President race: Luke MacQuillan thinks dialogue is “key for change and movement”

For Luke MacQuillan, keeping “chains of dialogue open all the time” is the solution to the SU’s problems

Although he has no previous experience within the union, Luke MacQuillan isn’t letting that hold him back from running as one of three candidates in the race to be the next president of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU). A Junior Sophister PPES student, MacQuillan cites his realisation of “how important [the union] is to the college” and bringing engagement back to the SU as his reasons for deciding to put himself forward.

His manifesto focuses on the approachability of the SU and keeping communications open between students and the SU. In particular, he highlights that he would like “students themselves to bring their own policies to the Union”.

His lack of experience hasn’t stopped him from running from the role because he believes that students will see him as a “fresh face” in student politics. “Over the past years, a lot of the SU officers have been people that have always been involved in the SU, and people aren’t able to relate that these people have been involved with the union since day one,” MacQuillan said. He believes that this gives him an edge, adding that if he’s “able to show that you don’t have to be involved in the student union politics from day one and get elected”, then it will prove his point that “it’s easy to join, it’s easy to contribute and it’s easy to help the student union”.

On experience with the SU and understanding of its inner workings, MacQuillan said that he “would have to be perfectly honest”, admitting that he hasn’t “had any involvement” and also adding that the main understanding he has of the SU “is from second hand experience by asking people questions”.

Every year, the union faces problems with disengagement among students. Mac Quillan feels that this comes down to students not knowing how to contact the union. He wants the SU to host more events, particularly for students who may not be as involved with student politics, but also thinks that the union “needs to be more open” and “more interactive”.

In his manifesto, MacQuillan sets out that the role of president should not come with any “preconceived idea”. There are, however, certain remits that the role must fulfill, which are laid out in the union’s constitution and mandates. MacQuillan elaborated that the “preconceived idea was … some of the policy issues brought by the student union I may not be fully educated on right now”. If elected president, he would be “very proud to educate” himself “on that idea”. “To be held accountable”, he would “love to hold open discussion with students on a weekly basis, to be approachable to students”, adding that “if students don’t think that I’m doing a good job that they can approach me and tell me what I change”. He emphasises that “dialogue is potentially the most important thing” and keeping “chains of dialogue open all the time is very important”. He plans on keeping student engagement all year round, by “hosting coffee mornings over Zoom, having more interactivity and more contactability through Zoom, email, Facebook, Instagram”.

Lobbying and activism have not been as prominent within the union this year as in some previous ones, in part due to the limitations posed by the pandemic. Pressed on how he would target the issue of racism on campus, and whether he believes racism in Trinity is a significant issue, MacQuillan said that “acting in supporting all cultures and all walks of life is very important” and that racism is “an issue that should be addressed”. 

In his manifesto, his policies focus on accommodation, refunding student contribution and the issue of timetabling and the location of classes. MacQuillan believes that College needs to provide “the ideal college experience” of living away from home. To this stance on accommodation, he added that the union must “have a direct line or approach to tell students … in second and third year particularly, those students who aren’t afforded accommodation on campus or in Trinity Halls” how to find accommodation. 

By involving “third parties away from the college we may be able to help and group together to get affordable living for all”.

MacQuillan’s manifesto points out that he wants to involve independent renter associations; in the interview, he mentioned getting “,” involved. By involving “third parties away from the college we may be able to help and group together to get affordable living for all”. Asking what his plans are to achieve this, MacQuillan said that “again, dialogue is an important thing” and the feasibility of these plans are through “offering them [independent renter associations;,] a “market” and “business”. Asked about whether he would work with the newly established Trinity-based renters’ union, MacQuillan said he has heard of the group, but has not been in contact with them.

Many students have been frustrated with higher education funding over the last few years, and particularly having to pay full fees during the pandemic. On this, MacQuillan argued that “the money is meant to be going towards things like the gym and events and if they’re not happening for two years, there must be some reduction or refund in the student contribution” and that this is possible “no matter if we’re online or in person”. When asked whether he knew how much of the student contribution includes gym membership, the candidate said that he didn’t have the figures to hand, but that he would look into them further.

Exclusively on the topic of funding, MacQuillan said: “We’re at a very advantageous position right now where we have an actual cabinet minister who is minister of the universities and the SU must open dialogue with him directly, Simon Harris. In the end, he is the boss of the universities by the government. It’s up to him and … the SU must be contacting him and having open dialogue with him about fixing this issue.”

Internally, TCDSU’s finances are an important focus for its president each year – its annual accounts regularly return large deficits. “To make sure that we can get the SU out of a deficit and encourage the SU to start turning a profit”, MacQuillan plans to look at selling “large amount of stocks and shares” owned by the SU. He said on one hand that “any excess money may be needed to be given back to the students”, but also said that “to break even is more than enough for the SU. You don’t want to make a profit”. His reasoning behind this being “so students aren’t forking out money each year for something they are losing money on”.

His manifesto outlines a policy about timetabling and the locations of classes and trying to avoid the problem of students having a class at one end of campus and another class directly after at another end. When asked if he’s discussed this plan with anyone in College, MacQuillan answered that he hasn’t “talked to anyone about this in the actual college” but he “found out that it was a problem not just a student problem, that this is affecting TAs … and it should be a problem that is addressed”.

Among the president candidates, MacQuillan has given the most prominence of all three to securing “the pay and the recognition” student nurses deserve in his manifesto. He said that “this is about dialogue”, adding that “this is not just where we approach the Minister for Education, we also approach the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly on how we can get these people rewarded for what they’ve done”.

Some more of MacQuillan’s policies include repurposing the “student space in the Hamilton”. He wants to create a “student space chill-out room” so students have “somewhere to sit down” and “have a break for half an hour before they go into a lecture”. He added that “now would be the ideal time” to repurpose without interfering with teaching and learning”. When asked about the Aramark Off Our Campus, a grassroots campaign that sought to remove company Aramark from operating in eateries in the Hamilton, he was first hesitant to say that he knew about it, asking if it was around “pre-Covid”, but then asserted that he was “aware of it”.

MacQuillan detailed his policy to make online learning either completely live classes or recorded, describing the “mix and match between the two” as “very confusing and … only leading to students missing out on things”. When queried on the feasibility of a universal approach to such a broad range of subjects and faculties within Trinity, he expressed that a “universal approach would just give clarity and so the students know what’s going on so there’s no confusion”.

“Once people are given a platform and can get their idea out there, the sky’s the limit.”

On sustainability, MacQuillan stresses that “student led approaches are the way to go”, continuing that “once people are given a platform and once people can get their idea out there and show that their idea works – the sky’s the limit for their idea”. His plans “to make Trinity more sustainable is by getting people involved and getting people bringing forth their ideas” which would include organising to “run competitions and events for people coming forward with their ideas for sustainability”. This way, MacQuillan argues, “it won’t just bring one sustainable idea to the campus”, it can bring “four or five” more.

This year’s union elections are particularly noteworthy given that they are coinciding with the election of Trinity’s new provost, who is appointed once a decade. On the provost candidates, MacQuillan stated: “Whoever gets the job will be the most suited person for the job, no matter who they are”. The TCDSU President has an important role to play in discussions with the provost and lobbying on students’ motions. When probed on his experience liaising with college staff, he said “the only experience with college staff” he has is “through lecturers”. 

He envisions his potential relationship with the new provost as an amicable one. “Whoever the new provost is, communication is the most important thing to enact change, not fighting with each other,” he said. “By fighting with each other, we’re not going to get anything achieved.”

Dearbháil Kent

Dearbháil Kent is the Comment Editor of Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister student of Latin.