The second hustings event of the 2022 Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) sabbatical officer elections took place this evening. At Equality/Council hustings, candidates faced questions from a range of students including previous sabbatical and part-time officers, the wider student body, and societies and organisations representing various marginalised groups of students.
Presidential candidates were first posed with a question from current TCDSU President Leah Keogh, asking them what they thought was the biggest issue currently facing students.
Rebecca Kelly answered first, stating that the most important issue right now is “safety”. Kelly said that she would ensure this by implementing the sexual assualt policy, as this can be done by ensuring that “voices that often go unheard are amplified”. Kelly continued to emphasise that “our union starts with you”.
Gabi Fullam answered by explaining that the biggest problem among the “multiplicity of problems” is “too much sympathy and not enough change”, particularly in relation to working with grass-root movements. Fullam added: “We don’t want your sympathy, we want your change”.
Next, candidates were asked a question by the Trinity Ability Co-op, as House 6 will not be accessible throughout their time in office, and how they plan to accommodate students with disabilities throughout their term. Kelly answered by flagging that beyond House 6 being inaccessible, many aspects of the union itself are inaccessible. She added that there is aneed to revise how the union interacts and engages with students.
Answering the same question, Fullam highlighted that she has previously campaigned to make the GMB more accessible, and published an article in UT in 2020 relating to this. Fullam added that in terms of “practical change”, she would hold office hours outside of House 6 to make it more accessible to students who are not always on Trinity’s main campus, and coordinate with the communications officer on this.
Candidates were asked by a member of Council, if there is any aspect of the constitution that they would like to see changed, and if they think the currently established constitutional working group is addressing this. Kelly said that there is a need for “further accountability”.
She added: “We need a new constitution to reflect how we’ve grown and how our values have grown and how we’ve changed.”
Fullam answered by stating that “things are not political, they are politicised”. She continued to explain that “other people decide and take political actions, or decide your actions are political”. Fullam emphasised that there is a need for a “clear delineation of what Council can do because the current system doesn’t work”.
Cumman Gaelach posed the next question to candidates, asking candidates how they plan to increase Gaeilge on campus. Kelly answered by stating that the union should “use more services as Gaeilge”, to “increase our use of the Irish language. This would include making the Irish room “more accessible”, providing more introduction services in Irish, and encouraging sabbatical officers to make an effort at Council.
Fullam answered by explaining that she does not herself speak Gaeilge, and has “never really felt super comfortable trying to get involved”. She also emphasised the need to “encourage” students to use the small bits of Gaeilge they may have.
When asked if the College chaplaincy is outdated, Kelly said: “I’m all for accessibility, I’m all about inclusivity. If what students want is more religious supports and more support from our religious services, then that’s what we need to give them.”
Fullam answered by simply saying “yes”. She added that “we need a multi-faith centre” as much as there is a need for “secular support”.
Cummins was asked by current Education Officer Bev Genockey what “one tangible change” she would like to see in the Schols system during her term, with Genockey noting that the introduction of Schols quota during the pandemic was “contentious and difficult to implement”. Cummins said that a “review of the current system of Schols” was needed, and that students including those “who come from working class families or who have to commute” are “automatically at a disadvantage” in Schols exams as they stand.
On the subject of Islamophobia, Cummins noted “I don’t have everyone’s experience” and said that for sabbatical officers to address all kinds of discrimination it was important to involve affected students in the discussion: “Collaboration is the main thing”. She referenced her work with the Inclusive Curriculum Project.
“The calendar in Trinity is very Christian-focused,” Cummins also noted.
Cummins then fielded a question about her having previously opposed the union supporting protests by activist group Students4Change (S4C). She cited specific disagreements with those protests, such as her not thinking absolutely all exams should have been moved online, and added that she didn’t think the union should collaborate with a “political group” like S4C.
“We shouldn’t have a political stance which means we exclude students,” Cummins said.
Welfare & Equality
To begin, candidate Cúnla Morris was asked about a lack of mention of the word equality in their manifesto and how they would promote equality in their role. Morris noted that “equality isn’t necessarily present in [their] materials” but is “very much a theme in [their] experience”.They noted their experience in “fighting” for equality on various committees and promised to bring “the themes of equality” into their role.
Their opponent Chloe Staunton was then asked about the importance of free period products on campus. Staunton responded by saying that “funding is always a huge issue with these things” and she hopes to use communication to help solve this. Staunton wants to ensure that the products are available for students and to “make sure campus isn’t taken over by tourists”.
The candidates were then asked how they would work to ensure that all areas of campus are accessible.
Morris began by noting the current emphasis on Teach a Sé and the urgency of making that building accessible. They also noted that the Graduates Memorial Building (GMB) is not currently accessible.
Staunton then responded by noting that “accessibility can mean a lot of things”. She emphasised that “every location on campus is a student hub” and “money is a huge issue”. She concluded: “every student is a student and deserves equal access to every place.”
The candidates were then questioned on how they would ensure that they are approachable for students.
Morris answered first, saying: “it’s difficult to have concrete steps when it comes to giving approachable vibes.” They believe that “the big thing is Freshers Week” to make “sure that people are actually aware of the services [they] will provide”.
Staunton said that “it can be quite hard to kind of change your own impression” and “a huge part of that is visibility”. She believes that we “need to be out there” and “people don’t always see us as students”. It’s important to remind people that “we’re always there”, she added.
Finally, both candidates were asked how they would push for equality and disability inclusion on a College Board level.
Morris spoke first, noting that much of the Welfare and Equality role involves “going to meetings”. They pledged to make their “voice heard” at Board meetings and “campaign for active change”. They want to be “a pain in the ass” to ensure “our students are being taken care of”.
Staunton then responded saying “a lot of the change on a college level comes from” Board decisions and “they do love hearing the student perspective”. She pledged to use her voice on Board to show “the evidence of what we need and what needs to be done”.
Comms & Marketing
The current Communications & Marketing Officer Aoife Cronin asked sole candidate Julie Smirnova about her plans for maintaining social media engagement for TCDSU. Cronin noted various platforms fluctuate in popularity. Smirnova acknowledged that while Facebook is “dead”, Instagram is “bigger and badder than ever.” Smirnova said that if elected, she plans to utilise this platform and Twitter more, while ensuring that “all our communication is coordinated across different platforms.”
When fielding a question on how she would include ethnic minorities in the digital material of the SU, Smirnova mentioned setting up “co-learning groups” for teaching graphic design, as well as reaching out to the ethnic minorities officer. Smirnova also mentioned the importance of “platforming different voices on the [TCDSU] socials.”
A question from the Irish Language officer pointed out that weekly emails often contained misspellings on Irish. Smirnova pledged to “work with the Irish language officer to ensure all online material is translated correctly.”
Smirnova was asked by QSoc on how she would have a positive impact if elected to the role of Comms officer. Smirnova touched on running social media takeovers for QSoc and the LGBT+ rights officer. She said she would aim to “make a space for them”, as “platforming different voices is the only way.”
A member of the International Students Committee questioned Smirnova on what considerations she was taking for those who speak English as a second language. Drawing on her own experience as a bilingual person, (speaking both Russian and English) Smirnova pledged to “take a step back” and “listen” to those who speak different languages and who are not native English speakers.
A question from the Mature Students’ Society pressed candidates on how they would make College and events accessible to mature students, given “mature students are often forgotten.” Smirnova acknowledged that it’s important to have events that cater to mature students, and that these events are publicised and boosted on the union’s social media, which is something she would work on if elected.
Asked how they planned to maintain the popularity of Ents events at non-peak times of the year (February to April), candidates Ross Donnelly and Max Lynch both emphasised the need to increase communication and engagement with students. Donnelly said he planned to make events “as diverse as possible and as cheap as possible” by using campus venues for Ents. He also discussed his “live calendar model” that would allow the Ents committee and students to communicate, so that “smaller unique events don’t get swept under the rug”.
Lynch also said that he wanted to focus on making events cheaper, which would increase their inclusivity. He said: “there needs to be a focus on less clubs,” and intends to broaden the range of events available.
Nadia proposed a plan to subsidise events for students in receipt of SUSI, and part of the DARE or HEAR schemes, noting that student accommodation was expensive. She also noted her intention to host “cultural events throughout the year”.
The candidates were also asked what ethical and sensitivity standards they would follow when selecting venues for events. Nadia noted that “as an ethnic minority myself, I know a lot about [those] struggles” and said that she would “rather not have an event [at a venue] that has a history of being homophobic or racist”. She also said that she would research venues prior to booking.
Lynch said that through cooperation with the Ethnic Minority Officer, PTOs and the LGBTQ+-rights officer, “Ents will be able to deal with these issues properly”, since students express their concerns to these officers. Donnelly also highlighted the importance of listening to students’ voices, explaining that his Ents committee would be vetted and include diverse representation of students.
The candidates were then quizzed how they would ensure the Ents committee would have appropriate LGBTQ+ training at events.
Donnelly said he would ensure the committee would have the “necessary welfare training” and that hearing from these communities is “the only way I can serve [them]”, while Lynch mentioned that he had spoken with TCDSU’s LGBT+ Rights Officer Jenny Maguire; he promised to increase representation within the Ents committee and will “ensure the venues we use don’t attack these people or make them feel uncomfortable”.
Nadia said that she will “not tolerate any homophobia” and spoke of her desire to host “events that highlight the LGBTQ+ community”, such as Drag shows.
Maguire was asked by incumbent University Times (UT) Editor Emer Moreau how she planned to secure independent funding for the UT, with Moreau noting that Maguire’s manifesto does not mention the issue. Maguire said that there was “not enough energy” put into securing funding for the paper this year, and “there wasn’t enough time taken to seek out appropriate advertisers”.
Maguire said that if elected she would “think creatively” about appropriate advertisers for students and “dedicate time” to seeking them out.
Referencing her proposed mentorship programme for LGBTQ+ students and students with disabilities, Maguire noted that “I won’t be able to take unlimited students, but it’s better to take five than none at all”.
She said that the programme would involve “weekly meetings to talk about different sections, what [the mentees] are interested in writing about.
“It would involve being there step by step as they write or interview people,” she continued.
Asked about “external pressures” on the UT editor, Maguire said she “intend[s] to stop printing with the Irish Times”.
Maguire also said that “there’s a separation between news and opinion”, and “the Editorial Board doesn’t dictate how we write our pieces”.
“Our reporting is always as fair and accurate as we can make it,” she continued. “If people have genuine issues they should always send the editor an email and we’re very open to hearing that.”
Asked if she believed she had “always conducted yourself appropriately in your various roles in UT”, Maguire said “I do.”
“I have always had the highest journalistic standards,” Maguire continued. “It’s a passion of mine. I really enjoy it, but it’s also a very serious job.”
LGBTQ+ Rights Officer Jenny Maguire, who is also serving as presidential candidate Gabi Fullam’s campaign manager, recounted having messaged Mairead Maguire in December about “issues of transphobia within the University Times”. Jenny said that she had previously contacted current Editor Emer Moreau about the same issue, and received no response from either Moreau or Mairead. Jenny said that Mairead “left the message open, and the next message I received was to discuss issues of inclusivity within your campaign. How will you address issues of inclusivity outside of campaigning?”
The editor candidate said that “I think it’s important to note that the message you sent to me was through my personal Instagram account, and I don’t necessarily feel obligated to respond to personal messages. You’re welcome to email me.” Maguire, who has served as the paper’s deputy editor since November, also said that such an issue should have been addressed by the editor and that “it would be different if I were editor”.
Speaking to Trinity News, students interviewed by Maguire have previously criticised her for allegedly leaking confidential conversations conducted via Maguire’s personal Facebook account as part of an investigation for UT. She was also criticised for not clearly delineating between on and off the record conversations in personal chats.
Campaigning for sabbatical officer elections will continue until March 3. Voting will run from March 1 to 3. Students have until noon on March 1 to register to vote. The next hustings event is this Thursday (February 24) at 7pm, hosted by Trinity News and the University Times.
How are you planning to vote in the election? Fill out Trinity News’ poll and help us understand how students feel.
Reporting by Jack Kennedy, Shannon Connolly, Grace Gageby, Kate Henshaw, Sarah Emerson, Ellen Kenny, Eva O’Beirne, Ella Sloane, Ria Walls, Elaine McHale, David Wolfe, and Caroline Higgins.