The chair of the Dublin University Gender Equality Society, Oilbhe Cahill Reid, has expressed disapproval of the SU candidacy of Jasper Pickersgill, a former member of Theta Omicron, the elite Zeta Psi fraternity’s Dublin branch.
Speaking to Trinity News, Cahill Reid said that, “The fact that a future SU presidential candidate was a member of a widely unpopular and controversial institution that excludes a large number of the student population -both male and female, suggests the candidate is unsuitable to hold a position that represents all Trinity students equally.” She was keen to stress that the elitism of the organisation, which, as well as excluding women, “is not for all men, and excludes a large majority of the male population of Trinity, deemed ineligible of invitation.”
The existence of the fraternity has been a matter of perennial controversy since the Dublin chapter’s foundation in 2012. At the time, the SU Council decreed that the organisation was “elitist and sexist” and mandated all sabbatical officers to “publicly and actively campaign against College recognition of any fraternity or sorority, should any such organisation apply for recognition from any of College’s capitated bodies.” The motion enjoyed such strong support from students in attendance that it was passed unanimously after speaker upon speaker lined up to denounce, in the strongest terms, the all-male organisation.
In an interview with this paper, Jasper Pickersgill admitted that whilst he joined the fraternity in first year to make friends and combat feelings of isolation, he began having problems with its “policies” in second year. He added that he knew the issue would “sink or swim this whole [presidential] campaign” and that he had taken advice from his campaign manager on the issue. He said that he thought the organisation was “quite elitist” and that students should be “discouraged” from joining it. However, when pressed, he added that “if we [the SU] did [try and discourage that], it would kind of make them want to make them join it more.”
At the time of writing, six SU candidates had responded to questioning on the issue. Presidential candidate Domhnall McGlacken-Byrne stated that he felt it “incompatible to be a member of an inherently exclusive organisation and simultaneously to lead an organisation fundamentally based on inclusivity. They represent completely conflicting principles.” However, he stressed that he would “take Jasper at face value when he says that making some friends and having fun were the motivation for signing up. I empathise with him that he didn’t necessarily consider the deeper ramifications of doing so.”
Welfare candidate Ian Mooney told Trinity News, “To be honest I know very little of the frat, the goings on inside the frat and the activities they get up to. I have nothing to judge Jasper on personally, as I don’t know him particularly well, and so I won’t. I’ve no interest in joining myself but his membership is his own choice. If anything though, I think the attention that his frat membership is attracting is doing something that’s been a real struggle to do in the past and is actually encouraging a lot of women to consider applying for leadership roles in college.”
Katie Byrne, an unopposed candidates in the education race, admitted that, “To be honest, I don’t know much about the frat and I have only known Jasper since the start of the campaigns so I’m not really in a position to pass any comment.” Communications candidate, PJ Moloney, insisted that he was “happy to let the student voters judge Jasper on his record. For my part I think it is crazy that anyone thinks that even a whiff of sexist behaviour is ok. If I win [the election], there will no tolerance for it.” Ents candidate Aleksandra Giersz said, “Personally, I think the idea of a ‘men’s only organisation’ is a bit ridiculous in the 21st century. But Jasper stated during the husting that he was an active member in first year to ‘make friends’, and not having much insight into the case, I feel that I can’t judge him based on his past.”Communications candidate Samuel Riggs said, “I am opposed, of course, to any groups and societies that do not uphold the ideals of equality, and operate on a basis of elitism or exclusivity.”
The Zeta Psi fraternity was founded in the United States in 1847 and describes itself as striving to be “the premier international men’s fraternal organization” and an “historic, elite, and intimate brotherhood.” Membership benefits, according to the organisation’s website, include the offer of “top undergrads high-quality internships” in New York and Washington D.C. through access to the organisation’s “vast network of contacts”. Theta Omicron is its only branch in Ireland.