Tilly Schaaf is certainly not afraid of ruffling feathers in her campaign to become the next president of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU). A veteran of student activism, this third year general physics student describes herself as having “”been trained on the streets, in the protests”, and thinks “the union could use this fresh air”. Amongst many reasons, Schaaf believes that she should be TCDSU president due to her can-do attitude: “I can prioritise, compartmentalise, and I think that is exactly the nature of the job.”
When asked why she chose to run for president of the union, Schaaf said she had many ideas to improve the student experience that were piling up, and that it seemed “straightforward” to improve the general “efficiency of things”. “No matter how personal your own experience is, it is somehow shared,” Schaaf continued. ”Since I usually just talk a lot, it became an idea I knew I couldn’t get rid of”. Although Schaaf admits she has no union experience, she hopes to come in and be “a bit uncomfortable, a bit naive, a bit optimistic”, and that in this way, she will be more representative of the “general college student”.
Indeed, Schaaf is somewhat critical of the current union. “There’s been rhetoric over reason to some degree,” Schaaf says. “We are students, we can talk like students, we can represent them. We can do whatever is informally needed to get our TikTok generation up to focus.” She continues this sentiment in her remarks on what the union should look like: “If your students are mad, the union should be just as mad.”
However, Schaaf’s campaign is not all laughs. She is quick to mention that active student dialogue is a core value she is hoping to promote, pushing to “give them [students] a seat at the table on all issues that concern them”. She believes she is the correct person to achieve this, saying “I’m quite idealistic in my way of seeing that the student union should always amplify voices”. When further asked about what she specifically would bring to the role of president, the words “stubborn” and “resilient” emerged: “I’m experienced in researching and talking to people that didn’t want to talk to me sometimes”. This notion is certainly reflected in her campaign slogan “Tilly, till you’re heard.”
While outlining where her priorities lay regarding her campaign, Schaaf did not hesitate to mention the current state of the college IT services, saying Blackboard “is not concurrent at all”. When asked about the recent issues students had logging into Blackboard, Schaaf vented her frustration on the management of the website being outsourced. “Maybe somebody this weekend had a nice weekend, was not aware,” she muses on the incident. “Because he didn’t have to answer the emails. The College answered the emails, and was able to get rid of the responsibility saying it’s an outside company, which they shouldn’t be.” Schaaf’s proposal to resolve this is to hire ”More IT people” – “It’s time we realised that it’s probably worth hiring three, four more people in the IT services.” Regarding the actual layout of Blackboard itself, Schaaf said: “It’s clear that they have not asked for any feedback.” She goes on to suggest clearer timetabling, deadlines, and access to past papers as features that should be implemented into the website. Schaaf also highlights the necessity for good quality recorded lectures being available for students. “We are responsible enough to realise that we value flexibility in our degree.”
Prioritising the students, and receiving their feedback, is at the heart of Schaaf’s campaign, and is a major component of her proposals regarding housing, inclusivity, and student health services. On the pressing topic of student accommodation costs, Schaaf says her policy promotes “a continuation of the work that’s already been done”, but calls for the union to “continue consistently in dialogue to see what priorities are and what’s needed”. In particular, she comments on the isolation felt by many Trinity students while seeking accommodation amidst the current cost-of-living crisis. “People search for flats during the summer. And during that period, they are alone.” In response to this, Schaaf puts forward the idea of having improved online support available that students can turn to in these times. “It’s just about building the framework”.
Schaaf raises several different fixed issues for students she believes could be tackled quickly and effectively were she to become president, including later opening hours for all libraries, earlier feedback on assignments for students, and the utilisation of empty classrooms on campus. On the topic of essay feedback, Schaaf explained: “You will submit the second one without knowing what the hell you did in the first one.” She goes on to say that by the time feedback does arrive, it is too late to be applicable: “There are so many times they are coming through with not enough feedback when it’s no longer needed.”
When asked about inclusivity in Trinity, Schaaf was quick to commend the Trinity Access Programme (TAP), stating that it “does way more than people realise“, but also suggested that “there should be consistent follow up”. She also touches on the recent push for gender neutral bathrooms on campus. “You can’t say ‘Oh this is quite a complicated issue’ – No, we are asking you to sign up,” Schaaf said, ascertaining her sentiment that College has been overcomplicating an issue that is much more straightforward in nature than they have made it out to be. “It was such an emotional, personal thing. And what was blocking it was the system issue.”
Drawing from her own experience spent abroad in Singapore, Schaaf reflects on the lack of support she felt at the time, and why this has led her to believe that senior tutors should assume more responsibility for the students they are mentoring. “I was away for my semester 11 weeks before somebody checked in because I was registered as anonymous,” Schaaf explained. “It’s as simple as having one or two contacts.” She continued: “There should be a higher, more binding policy towards each faculty to be able to tell the students before they go, what exactly will be the situation when they come back.”
Another major feature of Schaaf’s manifesto is her determination to improve climate policy on campus, and to have clear communication between College and its student body about these policies. Schaaf is by no means afraid of being persistent in regards to this matter, saying she “comes in with a bit too much discomfort, and sees where this takes me”. She calls on College to “show us how to put money in places in sustainable ways”, and furthermore, to “take pride in that”. One suggestion Schaaf makes in this regard is the introduction of dashboards on campus constantly displaying Trinity’s status regarding its sustainability targets, in place of communication via emails. “Do not overload us with emails – I want colour, I want graphs.”
Schaaf firmly believes that it is possible for Trinity to start living up to the principles of sustainability it constantly promotes: “Live that principle that sustainability is in all.” She mentions informal events, talks, and open-modules as possible methods of engaging the Trinity student body in the climate crisis. “I want them to be quite diverse.” Schaaf said regarding these events. “To engage people, it needs to be non-formal.”
Schaaf also outlines the urgent need for action regarding the college health services. “The counselling service can say ‘we will respond to you in 2 weeks’, [and then] they will get an appointment weeks later, [and it] is a snap five minute appointment.” She even goes as far as to dryly question whether “our counselling service needs to go to counselling itself?”. While Schaaf understands the difficulties that exist regarding the scope of the union’s ability to intervene in the college health system, she said: “The amount of people having a shared experience should add and add and add to the argument.” As an alternative solution, she considers the idea of student support groups that could be facilitated by the union. In cases where students are left waiting for appointments for weeks, Schaaf remarked that “so much benefit could be drawn by having support systems to them continuously”. She then goes on to consider how directly harmful the slow response of the college health system is to students.
“Imagine you’d be harassed – then you should know that the day after, you could go book in and you could get some kind of medical exam done and be heard, and have that, and the fact that they don’t is immediately so hostile.”
On the topic of the annual scholarship (Schols) exams, Schaaf does not directly oppose them, but rather questions whether every student has an equal starting ground regarding these exams. “Since it has so much value, the fairness of it is the basis of such higher stakes,” Schaaf said, referring to the rewards attained by the highest achievers in these exams. She goes on to call out the fact that a student’s socio-economic situation is not accounted for in relation to Schols. “I think Trinity as a college institution could kind of raise that moral integrity and say we hold ourselves to high standards of understanding what it means for people to start at equal spaces and we know that especially in college, like if you come from a house where the radiators broken, you can see this on the stats that your grades are going down 5%.”
Indeed, this idea of College having more awareness of student’s economic situations is further reflected in Schaaf’s desire for absolute transparency from Trinity regarding how student tuition fees are being spent. When questioned about the regular 5 year report from College relaying this information, Schaaf said this information was not effectively communicated to the students. “What I would love the student union to do is graph everything,” she said. “Consistently say this is now a college priority.” She calls for the union to facilitate a system where “once the financial report is published, it becomes a student issue”.
Other proposals Schaaf makes for easing the economic burden on students is calling for a 20% student discount on meals in the Buttery, saying “You should be able to eat cheaper in college than outside of college”. Along similar lines, she also makes the case for the Buttery adopting a system where students can receive discounted food that would otherwise be wasted towards the end of the day. “We are not going to waste it like 50 metres from where people need it.”
One aspect of Schaaf’s campaign that will be particularly intriguing to the Trinity student body is her desire to re-open the burrito bar in the Hamilton building. When questioned about funding for this, Schaaf raises a couple of options, saying “a subsidy for this” could be acquired. She also suggests that the bar could “even hire students”, in the aim of creating more opportunities for students.
When asked if she had any concluding remarks, Schaaf called on students to “be offensive”, in the name of igniting “the fire within student politics”.
“I think it’s time to say that we can bridge the gap between students wanting to set things on fire, and some things that have just been asked to be put on fire.” She continued that, if elected president, “the amount of people voting for the next elections would be higher, then I’ll have done a lot, and I’ve done what I wanted to in one year”.