Highlighting equity-driven change, unopposed Welfare and Equality candidate Aoife Bennett received 91% of the first preference in last week’s Trinity News poll. With RON polling at only 9%, Bennett seems all but certain to be elected as the next Welfare and Equality Officer.
Notably, 42% of voters remain undecided but in the absence of significant opposition Bennett has emerged victorious. Welfare and Equality being an uncontested race is not unusual, from 2018-2021 the race was unopposed. In 2022, Chloe Staunton emerged victorious against opponent Cúnla Morris.
Across disciplines and demographics, Bennett’s support base remained fairly consistent. 54% of Arts students voiced support compared to 50% Science/Tech students and 63% Health science students. Male, female and nonbinary students are also similarly likely to vote for Bennett, at 56% to 46% and 45% respectively. The margin of difference, being around 19%, is minimal and thus her probable victory is representative of the general student population as a whole.
Throughout her campaign, Bennett has emphasised how her previous experience would inform her role as Welfare and Equality Officer. She previously served as Trinity Hall Junior Common Room (JCR) Welfare Officer, which gave her “experience dealing with casework and running wellbeing campaigns” a measure that likely instilled this year’s voters with confidence. Additionally, she served as this year’s Research Officer for the Welfare and Equality Committee.
Bennett has also demonstrated her commitment to promoting the public good through other endeavours. Working for the UniCOV, she spent time at Trinity Hall to aid with Covid-19 testing kits. Bennett has also served as a copyeditor and contributing writer for Trinity News, writing about numerous issues such as the history of contraception and a freshers’ week survival guide. These activities likely contributed to her popularity as Bennett has actively engaged with many voters. Outside of college, Bennett also volunteers with the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), which may have helped promote an image of Bennett as an advocate for social change.
In this she fits well within the trend of Welfare and Equality Officers having relevant TCDSU experience; looking back to the two most recent officers, one served as Gender and Equality officer while the other was the union’s Disabilities officer and a member of three committees.
Another marker of Bennett’s appeal may be her comprehensive plan for promoting greater sexual health across the college. She has proposed to “partner with HSE to further publicise at home testing kits and have a testing drive during sex week”. Among her other policies include measures promoting the implementation of consent workshops and queer sex-ed. Bennett, being a junior sophister student, has shown her ability to resonate with younger students as she intends to render these policies to establish “freshers traditions”.
Bennett’s has also registered with students in her promotion of lasting change to ensure student safety. When questioned on what she would do differently from past Welfare and Equality officers, Bennett said she will “reform the Dignity and Respect policy to make it a trauma-informed document with better reporting structures in place for students” which also may speak to a voter desire to see lasting change.
During last Tuesday’s Equality Hustings, greater inclusion measures seemed to be on everyone’s minds, with candidates prompted for their stances – or lack thereof – on representing the minorities within Trinity’s student body. Although Bennett’s manifesto did not mention ethnic minorities explicitly, voters present may have noted her composure as she voiced her strategy to promote equity, saying: “A big part of my manifesto is inclusivity and making sure everyone’s experience is at the forefront.” She also promised to consult the relevant officers regarding identities different from her own.
Bennett also emphasised her commitment to helping students living off-campus. Addressing questions on her proposed consent-workshop policy, she stated: “It is very feasible that it can be expanded, first at halls and then on campus.” She “doesn’t want any students to feel left behind” and proposed to “extend events and campaign weeks to James’ campus, D’Olier Street, TBSI, and Trinity Halls’’ while also continuing to “ advocate for Sliding scale accommodations” and “better transparency for on-campus housing”.
Of course, there remains the questions around the feasibility of Bennett’s policies. At the Equality Hustings, current Welfare and Equality officer Chloe Staunton asked whether bureaucratic hindrances will pose an obstacle to Bennett’s plan to bring free period products to Trinity. Although Bennett acknowledged that “there’s a big problem for getting funding for period products” and cited Scotland’s (Free) Period Products act as an example of successful lobbying on a national level, specific measures remain yet to be seen. In fact, students may remain sceptical for good reason as previous attempts to permanently secure free period products have not been expanded on by TCDSU.
Bennett has also been questioned over notable absences from her manifesto during the campaign. At the same Hustings she faced questions about the absence for students with disabilities and ethnic minorities from her manifesto. Bennet responded competently reiterating her support for students with disabilities. She believes there is “a lot that we can do for now” and recommended holding “accessible office hours”.
Bennett also reiterated her support for ethnic minority students during Equality/Council Hustings. She intends to work with the ethnic minorities officer “to increase inclusivity for events”. She also plans to consult ethnic minority students to promote an inclusive environment at welfare and equality meetings: “A big part of my manifesto is inclusivity and making sure that everyone’s experiences are at the forefront.” For voters present at these Hustings this was a welcome reassurance from Bennett.
In her interview with Trinity News Bennett expanded further on this acknowledging that facilities “campus and off-campus are both very inaccessible”, and she wants to focus on “long-term change” and get the “time, permission, and sometimes construction for meaningful change”.
Again, emphasising her focus on long-term change Bennett is pledging to “consult with students to identify the main areas of need in the college and off campus,” Bennett explains: “I would also work with Trinity’s Occupational therapists to do a report on accessibility on campus to lay the groundwork for long term change, so next year’s officer can continue to build on this work.”
During the Media Hustings, more questions were raised pertaining to the logistics of her policies. Bennett defended her proposals when asked which had the priority for implementation, saying that she believed the groundwork had been laid for many of the initiatives she wants to implement. She also defended the sustainability of her initiative to bring more free pads and tampons, stressing the importance of balancing these products with the more sustainable options like menstrual cups since “not every student will feel comfortable” with the latter.
However, she admitted that despite her intent to work with the CSC to promote diversity training, she has yet to make contact with their team. However, she confirmed that she “would like to work with them because there is a model in place already”. She highlighted collaboration as one of her campaign’s core values, in addition to highlighting her experience since she carried out diversity training out at halls. Although difficult to mandate, especially in her first year, she plans to ensure societies have “the right tools to encourage their society members”.
Also at Media Hustings, She also backed off from mandating diversity training. While this choice may have been justified by the knowledge that, as Bennett said, implementation will be difficult in her first year as Welfare and Equality officer, this may have been unsatisfactory for students hoping for a greater than verbal commitment. Even as these did not have a large impact on her standing in the poll, when elected, students will be keenly watching to monitor whether Bennett fulfils these measures.
Despite these concerns, Bennett’s campaign success looks likely even taking into account outside policy considerations. Her relatable and engaging approach during the race is another factor in the probable outcome. A social media video outlining Bennett’s policies was filmed in the style of a Vogue 73 questions video. In a tone many students may have found relatable, Bennett cited “the seagulls” as her least favourite part of Trinity life.
The poll results prove that students have great confidence in Bennett’s platform. From her interview to the Hustings, Bennett has registered as a charismatic candidate with a history of promoting welfare, a genuine stake in the community, and the prowess to address the fundamental issues of this year’s election: inclusivity, transparency and lasting change. In her opening speech, she stated: “Welfare and equality is the backbone of any union.” As she finished her speech to a chorus of applause, it is clear why voters believe Trinity will in fact be “better with Bennett”.
Additional reporting by Kate Henshaw.