TCDSU lags behind national average in gender equality of sabbatical officers

SU sabbatical positions nationwide are split evenly between women and men this year

Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) has the third lowest level of gender equality among its sabbatical officers this year, tying with Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) to rank below 19 of Ireland’s other higher education institutions for equal representation of men and women on sabbatical teams.

An investigation by Trinity News has found that nationally, men and women are represented evenly in students’ unions, with 39 women and 41 men comprising 80 sabbatical officers across the country.

The most frequent ratio of women to men sabbatical officers is 1:1, with students’ unions in Maynooth University (MSU), University College Cork (UCCSU), Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkITSU), Institute of Technology Carlow (IT Carlow), and the National College of Ireland (NCI) boasting compete gender parity.

TCDSU sees one of the most dramatic departures from a gender balanced sabbatical team, with women accounting for only 33% of its sabbatical officers over the last three years.

Despite the overall gender balance among sabbatical officers across the country this year, the role of SU President is more likely to be held by a man while Welfare or Welfare and Equality Officers are significantly more likely to be women.

Men outnumber women as SU Presidents this year on a 1.4:1 basis, while there are more than twice as many women in the role of Welfare or Welfare and Equality Officer than there are men. While TCDSU has elected a male president for the last three years, it has broken the mould in terms of Welfare Officer, with the election of James Cunningham and Damien McClean to the role in the last two years.

Nationally, the role of Education Officer is split equally between the two genders, with nine women and nine men holding the position.

Speaking to Trinity News, TCDSU Education Officer Aimee Connolly stated: “While we may not have gender balance on the sabbat team this year, I believe a key part of our work in this realm will be to address this discrepancy between women putting themselves forward for other roles in the SU and running for a sabbatical role.”

TCDSU ties with University College Cork Students’ Union (UCCSU) as the largest sabbatical officer team in the country, since the introduction of the University Times Editor as a position independent of the Communications and Marketing Officer in 2015. UCCSU, along with Maynooth University (MU), has complete gender parity among its highest roles.

UCCSU and MSU are the only two students’ unions in Ireland’s seven universities to have an equal balance of men and women as sabbatical officers this year, while students’ unions in the IT Carlow, DkIT, and NCI account for the remaining three of the total five institutions to achieve equal representation this year.

However, the only two SUs in Ireland’s universities to have women in the role of President this year are the National University of Ireland, Galway Students’ Union (NUIGSU) and the University of Limerick (UL), with the role of SU President held by men in Ireland’s remaining five universities.

Institute of Technology Blanchardstown has the highest gender inequality of any SU sabbatical team in the country, with its four roles held exclusively by men this year.

University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU) ties with Dublin City University Students’ Union (DCUSU) for the second highest level of gender inequality among its sabbatical officers in the country. Both unions are led by male presidents, with four men and one woman on their sabbatical teams.

UCDSU did not respond to a request for comment.

UCDSU has retained its imbalance since last year, following the impeachment of former UCDSU President Katie Ascough, while DCUSU has not seen more than one woman among its leaders since 2005.

Speaking to Trinity News, DCUSU Vice-President for Welfare and Equality, Aisling Fagan, outlined that she was the only woman to run for a sabbatical position this year, which she says she found “shocking and quite discouraging”.

“The thing that put me off most when decided to run was the idea of the campaign,” Fagan explained. “I wasn’t confident in myself at all and the thought of having my face plastered around on posters and putting myself out there was terrifying…It’s not the job itself putting people off, but the campaigning and lack of confidence.”

Former TCDSU Education Officer Alice MacPherson cited similar reasoning for the lack of women’s engagement in sabbatical officer elections. MacPherson told Trinity News that in order to run for a position, “a woman has to stand up in front of the entire student body to be judged”.

“Female students are used to being judged more harshly than their male peers in every aspect of their life, inside and outside of college,” MacPherson continued.

While some students’ unions see a striking underrepresentation of women at the highest levels of leadership, women are more prominent on certain sabbatical teams around the country, which is reflected in the overall balance of officers nationally.

NUI Galway, Institute of Art and Design Technology (IADT), and Institute of Technology, Sligo (IT Sligo) students’ unions are all comprised solely of three women in sabbatical roles.

NUIGSU began the year with Louis Courtney as the Education Officer, who ran for the position with a campaign bid to not take a sabbatical year out from his studies. However, Courtney resigned in September, having decided that he needed to “prioritise [his] education and focus on [his] dream of becoming a doctor”. Eibhlín Seoighthe has since been elected as Education Officer, establishing an all-women sabbatical team in NUIGSU.

TCDSU ran a series of Diversity in Leadership workshops prior to elections last year to encourage students with disabilities, ethnic minority students, women, working class students, and LGBT+ students to take on leadership roles. However, women’s participation remained low in this year’s race, with only two female candidates of 12.

Speaking to Trinity News, DCUSU President Vito Moloney Burke outlined the union’s plan to put women’s voices at the focus of its “Run for Election” campaign at the end of this semester.

“It’s about using what we have to inspire and encourage more women but also students in general across the board, ethnic minorities, people from a host of different backgrounds, because as a students’ union we need to be representative of our entire student body,” explained Moloney Burke.

“I’m really hoping that we can make a big difference this year and get back in line with the national average,” he continued.

“We really want to encourage as many people as possible to run for election this year, but in particular to encourage women to run and to have their voices heard,” echoed Fagan, who is set to lead the campaign as Vice-President for Welfare and Equality.

An investigation conducted by Trinity News earlier this year found that twice as many men win TCDSU elections as women, while over two thirds of candidates for TCDSU sabbatical positions over the past six years have been men.

Lauren Boland

Lauren Boland was the Editor of the 67th volume of Trinity News. She is an English Literature and Sociology graduate and previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.