Junior Freshers’ concerns were put in the spotlight at Halls hustings this evening as the twelve candidates running in the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) elections engaged in the last debate of the campaign.
Candidates made their final hustings appearances in a Zoom led by the Junior Common Room (JCR) committee, who oversee student life at Trinity Hall, ahead of the launch of the voting period.
With two days until voting closes, the candidates returned to some of their key manifesto points as well as being quizzed on fresh issues.
JCR President Alex Clark pushed the three president candidates on the type of relationship they envision between the union and the JCR, which gave Cummins an opportunity to draw on his experience as a former JCR president. Cummins said that there is a “lot the SU can gain” by working with the JCR, and he would hold office hours in Halls. Luke MacQuillan looked at his time as a Halls resident, saying that he was involved in Halls life but “didn’t know anything about student politics” and that students can become “trapped in that JCR/Halls bubble”. “We need to make sure students are aware of what is happening in the students’ union.” Leah Keogh said the two bodies “need a strong memorandum of agreement”. “The JCR needs to know that they’re in control of their finances and they set their vision for the year,” she said.
Clark went on to ask the candidates why they would be the best person to lead the union. First to answer, MacQuillan focused on his desire to increase student engagement within the SU, saying “we all pay into it and we all should benefit,” alluding to his former disengagement from the union. In contrast, Keogh brought up her institutional experience as a strength, saying that projects are not carried about because of the “revolving doors” of the Union and her rerunning would bring a change to this. Cummins placed himself between the two other candidates in terms of engagement with the SU, saying he was not so “disenfranchised” or “institutionalised” as either of the other candidates. He also pointed to his experience within societies and student movements as beneficial, saying he has been “balls-deep in student community” throughout his time at College.
On international student fees, the candidates agreed that the cost of college for students from abroad is too high. “Trinity treats its international students like cash cows,” Cummins said. He said the union needs to be pushing College towards a different model because “right now, ours is broken”. MacQuillan said that international students are “paying an arm and a leg to come to college in Ireland” and that particularly in the context of Covid-19, they were “left in the dark for a long period of time on whether they’d be online or in person”, saying College should potentially look at refunds. Keogh looked at both international and postgraduate fees, which College has the power to set, and said that it needs to be “at the top” of the union’s agenda. “Insofar as what I’m going to do, I’m going to use my voice on College Board,” she said. “The president who sits on Board next year will be in a prime position to secure fee certainty once and for all for international students.”
Candidates were posed with questions relating to their ideas around sustainability and initiatives in Halls. MacQuillan said that his sustainability policy focuses to “encourage students to bring forth their sustainable ideas” and he is thinking about a “students’ union sustainability challenge”, with prizes, mentioning the Provost’s Challenge and Launchbox as comparisons. Keogh was asked if she intended to extend her efforts to provide affordable menstrual cups in Halls as well as campus. She said she “would love to see the same” initiative operate in Halls, noting that she has given information to JCR about the suppliers and costs so the JCR can model her efforts to work on their own scheme. Cummins said that he was hoping to extend the “to go” cup scheme, which is currently operating in the Buttery, college-wide. He noted that it was in the works by Eoin Hand, the current TCDSU President, and that he helped draft the idea up with Hand but progress was halted due to Covid-19.
Education Officer candidates were the next to be questioned by the JCR President, with Clark asking O’Reilly to outline five achievements he has had in his role as STEM Convenor. O’Reilly identified working on developing a student space in the Hamilton building, starting a campaign in Diversity in STEM, engaging with Heads of Schools, and his mid-semester review and the STEM Ball as key parts of his achievements.
When the same question was posed to Genockey, she stated that a lot of her achievements on individual levels have been on case work, and she recently held a module fair for “about 250” second year students. She emphasised her experience of working with Diversity in STEM and encouraging within that committee. She said that she worked with the Welfare Officer on pronouns within College, and claimed that she “started the conversation”.
Clark next questioned Genockey on a recent tweet where she claimed to pass a motion to update the terms of reference to the Diversity in STEM Committee. While Clark acknowledged it was Genockey who proposed it, he stated that the creation of these terms fell with STEM Convenor O’Reilly. Genockey said that minutes of meetings can only partially reflect discussions, and that the conversation that was had by members of the committee was about “expanding the committee” and “including the part-time officers that represent those marginalised groups”. “What I proposed was that they all became members of the committee, and we stuck with our four ordinary members, or maybe increase that,” Genockey explained. “It was then suggested by O’Reilly that we change them to in attendance members which meant there were no ramifications for whether they turned up.” She concluded that there was “no point in saying ‘oh it was my idea, or it was this person’s idea’”, but the reason she highlighted it on Twitter was due to the fact that it had been raised at Equality Hustings that there had been no representation of students from ethnic minorities on the committee.
In a question on his comments that the union has a “spending issue”, O’Reilly said that when he talks about the SU having a “spending issue”, he doesn’t mean it solely in terms of money. He said the way in which the union spends money is actually “quite reasonable” , and the breakdown of union accounts proved that. O’Reilly acknowledged that they could have disagreements about individual line items, but where the spending issue lies within in where the union “spends their resources”. He raised a point on how officers spend their time and the importance of student approval, and added that problems could be solved “significantly” by his proposal of putting systems in place for students to let them “help themselves”.
Welfare and Equality Officer
Both candidates for Welfare and Equality Officer were firm on their plans to run Halls-specific events in a bid to engage with residents. Sierra Mueller-Owens said that, contingent on Covid-19, she’d want to “get [her] feet on the ground in Halls” and work with the JCR Welfare Officer to run workshops in Halls and diversity and inclusion training. “Halls can really feel separated from college,” she said. Similarly, Dylan Krug outlined plans to run a “connections week” and working to run smaller, more personal events in Halls, such as a book club or film watch with residents. “Really bringing these people in the same building together will be essential to fostering a sense of greater community,” he said.
Current JCR Welfare Officer Emma Gallagher brought up the issue of long-term psychological effects of Covid-19, asking the candidates what they would do to address these issues in the coming year. Krug again referred to his plan for circulating “What Do I Do Now” documents, acknowledging that the coming years will be a “psychologically turbulent” time for students. Mueller-Owens said she intends to hold group office hours to help students, “especially those who are struggling to fit in.”
Gallagher then questioned Krug about his What Do I Do Now documents, asking what exactly about the documents would differentiate them from the hundreds of welfare-related documents students do not always engage with. Krug described the documents as a “one-stop shop for all the potential resources you’ll need with an issue”, suggesting that one of the biggest strengths of the documents is their ability to be easily circulated among students. “A lot of times when we’re struggling we turn to our friends,” he said. “It needs to be a collaboration – a real strength of it is where friends can easily send it to each other.”
Mueller-Owens was quizzed by Gallagher on that which her manifesto lacked: references to sexual health. Gallagher reminded Mueller-Owens of the aid Halls currently provides for students, namely assistance with making appointments for STI clinics and consent workshops. To this, Mueller-Owens responded: “I saw other priorities because of Covid and I wanted to make sure those got the attention they deserve”. Despite the fact that her manifesto lacked reference to these things, Mueller-Owens stated that she will in fact work to create a sex-positive community in college and in Halls, and will aim to attract more first years, societies and sports clubs in the process.
When asked about their qualifications for the role of Welfare and Equality Officer in terms of casework, Krug admitted that he doesn’t have any “formal training” in welfare services but that he thinks “being an attentive and conscientious listener” is particularly important. “Students don’t come to me expecting therapy – they come to me expecting me to connect them to the therapeutic resources that would be most beneficial to them,” he said. Mueller-Owens cited her experience with casework as an S2S mentor and as the current Gender and Equality Officer. She claimed this has allowed her to be a “liaison” between students and College and referenced her “passion for making students’ lives better.”
Communications and Marketing Officer
Questions posed to sole Communications and Marketing candidate Aoife Cronin this evening focused on how she planned to support next year’s Senior Fresh students.
JCR President Alex Clark asked Cronin how she planned to make TCDSU’s Living in Dublin guide, which is primarily aimed at fresher students, also cater to Senior Fresh students. Cronin noted that updating the TCDSU guides was “more important than ever” this year, since many Senior Fresh students will be new to the city.
Cronin said that she wanted to make the Living in Dublin guide “as all-encompassing and as helpful as possible.” Cronin’s manifesto plans to expand the TCDSU’s Freshers 101 video series in order to help students adjust to college life, and produce new resources on accommodation and budgeting.
Cronin was asked by the JCR Communications and Marketing Officer how she planned to expose current first year students to what college is normally like. Cronin said that there was a tendency “not just in the union” but across College to focus on “just freshers”, noting that this year that “won’t work”. She said she would work to ensure that students coming to campus for the first time were aware of the various supports available to them, such as mental health services, Niteline and union services.
She also said that her strategy for communicating with students would focus on “making sure they know what the union does for them and what we provide for them”.
To a question about how she envisioned engaging the wider college community in online events, Antonia Brady acknowledged that the events she’d planned this year in her role with DU Players were catered specifically to students who had an interest in theatre. However, she said that events on a larger scale were feasible as long as she made sure “there’s loads going on” to engage a wide range of students. She said that breakout rooms “are the key to making sure people meet face-to-face and get to know each other”.
Clark posed his next question to Greg Arrowsmith, asking how he planned to formulate his proposed “Zoom Playbook”. He claimed that the playbook was already in the making and would be a continual work in progress over his term if elected. The “seven or eight games that work really well”, he stated, were provided to Trinity Surf Club as well as several societies in UCD for upcoming events. “I think the role of Ents if we are online should be providing resources for class reps, for societies and clubs because that is the level that Zoom works at.”
JCR Ents Officer Owen McSwiney asked Brady about how she planned to regulate drug use if in-person events were feasible, to which Brady responded that “all Ents Officers should be well-versed” on the subject and should have been for years. She admitted that it would be “naive” to assume that some drug use would not occur at events she might organise, but prior to events, she would send out information to ensure that students understood safe drug use. Additionally, she pointed to her manifesto promise to install a respite space at Trinity Ball and other Ents events, which would be “very strict in its uses” to serve as a space for overwhelmed students.
To McSwiney’s query about how he would fund his manifesto promises of a second Trinity Ball and a Senior Freshers’ Week, Arrowsmith responded that such plans would be “very feasible”. He stated that the second “Trinity Ball-style event” that he hopes to hold would be held off-campus, “in as large a venue as we can get”, but with a price that would be “at a fraction of the cost of a regular Trinity Ball”. For other events, he said that as there would likely be a large demand for attending events next year, he would use “economies of scale” to book venues for large groups of people. Finally, Arrowsmith called to his plan for organising weekly events at the Pav, which he affirmed would all be free to students.
When critiqued by a student that hosting a so-called second Trinity Ball in a venue outside of Trinity might be “false advertising” for another standard Ents event, Arrowsmith said that this would not be the case. Venues he has considered for the event, such as the Academy or in an outdoor marquee, he said, are much larger than typical Ents venues, which meant that he saw the potential second ball as “as close as we can get to having an actual Trinity Ball”.
University Times Editor
The candidates for editor of the University Times (UT) were asked about coverage by the paper of the enforcement of Covid-19 restrictions in Halls this year. The JCR president referenced an article in which Trinity Hall was described by residents as a “prison”, asking if the candidates thought this coverage was beneficial.
Emer Moureau said that the University Times “did the best we could”, and that the paper had been “very vocal about insisting College have clear rules for residents in Halls”. She also stated that the paper was reflecting the feelings of students at the time.
In contrast, Peter Caddle agreed with Clark’s criticism, stating that if the coverage “did not accurately represent what people were feeling then it is not accurate journalism”. “I think we should do better,” he added.
JCR Publications Officer Aoife Mullan said that the JCR tries to create an environment that encourages students to get involved with extracurriculars and asked Moreau how they might engage students living in Halls in areas such as photography and graphic design in addition to writing for the paper. Moreau answered that she thinks UT “is in a really good position to get first years on board,” adding that she proposes to organise events and writing workshops.
Mullan asked both candidates how they would platform life in Halls. Caddle suggested that this could be done through inclusion of Halls’ articles “in the main paper” which would be easier “through a digital publication”. Moreau stated the need to “strike a balance between the positive and the not so positive” in UT’s coverage of Halls instead of a focus more on the governing bodies of College.
Mullan asked Caddle about his plan to cut the print edition of the paper and how he would ensure the same level of engagement with the paper in the absence of copies placed around campus and halls. Caddle said that he did not foresee cutting the print edition has negatively impacting engagement at all and that the “the Burkean has proven” this.
Caddle responded to a question from a member of the audience who said that as a person with a disability they found it “beyond insulting” that he had declined to attend Equality hustings, saying he would spend the time speaking to “normal students”.
Caddle said that “of all the things that I have said and written that have been taken out of context” during the campaign, this was “by far the worst”. “I meant and it was very clear what I meant” he stated, that he was referring to students who are “not eyeballs deep in the students union”, and it was “not a jab at any sort of a community like that”.
This evening marked the last of five hustings held during the campaign period and the start of voting. The online ballot is open until Thursday afternoon, with results announced on Thursday evening.
Reporting by Lauren Boland, Dearbháil Kent, Connie Roughan, Shannon Connolly, Jamie Cox, Bonnie Gill, Rebecca Deasy-Millar, Olivia Flaherty-Lovy, Finn Purdy, Sarah Emerson, Audrey Brown, Julia Bochenek, Jack Ryan, Kate Glen.