“Mental Health initiative of paramount importance”: interview with GSU Vice President candidate Gogoal Falia

Falia discusses postgraduate fees, the accommodation crisis and mental health

Dr. Gogoal Falia, a medical doctor from India and an Master of Business Administration (MBA) candidate at Trinity, is one of two candidates running to be Vice-President of the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) for the 2018/19 academic year. In an interview with Trinity News he discusses his plans for the GSU.

Falia began his studies in Trinity last September and highlights the GSU as the main outlet that allowed him to engage with the college and surround himself with fellow postgraduate students. He believes this is one of the most basic values of the GSU and the very reason why he is running in the GSU elections.

“The role of VP deals with two aspects of student life – academic and welfare”, he notes. Referencing his medical background, Falia believes he is experienced with and knows about “people, psychology and counselling. I want to leverage my skill-set as a doctor to find out what students seek. Students need help, help that you cannot directly provide but you can say ‘I can do something for you. I can connect you with people who can connect you with that help’. It’s networking, making those connections and that’s also where I think my skills as an MBA graduate will come in.”

Referring again to his medical experience in India, Falia asserts that he is firmly pro-choice. In relation to Repeal, he believes that the GSU “has not been vocal enough”. While he understands that the focus on this issue will be much different following the referendum in May, he does think that the GSU still has a role to play. “As a doctor I have seen people suffer from the kinds of things abortion does. We need to ensure the provision of safe abortions going forward.”

The 5% increase in fees that postgraduate students, both continuing and new, will face in the next academic year is likely to be the most contentious issue that this year’s GSU-elect will have to tackle. Falia made it clear that he was totally against these increases deeming them “preposterous”. However, while he states that there “is simply no justification” for the fee increase, he did state that “what Trinity can do is they can at least provide much better infrastructure using this income.”  

Falia criticised Trinity’s previous communication to postgraduate students about the fee increases  praised the current GSU’s approach thus far in fighting them. While the GSU are currently mandated only to ‘explore industrial action’, Falia notes that industrial action would be something he would  support. He says that if another up coming round of talks following previous negotiations and demonstrations does not result in any “assurance” then Falia believes the GSU will “go fo industrial action”. However Falia believes a “partial roll back or something” would allow the GSU to “sit back then and see what happens”. Further fee increases are “out of the question”.

Falia highlighted the accommodation crisis as one of the most crucial issues facing students. From his personal experience, Falia says, “When you come to a new country, a new city, a new culture, you’re in a state of shock. It takes a few days to overcome.” He wants Trinity to provide temporary accommodation for students who struggle with adjusting to culture shock and believes this will help students in their search for permanent accommodation. Falia says that while he can not promise students that they will find permanent accommodation, he can promise that they will be “given the best opportunities to do so” through coordinating their searches.

In relation to the accommodation crisis Falia would like to also address Teacher Assistant (TA) pay and criticises it for being too low. He highlights the high cost of living in Dublin especially for single people and notes that if the majority of your expenditure is for rent, then how is a TA supposed to travel for research. Falia thinks the GSU should do more to help students in these circumstances.

In his manifesto Falia wants to increase the financial transparency and accountability of the GSU: “You go to the GSU, you can’t find any information on their finances. Maybe such a thing exists, but you can’t find it anywhere”. Falia says that as the GSU “belongs to the students”, and that “they should know where the money comes in and where it goes”.

Falia also believes postgraduate mental health is extremely important and that in his manifesto agreed that the “Mental Health initiative is of paramount importance” and something he wishes to carry on as Vice-President.

Falia prefers an initial approach which is personal and casual to Mental Health support: “A system that is too rigid will break”, he says. He wants the GSU to “invite students to come and talk to [them], to have a coffee or go to the pub, whatever, just let students come and talk”. He believes that by making a casual approach first then a students problems could be identified and then the necessary referrals could be made.

He stresses the importance of a personal approach, that the first step is “getting them to talk.” “When you are down, when you are feeling low, sometimes a simple ‘I’m here for you’ is enough.”

Falia references the GSU Mental Health in plans to further funding requests the Student Counselling Service [SCS] as part of his“scientific approach”. He said that “hard evidence” of what exactly the students need in terms of treatment for mental health would benefit their campaigns. He also would like to see a study from Trinity about its students mental health.

Regarding sexual harassment Falia wants the GSU to work further to tackle this. An area he is very passionate about, Falia would like this to be his lasting legacy with the GSU, “If the one thing I was able to do was to enable victims, who were otherwise scared or intimidated to come out and speak, I would be happy.” Falia wants to commission a survey regarding students experience with sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault and hopes this will help the GSU to do more about the issue.

Asked about the Memorandum of Understanding between the GSU and the SU, Falia responded that “it shouldn’t be a memorandum it should be a partnership. There’s so much we can learn from the undergraduate SU. There should be a lot more communication between the two unions if you ask me. Ultimately, we are Trinity”. Representation with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) is also an important part of Falia’s manifesto and he would like to see the GSU have a representative.

Reflecting on his time in the GSU and how this has influenced his vision for the Vice President’s position Falia said : “What I want is to bring every student that we have in Trinity together. Identity should be based on who you are not where you’re from. If you’re from Trinity, that’s all that matters. I want all the students that come here to feel the same; multiculturalism is the greatest gift that Trinity has”.

Michael Gilna

Michael Gilna is a former Investigations Editor of Trinity News.