The SU Leadership Race elections took place last week. During the campaign, there has been the usual analysis of how the Union does not engage students nor represent them. I’m not writing this to shy away from criticism — far from it — but I would like that criticism to take into account the work that has been done this year, not resort to the same criticism the SU has had for years.
I was elected to stand for engagement and for looking out for students. And the work we’ve done, has, I hope, paid off. A recent survey showed that 68% of students believe we’re doing a good job to represent them, up from 48% two years ago. On college issues, we’re at 59%, up from 31% just two years ago. We have exceeded, or are on track, to beat the goals set for TCDSU in the Strategic Plan. We have 1500 campaign volunteers this year; we have the largest amount of class reps ever; we have higher amounts of casework than ever before; we had a larger accommodation service than ever and our digs on offer were up also.
“We’ve empowered students to let them work on issues close to them.”
This year I organised a lobby group to work on the political issues which the SU wants us to work on. There have been 60 volunteers for this and they’re working very well, allowing the SU to work on these issues without devoting too many resources to them. I’m proud of this — we’ve empowered students to let them work on issues close to them. Our campaign hub launch event in Know Your Union Week has seen many campaigns come to us — from Strike4Repeal, to SSDP and fracking. These are issues which we support, but are run externally by students.
This has allowed me to work on the core issues which students want me to work on: I have a monthly forum where I ask, on every channel I can, what students want us to do; I ask this at every council and many weekly emails. There have been many requests, from academic requests to communication requests, to fixes around campus and I’ve worked on all of them. We’ve made ground on the issues students have asked us to do for years — an events calendar, a jobs portal, water fountains and more plugs in the library. Recently, we set up a fund which will support students on placement. I funded an addiction services group as well. Our upskill training events have seen over a thousand students apply. Our nap room is open this week, and Aoibhinn Loughlin, the Welfare Officer, is finalising an agreement which would see peer supporters do office hours from her office.
Dale O’Faoilléacháin, the Education Officer, has worked on a partnership policy which would make sure that students can be full partners in services, their academic courses, and the Students’ Union. This would put students in the centre of what College does — something that’s been lacking in recent years.
“Students are citizens, and therefore many societal issues could apply. The best answer, I believe, is to focus on ‘core issues’ — higher education funding, welfare issues and accommodation.”
Students have been asking for more space for years. This is probably the largest project I will work on this year. I ran for election angry that students had to sit on the floor for lunch in the Arts Block and the Hamilton. We’ve opened three spaces, and have re-done two. More is to come, and next month, if all is well, students will get the student centre that the SU has been attempting to get for close to two decades. This is so very necessary for us to get right.
An issue with engagement which we’ve had — admittedly, one I’ve grappled with — is the perception that we take stances on non-student issues. There isn’t really an answer to what a student issue is. Students are citizens, and therefore many societal issues could apply. The best answer, I believe, is to focus on ‘core issues’ — higher education funding, welfare issues and accommodation. If someone wants to disagree with a stance we take — the repeal of the eighth amendment comes up most often here — I have no problem signing a letter from the SU which states that this student does not hold this stance.
We worked hard this year to ensure that students had every opportunity to join in – and I’m glad that many have. I’m dedicating the rest of the term to getting student spaces over the line, as well as an off-campus and Erasmus student support strategy.
I appreciate criticism, as do we all. But we do work to support every student, and we want this criticism to take account of the work we do — which is as public as we can make it.
The five of us have loved this opportunity, and we will be forever grateful for it. As you vote on our successors, know we’ll be here until July working for you.