At tonight’s Equality hustings, some candidates were given the opportunity to demonstrate a familiarity with students’ rights and welfare, while others were grilled on subjects absent or sparsely handled in their campaign materials.
The candidates in the Trinity College Dublin Students Union (TCDSU) sabbatical officer elections were tested this evening on their knowledge of a wide range of student issues.
Eleven of the twelve contenders were questioned by the union’s Ethnic Minorities Officer, LGBT+ Rights Officer, Officer for Students with Disabilities and Oifigeach na Gaeilge, as well as representatives from QSoc and An Cumann Gaelach.
Peter Caddle, a candidate for the editorship of the University Times, was absent, having said that he instead wanted to “use the time to focus on producing more content expressly for those students so often ignored during campaigning”.
TCDSU Ethnic Minorities Officer Tanmay Nath asked the three president candidates specific questions that probed their manifesto policies and how they would incorporate students from ethnic minorities. Ben Cummins, asked about his “building back community” plan, said that “the answer lies in engaging with the student body”, providing information, and running “campaigns that students really care about”. Leah Keogh touched on her plan to establish a prayer and reflective space in the Arts Building, tackle elitism in Trinity, stating: “It’s time we start talking about interculturalism.” Finally, Luke MacQuillan said he would promote learning about different cultural and ethnicities and work on a union-led multicultural week.
Turning to students with disabilities, TCDSU Officer for Students with Disabilities Niamh Herbert and Ability Co-Op member Courtney McGrath pushed the candidates on their policies for inclusion and accessibility. It was put to Cummins that his manifesto was sparse on any policies relating to students with disabilities, which he refuted and said a recurring theme in his manifesto is “fostering the activism that already exists in Trinity”. Keogh highlighted her plans to increase the accessibility of House 6, saying that its inaccessibility is “embarrassing”, and if a solution could not be found, the union may need to look at moving out of House Six. MacQuillan criticised the union for failing to tackle the social stigma around disabilities, referring to his own experience with having a learning disability in college.
Given that the TCDSU President is mandated to support the union’s LGBT+ Rights Officer to campaign to remove the 12-month blood donation ban on men who have sex with men (MSM), incumbent Brian Hastings asked how the candidates would further that aim. Keogh looked at the importance of collecting data to show the extent of the ban’s impact in order to counter it, while MacQuillan said that he believes it is “unfair that MSM cannot donate blood and said this campaign is something he would “proudly” represent if elected. Cummins said the union needs to bring this campaign “directly” to a government level through the newly-created Department of Higher Education.
Continuing with LGBT+ rights, Chair of QSoc Luca Caroli asked the candidates how they would implement an effective reporting mechanism for instances of discrimination. Cummins said he would take a “research-led, data-driven” approach by running a survey on students’ experiences. Keogh was able to give a strong answer by referencing a project she has been working on to launch an anonymous reporting system for discrimination, while MacQuillan said that College “really needs to tackle this” and that the union should ensure that “people coming forward feel safe and don’t feel any social stigma”, although did not present a specific plan in the same way as the two other candidates.
However, MacQuillan hit a note missed by the other two candidates in a question on gender neutral bathrooms. All three candidates agreed that the SU should push for more gender-neutral bathrooms, with Cummins and Keogh saying that the issue should be brought to estates and facilities. MacQuillan raised the issue of the lack of gender-neutral bathrooms in sports facilities off-campus, such as at Santry, noting that their absence was “excluding [people] from playing sports.”
When asked about plans to promote Irish, Cummins acknowledged the potential of College as a place for students to re-engage with the language, noting that for many, “Irish has only been an academic subject they haven’t had a chance to fall in love with.” Keogh said she would campaign on a national level to “increase the visibility” of Irish on campus. MacQuillan apologized for not translating his manifesto to Irish, but said he hopes to do so in the future and that he would “encourage people to speak Irish and be proud of our culture and everything it stands for.”
Nath opened with the Education Officer candidates by asking Bev Genockey about how she would reduce discrimination faced by students, with Genockey answering by referring to her proposed plan for a diversity and inclusion document, which would be a “collaboration” and added that it would be to “highlight how we can use languages as a tool for respect in the classroom”. Pushed on what his Diversity in STEM committee has achieved, O’Reilly said that “unfortunately” the committee this year hasn’t had ethnic minority representation on it, however, he plans on expanding the committee, to “make sure that gap is filled”.
McGrath posed a question to Genockey on how she would ensure students who are not supported by lecturers are given the support they need, to which Genockey emphasised that she would start by “making sure” LENs reports are adhered to, and she would “reallocate the budget for class rep training” to include a focus on students with disabilities. Herbert asked O’Reilly how he would address the “drop off” of students with disabilities in pursuing postdoctorates in Trinity. O’Reilly said that if you “make it easier” for students with disabilities to progress through undergraduate level, it would lead to having more students with disabilities progress to postgraduate level.
Putting a question to both candidates about their experience in the Diversity in STEM Committee, Hastings asked how the candidates would use their platform to provide inclusion for LGBT+ students across campus, with Genockey stating that they’ve done a “a lot of work” with Diversity in STEM and she plans on working with the Equality Office to promote things like “using pronouns in Blackboard”. O’Reilly added that there are “relatively simple steps to getting your gender recognised in college” and he would try to “make them aware that these resources are there to be used”.
Caroli asked both candidates about the process of changing a name on Blackboard, which can be difficult and long for students, and how they would make this easier and more accessible. Genockey stated that they were working on providing a facility on Blackboard where students can change their name, which O’Reilly echoed, saying that “we’ve got a fantastic opportunity for putting in these changes”, and he would “sit down and help students” so they aren’t going through it alone.
The candidates were quizzed by TCDSU Oifigeach na Gaeilge Gretchen Nic Sheanlaoich, who expressed disappointment that neither candidate had a manifesto available in Irish and asked how they would represent the Irish community if they were elected. Genockey said she would include “a couple of sentences” of Irish in her section of the weekly email, which she was then questioned on whether she would include this alongside a translation of the email in Irish. Genockey answered that this is something she “brought up the other day in an Instagram post”, where she would endeavour to include a few sentences in Irish on the weekly email, alongside a translation of the weekly email in Irish.
Answering the question about how he would represent the Irish community in Trinity, O’Reilly said that he has a “great respect for the language even though I don’t speak it”, and that there is SU resources that “doesn’t change much”and “ there should be a capital investment into translating those if they’re available lo
Welfare and Equality Officer
Both Welfare Officer candidates were questioned by the Ethnic Minorities Officer on how they would tackle the shortcomings of previous Welfare Officers on issues of racial equality. Dylan Krug, firstly, said that “one of the things that has gone underrepresented is the unique difficulties international students face”. To tackle this, Krug pledged to work closely with the Global Room when it comes to helping students with visa issues and to campaign for lower international fees. Mueller-Owens pledged her opposition to the 27th Amendment, and her support for the Colonial Legacies project and the new Black Studies Module. She also said that she will work to make students living in Direct Provision aware of the supports and resources that are available to them.
Mueller-Owens was then asked how she would work for students with disabilities “in a meaningful way” given College already offers some of the supports and options for students vulnerable to Covid-19 that she mentions in her manifesto. She said she will make forms available for students to file their concerns as college returns to face-to-face teaching, and that she wants the SU to “work as a mediator between…the student and the college and perhaps even the individual lecturers” on such issues.
Krug was quizzed on why his manifesto lacks specific mention of students with disabilities and what he planned to do to support them. He described his manifesto as largely “drawn from personal experience” and that he “didn’t want to claim to appropriately represent or to know the experiences of these students”. He said that he wanted to provide students with information on how to access LENS reports and how to ensure professors respect them.
In response to a question about the safety issues facing LGBT+ students with unsafe home environments, Mueller-Owens acknowledged the challenges that some of these students may face if lectures continue to take place online next year. She said that she will continue to use the “T-fund” – instituted this year to assist students undergoing social transition – to help students in these situations, or “use a fund similar to that…to help students”, especially those who wished to change their name legally. Krug mentioned his campaign pledge to ensure the availability of emergency short term accommodation for students, saying it could potentially be specifically useful to at-risk LGBT+ students. Both candidates expressed a desire to work towards the provision of “Rainbow Housing” in Trinity accommodation.
Both candidates also promised to make information and communication from the Welfare Office available in both English and Irish.
Communications and Marketing Officer
Sole candidate Aoife Cronin was asked by Nath how she would engage and represent students from ethnic minorities. Cronin said that engaging these groups is “really important for building a union and a campus that is safer and more welcoming”. She added that she would work with different campaigns and societies on campus that represent ethnic minorities to “try and amplify those voices… in any capacity that I can”.
Courtney McGrath, the representative from the Ability Co-Op, pointed out that Cronin’s manifesto was not deemed accessible by Blackboard’s accessibility checker, and asked her what she would do to ensure the union’s communications were accessible. On her manifesto, Cronin said she was “really sorry to hear that” and that she had submitted her manifesto through the sample online checker and had “tried to follow the Ability Co-Op recommendations”. Cronin said she would “work further” with the Ability Co-Op, the Officer for Students with Disabilities, and “try to be more mindful” of visual accessibility in the future.
Cronin was also asked how she would ensure that the union secures “ethical sponsorship”. She repeated her plans to ensure all sponsorship is mindful of the “political values” of the union and said that this included awareness of the rights of minority groups. Cronin said that she would like to collaborate with different groups on campus when securing sponsorship to ensure “there’s nothing I’m missing” in the “background checks” that she carries out on companies.
Nic Sheanlaoich asked how Cronin would promote Irish and represent Irish speaking students on social media. Cronin praised the current Communications Officer for “platform[ing] Irish in ways that are fresh and original” for students with varying levels of fluency. Cronin did not add any new ideas, apart from echoing Holmes’ practises, saying she would “build on” these.
Nath queried both Ents candidates about their plans to host inclusive events for students whose cultural events might not be widely celebrated in Ireland, with Antonia Brady responding that she would work closely with next year’s Ethnic Minorities Officer and Ents Equality Officer to plan a wide range of events. Greg Arrowsmith said that “diversity is incredibly important” on a college campus, and he restated his plan to reopen the Pav by September 2021, which he has repeatedly said will be feasible. He laid out a vast range of possible events, including those which might allow students to “celebrate different cultures in Trinity”.
When McGrath asked Brady how she would demonstrate that event accessibility is a priority, Brady said that while it is near-impossible for every event to be accessible, she would “endeavour to make as many events accessible” as possible. Instead of holding events at notoriously inaccessible clubs, she would utilise spaces such as the wheelchair-accessible Light House Cinema.
Continuing with accessibility, Herbert asked Greg Arrowsmith how he plans to make Ents events accessible to all students. Arrowsmith echoed Brady’s claim that he could not promise that every event would be accessible. However, he repeated his plan for “low-cost events in the dining hall and the Pav,” ensuring that the most important events would be accessible to all. He also promised that accessibility information would be published as soon as possible before any event.
Hastings targeted past Ents events as having been catered to “the straight community”, questioning each of the candidates how they would aim to ensure LGBT+ students felt included at events. Brady stated her desire to focus on creating clear lines of communication with members of QSoc and the LGBT+ Rights Officer. She said she would expand Rainbow Week, featuring a wider range of society collaboration, hold workshops about preventing discrimination and ensure gender-neutral bathrooms are available at events when possible. In response to the same question, Arrowsmith referenced his “Easing Into It” month, which he hopes would give students the confidence to attend nights out in tandem with workshops on drugs, homophobia and transphobia.
Caroli asked each Ents Officer candidate how they would ensure that security at events would not exhibit discriminatory behaviour toward LGBT+ students, citing instances in the past where students were “turned away at the door or followed to the bathroom”. Brady responded that instances of transphobia, homophobia and racism would not be tolerated at any TCDSU event, and if there were reports of discriminatory behaviour at any event she hosted, the venue would no longer be tolerated. Furthermore, she would ensure that she would never work with venues with a history of discrimination toward LGBT+ students. Arrowsmith responded similarly, referencing his manifesto promise that he would “ban and boycott” venues with a history of discriminatory behaviour. He also called to his plan for instating welfare officers at Ents events, stating: “If you’re ever in trouble on a night out, look for the nearest red jacket”.
To a question about how they envisioned plans for Rainbow Week next year, Brady referenced experience planning events in collaboration with QSoc in the past, which she said she’d want to see instated “on a wider level”. Arrowsmith called again to his plans for weekly Pav events, which for Rainbow Week might include a range of events for students “regardless of if they’re in the LGBTQ community”.
An Cumann Gaelach representative Ciara Ní Mhurchú asked each candidate how they planned to incorporate events that would cater to the Irish language community in Trinity, to which Brady replied that she would place more emphasis on weeks such as Seachtain na Gaeilge. She would aim to collaborate with more societies to ensure that all students could participate in events, not just members of Irish language societies. To the same question, Arrowsmith said that some of his weekly Pav events might include events targeted to the Irish language community as well as those for international students experiencing Irish culture for the first time.
Both candidates were also asked if they would be happy making their advertisements for large events bilingual. Brady said that she would be “really happy to do that”. She envisioned “ramping up the Irish” in publications to engage both Irish and international students. Arrowsmith stated that he would publish information in Irish, adding that he might create some documents on which Irish was displayed first. This, he suggested, would allow for students who had some Irish to remain engaged and challenged, whereas students might only read the English displayed first even if they have Irish.
University Times Editor
Only one of the two candidates for editor of the University Times was present at tonight’s hustings event. Peter Caddle had announced earlier in the day that he would not be attending. Several of the panelists tonight addressed questions to Caddle despite his absence.
Niamh Herbert, TCDSU Officer for Students with Disabilities, said it was “not a surprise” after he “demonstrated ableism” and “dodged a question on diversity” at previous hustings. Herbert said: “As a journalist and a student with a disability, I am deeply concerned about why you are attaching your name to [The Burkean]” due to what she described as the “many disgusting” articles it has published.
Hastings also addressed a question to Caddle, quoting a section of an article that Caddle authored where he spoke about a hypothetical non-binary person, describing them as a “horrid creature”. Hastings asked how Caddle could be an inclusive editor when he had “openly made anti-LGBT+ comments” such as this.
Emer Moreau, who was in attendance tonight, was asked by Nath to expand on her manifesto commitment to create a role of ethnic minorities correspondent within the paper. Moreau said it was important to her that whomever was appointed would be themselves “in control” of the role. She added that the paper has worked to cover racial inequalities in society but the “next step is not having us as white journalists covering those issues”.
When asked by Hastings about the logistics of her proposed Diversity and Inclusion committee, Moreau said she would not be asking staff personal questions about their gender or sexual orientation. She added she would like to “recruit more transgender staff” and have LBGT+ journalists write about their “lived experiences in College”.
Moreau was asked whether the paper would increase the number of articles published on LGBT+ issues, with Caroli saying that the paper had not covered Trans Day of Remembrance since 2017. Moreau said that she would put an emphasis on coverage of “how universities are trying to tackle hate speech on campus”.
Moreau was asked by the union’s Oifigeach na Gaeilge about how she would recruit for her new Irish language publication that she has promised and how many articles they would publish. Morea said that “the demand is there and the interest is there”.
The next hustings event, Halls hustings, will take place on Tuesday evening, hosted by the Junior Common Room (JCR) committee. Voting in the SU elections runs from Tuesday March 9 to Thursday March 11.
Trinity News is currently running a poll of students’ views in advance of the elections. We want to hear from you.
Reporting by Lauren Boland, Kate Henshaw, Connie Roughan, Shannon Connolly, Jamie Cox, Bonnie Gill, Jack Kennedy, Jade Brunton, Rebecca Deasy-Millar, Olivia Flaherty-Lovy, Finn Purdy, Sarah Emerson, Audrey Brown, Julia Bochenek, and Kate Glen.
This article was updated at 23.50 on March 5 to clarify that Bev Genockey said she would include a few sentences of Irish within her section of the weekly email. A previous version of this article misquoted Genockey to have said she would include these at the end of the weekly email.