A place to call our own
Alice Whelan discusses the need for a student centre and the upcoming referendum regarding its creation in Trinity
The Need for a Student Centre
“As the college grows, the consequences of not having a student centre, or even simply a seating space for students, becomes increasingly evident.”
Though Trinity is lucky to have a leafy and historic campus, attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists each year, there is a distinct lack of student spaces, the likes of which can be seen in other universities across Ireland. This is a serious drawback both for current students and for the appeal of Trinity to prospective students. In comparison to other colleges, it lacks large sports areas, as well as a student centre. The University of Limerick (UL), University College Cork (UCC), National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) and University College Dublin (UCD) all boast student centres where students can host events, have spaces for society activities and socialise.
Some may argue that the Trinity campus itself is a beautiful environment for students and staff of the college. It is a peaceful enclave right in the heart of Dublin city, with the luxury of restaurants and coffee shops on our doorstep. The majority of students are on campus for their classes, giving it a sociable feel.
However, as the college grows, the consequences of not having a student centre, or even simply a seating space for students, becomes increasingly evident. Students have been articulating dissatisfaction with the spaces available to them for many years, and at various points action has been taken, but thus far to no avail. The Arts Block and the Hamilton building have been criticised for poor design and lack of seating. As the current SU President Kieran McNulty pointed out, speaking to Trinity News: “When we have students sitting on the Arts Block or Hamilton floor during lunch, it’s clear that we need a student centre.”
Any student who spends time in those buildings will most likely have also spent time sitting on the floor to eat their lunch or to socialise. Many argue that it is College’s responsibility to provide better spaces for students to engage in these activities. Furthermore, Trinity has reams of societies that are pressed for space. Although House 6 and the GMB do house many, these spaces are not sufficient for the array, nor are they tailored to the needs of certain societies. A student centre would be purpose-built for the needs of the societies which add so much to the quality of student life in Trinity.
Putting Plans Into Practice
“He will argue for a student centre that is ‘accessible’ and purpose-built, with the focus being very much on the needs and wants of students.”
There have been campaigns for student centres in previous years. As McNulty explains, controversy over plans for a student centre dates from 2010, when there was a failed attempt to erect one on the site where the business school is now being built. McNulty outlined that students were averse to paying a hefty levy, due to a number of factors: “The SU president at the time wanted to campaign for a better deal… and a Provost candidate was promising to build one without students having to pay.” This resulted in a stalemate as, ever since, there has been no satisfactory result for either party. The biggest losers are the students, who have been left without a student centre as plans fizzle out.
Student centres have been valuable assets for other colleges, including UCD. For Conor Viscardi, current SU President in UCD, an “important contributing factor to the importance of the student centre is the atmosphere and the sense of community that the building creates for UCD.”
UCD has a notoriously large campus, which does not appeal to some students, but the student centre helps to draw students together. The student centre has a range of functions; Viscardi argues: “The many recreational spaces, facilities and services on offer in the building affirm this location as a space for interaction and engagement, where the members of the university converse, relax and enjoy the many offerings of the centre.”
What can set a student centre apart from merely being a college building which students can use certain rooms of is the fact that it is built for a purpose – it is built with the students in mind. Viscardi stated: “Based on our own experiences, and working in partnership with other organisations in the buildings, the fact that the centre and the facilities here are specifically designed for the purpose of facilitating and enabling growth and participation in the extra-circular is a big plus.”
Viscardi acknowledges that student centres are difficult to fund. “Centres are a costly enterprise for any college to engage with”, but what makes it so valuable is the fact that it is an expression of the college’s value for their student body: “the presence of a building focused for student activities affirms their importance at university.”
“The biggest losers are the students, who have been left without a student centre as plans fizzle out.”
McNulty made efforts to get a student centre back on the College agenda: “College is making an Estates strategy this year and I’ve presented to the creators of the Strategy regarding the inclusion of a student centre.” McNulty is “hopeful” that there will be a “proposal and a costing soon, at which point I’ll take a referendum proposal to Council on a levy to build said centre.”
The referendum on the Trinity student centre will be held from the 22nd to the 24th of March, and the incoming SU President Kevin Keane, speaking to Trinity News, commented that it would be “fantastic to see a high turnout”. Keane, like McNulty, believes a student centre is a necessity for Trinity students. “I believe that a student centre would vastly improve College for students. We need a space to relax, to meet and to enjoy ourselves, that goes beyond House 6”.
Keane is committed to continuing to work for a student centre in the next academic year, if the referendum is successful. He will argue for a student centre that is “accessible” and purpose-built, with the focus being very much on the needs and wants of students. “I think it will be really important to have a very strong consultation process with as many students as possible, about what specifically they would like to see included in the plans. This building would belong to all of us – it’s important that its design reflects that”.
In the coming weeks we will see the result of the referendum, and can perhaps look forward to concrete plans for a student centre emerging.