media for enough societies at this point that I think that I know what the good ideas are. … That puts me in a good position to come up with fresh and innovative ways for the union to reach out”, she said.

Asked about preparation for the role, Cronin explained she had spent a lot of time “pouring over old union resources,” including financial statements, council minutes and sabbat reports. According to Cronin, this has given her “a realistic view” of what is achievable, “so that I’m not like, promising the world”. Her manifesto describes integrating the SU diary into the Trinity Live app, but she has not yet discussed this with IT services, describing it as a “pretty early provisional plan.”

Cronin does not have prior experience in the SU itself, nor in activism. Asked about this, she said “to be criticised for lack of union experience kind of goes back to the engagement problem”, which she hopes to address. Cronin added: “Comms doesn’t need to be a major activist”, “it’s a role … and I think I could do it best. I clearly care about all these issues … this is a way of contributing.”

Describing her stance on TCDSU’s political engagement, Cronin said that local College issues and national political issues are “fundamentally intertwined”. “So long as there are students … affected by these issues, then the union should have a role”. Asked which student movements she wants TCDSU to be involved with, Cronin said: “the housing crisis is probably number one.” She discussed the importance of collaborating and taking inspiration from grassroots activists, and partnering with the TCD Renters Union.

Cronin does not envision a “radical” break with Holmes’ strategies, or that of this year’s union in general. Questioned on what she would change, Cronin answered, “the engagement problem”, pointing to her own experience as “a relative outsider”. She said: “I’d like to reach more students and make them feel like they can enact change via the union.”

Though Cronin’s race is uncontested, she must earn 50% of the vote to be elected, or nominations for the role will be reopened. With priorities similar to Holmes and an professed realism in her campaign promises, Cronin hopes to convince voters by emphasising her experience and suitability for the role, as well as her plans to make TCDSU’s welfare and education supports more accessible for all students.

Sarah Emerson

Sarah Emerson is is a Staff Writer for Trinity News, and a Junior Sophister English Literature and Jewish and Islamic Civilizations Student.