We must be a community

President-Elect Kevin Keane lays out his vision for the Students’ Union in the coming year

A strong sense of community is vital for an enjoyable college experience. Lectures and assignments are important, but it is your experience of community that will make you drag yourself out of bed in the morning, and it is the memories of that community that we will be talking about long after we leave Trinity behind. The power of a vibrant, welcoming and inclusive community cannot be overstated.

I was incredibly honoured to be elected as the next President of the Students’ Union two weeks ago. The way I see it, one of the central functions of the SU President is to support and facilitate people’s engagement in College life, and their feeling of inclusion in the incredible community that we have here. Fostering that sense of welcome and engagement was a key part of my campaign. Now that the dust has settled on the election period, and we’ve all recovered from the onslaught of manifestos, I’d like to take this chance to talk a little bit about the specifics of how I plan to do that.

Empowering students

“Our community is full of people who want to help change and improve College and the world but just don’t quite know how to go about getting started.”

The College year goes by extraordinarily quickly. It’s so easy around this time to look back on the year gone by and regret not having done more. In my experience, although it’s fantastic, Freshers’ Week is often too hectic to really figure out how best to get involved. It can be overwhelming, and the idea of getting involved in anything at all can be very daunting. To try and combat that, we’re going to put together an “Empowerment Week” in the week just after Freshers’. It will be a week full of passionate, engaging speakers and workshops aimed at encouraging people to jump into the College community. This will showcase, in a slightly less frantic setting than Freshers’ Week, what being involved in College really looks like.

Societies provide a great outlet for everything under the sun, from knitting to trampolining, and that’s what Freshers’ Week is for. It can take a little longer to figure out how to get involved with social activism, or to figure out how to help movements like Fossil Free TCD or our movement to end Direct Provision. Our community is full of people who want to help change and improve College and the world but just don’t quite know how to go about getting started. The week of empowerment will exist to show everyone how and where to get involved with what’s happening on campus whether you’re a veteran campaigner or totally new to the community.

One of the great strengths of Trinity’s community is our spirit of welcoming and inclusion. We are without question one of the most inclusive, progressive universities in Ireland, and I’m really proud of that tradition. The SU has for many years been at the forefront of advocating for equality. Ivana Bacik, as SU President, sparked a national debate in 1989 by distributing information about abortion, despite the fact that it was illegal at the time to do so.

We have a strong track record of fighting for accessibility and acceptance, and we must continue to do so. As a proud feminist, I’ve been inspired in the last few weeks by the power, coordination and scale of the Strike 4 Repeal movement. Our community of students cannot be said to be equal or inclusive when half of the people in our lecture theatres are denied their human rights. None of us can succeed when half of us are held back, and our community suffers as a result of the inequality that women in Ireland are forced to accept every day.

A national voice

“The grant system is already stretched to its limit, and the government is seriously considering saddling each and every one of us with thousands of euro of debt when we graduate.”

The SU’s role as a voice for equality nationally is a huge part of what we exist to do. We need to look internally as well, though, at how we can improve the structures and culture of our community to make our representatives better reflect the people they represent. For the last number of years, the SU has organised Women in Leadership seminars and events, to encourage and empower women to run for leadership roles in the SU, societies, or outside College entirely. They have enjoyed some success, but we need to run more Women in Leadership events throughout the year, with high-profile speakers and interactive workshops, to encourage women to consider leadership roles.

I’m particularly excited to work with Alice MacPherson, our incoming Education Officer, on this. Throughout her campaign, and long before it, she has been a staunch advocate of Women in Leadership campaigns, and I’m very much looking forward to working with her and the rest of the Sabbatical Team to make next year’s SU more inclusive and empowering than ever before. Practical, experience-driven programmes like the Women in Leadership campaign are what make our community more enjoyable and accessible for everyone involved.

In my manifesto, I mentioned Inclusivity Training, which I very much look forward to implementing. Everyone organising events in College, whether it’s as a class rep, through Ents, with a club or society, or independently, wants to be inclusive. It is often difficult, though, to know what practical steps to take to make an event more inclusive for people who would very often feel excluded from College events. People with disabilities, international students and members of the LGBTQI community are too often accidentally marginalised from events because people just aren’t sure of what steps to take to make an event practically accessible and inclusive. The idea behind inclusivity training is to make College as welcoming and open as possible, because a diverse community is a strong and vibrant one.

Reaching people

“The simple power of having someone nearby to invite over for tea cannot be overstated.”

It’s very difficult to feel excited about getting involved in that strong and vibrant community when at the end of every day you have to trek out to your house in the suburbs, where you know no one and have nothing to do. College’s community is defined by the people that make it up, and so there’s no reason that it should stop at Front Gate. I’m going to develop a network of people in each neighbourhood so that people get to know other Trinity students living nearby, if they’d like to. The simple power of having someone nearby to invite over for tea cannot be overstated.

Communities thrive when people connect with each other, and those connections need to extend beyond Front Arch. The suburbs, like Phibsboro and Rathmines and others, have incredible potential for brilliant events and community spirit, and I think it’s really important that we try to encourage that.

Unfortunately, our community just isn’t accessible to a huge portion of society. College is an expensive community to join, and it’s getting more expensive all the time. Rent continues to skyrocket, and we’re under the constant threat of the introduction of loans to pay for the introduction of a far higher fee scheme. The grant system is already stretched to its limit, and the government is seriously considering saddling each and every one of us with thousands of euro of debt when we graduate. Our community is at a turning point if we don’t band together to fend off the disaster of a loan scheme, College will be the worse for it. Higher Education is a public good by uniting as a community, and rejecting the threat of loans, we will show the government that students are not pushovers, and that the student community will stand up for itself when needs be.

I love the community that we’ve built in Trinity, and I can’t wait to work to make it even better. I was so humbled by the trust so many of you put in me two weeks ago, and I promise to do my best during my term in office to repay that trust. This community will only reach its potential if we’re all involved, though. I’d absolutely love to hear from anyone with ideas or concerns about College or the SU. I’d also encourage everyone to run for a position: SU Part-Time Officer elections will take place on the 4th of April, the Ents and Welfare Committees will be announcing their AGMs shortly, as will the Lobby Group, and there are dozens of wonderful society AGMs coming up in the next six weeks. Please do run for something, and let’s work together to build a better community for everyone.