Outreach, access and community on the agenda for GSU Vice Presidential candidate Jamie Farrell

Fostering a sense of community among Trinity’s postgrads is a priority for Farrell

   Jamie Farrell is studying an LLM in Law and is a candidate for the Graduate Student’s Union (GSU) Vice President position. Sitting down with Trinity News, Farrell speaks about his aims for the role and direction of the GSU.

The first topic raised is Farrell’s plans for an outreach week. Although in the early stages of planning, Farrell wants to encourage efforts after orientation week for postgraduate students to “reach out” to each other and plans to hold events to encourage this. For Farrell, it is possible to establish strong friendships through something as simple as asking someone for coffee. This ties into community and integration which is one of Farrell’s main points.

Referring to his first weeks in Trinity, Farrell described feeling “a bit out of place” and credits the GSU for helping him to feel more comfortable at College. He believes that the GSU can do more in this way to help international students adjust to Ireland’s culture, especially when it comes to socializing. To address the divide between different groups of students or the distance between students and the GSU, Farrell would like to hold interdepartmental events and refers to the Psychology Department’s coffee morning as an example.

Developing on his point about community and fostering a “sense of belonging” among the postgraduate community, the conversation turned towards postgraduate LGBT students and establishing a place for them in the GSU. He credits the GSU committee representation expansion as method of liaising with different students to highlight that the GSU is a body available to them. He thinks this can also be achieved by liaising with other campus groups such as Q soc.

In terms of broadening the inclusiveness of the GSU for international students of different ethnic backgrounds, Farrell believes that “having the GSU out there as a body for any student of any belief” is essential. This lead into the recent international postgraduate students’ difficulties in acquiring visas to study in Ireland and caused many international students to start the term later into the semester. Farrell credits the GSU’s lobbying efforts on this topic for raising it to a national attention and wants to build on the work by previous sabbatical officers. He also wants to make students aware that their visas can be extended to cover the period of waiting for their results, which ties into “integrating services already there and highlighting services available”.

Through all of this outreach and community building, Farrell also wants to further develop the services that the GSU can provide. He cites the GSU’s introduction of a swipe card system for the postgraduate students common room instead of a lock and key system with a €30 deposit, which Farrell says could be a significant portion of a student’s income.

Through “continuity, building on what’s already done”, Farrell wants to expand the space available for postgraduate students and show postgraduate students the services available to them. Farrell also thinks that by demonstrating to Trinity that postgraduate students are making use of these services they can show their value to the postgraduate student bod and in doing so lobby for further funds.

Through community development and outreach efforts, Farrell hopes to develop the support system the GSU can provide especially in relation to mental health. By “creating that safe space where students can get together and just to talk to each other,” Farrell thinks that the GSU can succeed in becoming more of a community because to him. “That’s the whole idea of community, of building that support network,” he said.

Although this was later halved, a recent story regarding 80 students on the Students Counselling Services (SCS) waiting list highlighted the strain Trinity’s service is operating under to support students’ mental health. Farrell acknowledges that “money is tight” but believes that the GSU can do more with the SU to lobby the College to provide further funding. He wants to “open the dialogue” with College and although expecting resistance, he thinks that a position is attainable with Trinity where they will “meet you halfway”.

Education equality issues are probably the most important priority for Farrell after community development. He describes the topic as “part of his life for a really long time,” and believes that the recent fee increase for postgraduate students is “dangerous” as “indiscriminate” fee increases across multi-year courses such as PhDs could “price people out halfway through their PhD”. Farrell wants to again engage with the College on this issue and “find a common ground with College”.

Farrell fears that “education can be made a commodity or a luxury for the rich” and through his experience in Dublin City University (DCU) access and outreach work he recognises the perception high fees can cause. He recounts experiences of students identifying third level education as something out of their reach due to the cost involved. He then links it to undergraduate students, arguing that if undergraduate students continue to see increasing postgraduate fees then they too will feel further third level education is out of their reach. He believes if this perception is allowed to develop, the “postgraduate community will die out”. To address these issues he wants the GSU to collaborate more with the Trinity Access Programme (TAP) and demonstrate more awareness of students receiving Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI).

The interview concludes with a final consideration of the student rights of GSU members. Farrell highlights the pressure certain postgraduate students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) face to design teaching curriculums at short notice as part of their postgraduate courses. Farrell notes that often postgraduate students have to give up their holidays in order to complete these tasks. Although acknowledging that certain college departments may already do so, Farrell would like to see College establish a “cross campus” policy of what exactly is expected from Teaching Assistants (TA) and Lab Assistants in the course of their studies.

On the subject of industrial action for better conditions or increasing fees, Farrell believes that the decisions made would have to be “very carefully thought out and considered”. He says that the situation can be very variable across the postgraduate student body as, for “a lot PhD students”, TAs and lab assistants, their courses require teaching and cannot strike. He argues that “it would be unfair to put them under that pressure of feeling like the they have crossed the picket line”. He is committed to GSU efforts to push Trinity to further recognise postgraduate students role in the College.

In summary Farrell reiterated his support to developing the GSU community, working with its class reps and members and ended by stating: “A lot of GSU work is getting something out of the idea stage into something that is practical and useful for students”.

Additional reporting by Michael Kelly