Twelve of the thirteen candidates for the six Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) sabbatical officer positions fielded questions from incumbent officers and students at the second hustings of the campaign season. Cathal Ó Ríordáin, one of the three Welfare and Equality Officer candidates, was not present.
Held after the fifth SU Council meeting of the year, the event saw candidates field more in-depth questions from the student body as their campaigns for election continue.
The wide difference in perspectives between the two candidates for editor of the University Times – Emer Moreau and Peter Caddle – was particularly apparent as both fielded questions on the future of the newspaper.
The candidates for TCDSU President – Ben Cummins, Leah Keogh, and Luke MacQuillan – were first asked their views on the strengths and weaknesses of the Student Accommodation Bill that was put forward by Sinn Fein in the Dáil and what they would like to see the bill achieve in the long term if passed. Cummins, speaking first, admitted that he hasn’t “had the chance to formally familiarise [himself] with the bill”. Keogh identified the support among opposition parties for the bill as a major strength, adding that students have been “really hard done by this year in terms of accommodation”. In the long term, Keogh said she would like to see “student renters protected” and a “shift from the private to the public market”. MacQuillan said that although he hasn’t “read the entire bill”, he thinks it is “great” that it was put forward by opposition parties in the Dáil and would like to see “month by month” payments for student renters, “rather than semester renting.”
In a question posed by the audience, the presidential candidates were asked how they would protect student representation in College governance. Cummins highlighted plans to engage with the new Provost, saying it’s about “being in their emails every day”. He continued to say he would focus on “redirecting the aims of the union to represent what students really care about” and then “bringing that to college officials.” Keogh labelled students as “key stakeholders” and emphasised that “we cannot afford to lose anymore student representation” in College governance. MacQuillan said that “it’d be crazy” for students to “not be represented on the board” and affirmed that “with open dialogue, we can really make sure that views from the students can be brought forward all the time”.
In a succinct question, the candidates were asked what makes them the best candidate for the role. Cummins highlighted his prior experience with student groups, saying they gave him a “unique perspective on the student experience” in creating “tangible opportunities” for students. He vowed to place a focus on “platforming students so that people can form the connections that they’ve missed on in the past year.” Keogh named “passion” as the driver for her campaign and her key strength, saying “advocacy is at the heart of all of the work that I do.” Keogh said that this passion gave her the motivation to rerun as a Sabbatical officer this year, and that She went on to note that her experience will save her learning time, saying “I am ready to hit the ground running”. Luke MacQuillan instead pointed to his former disengagement with the union, noting he did not get involved with the student union until his third year. MacQuillan said his presidency would demonstrate that “the union is inclusive” and anyone “can join at any time”, and that this “could get more involvement for the Student Union.”
The question of spaces for students on campus, both new and existing, is a regular feature in the SU elections. Cummins said that he would fight for and lobby for the spaces that would be included in the student centre, including a “greater provision of space” for Student Counselling Services and mental health facilities. Keogh said that the introduction of socially-distanced breakout spaces on campus this year proved that College, when pushed, “can fill those asks that we’ve been asking for for so long”. She returned to her manifesto promise to secure a project sponsor for the development of the student centre, pointing to the Dean of Students. Looking at the experience of science students, MacQuillan said that he was “flabbergasted” to learn about the empty café space in the Hamilton building and that he would prioritise improving spaces for STEM students who are “forgotten about”.
Asked about their leadership styles, Bev Genockey said that “there’s a large activism role” involved within the role of Education Officer, and drew on her experience in the union to explain how she would “amplify the voices of students”. Daniel O’Reilly mentioned receiving the Dean’s Leadership Award for volunteering last year and described his leadership style as that of “inspiring others to lead themselves”.
On how they would follow through with students’ engagement, O’Reilly acknowledged that he didn’t have a current “solution to the problem”. He would make it easier to “engage with people.” Genockey likewise acknowledged that the issue was something “we need to address.” She followed discussing that she would “find other ways for people to get involved”, however it would be “small incremental changes”.
Both candidates were then asked if they had to focus on one manifesto point over the others, which it would be. Genockey said that she would choose her manifesto point of pushing for College to provide a safe roadmap for the return to campus that is “easy to digest”. O’Reilly chose his “Feedback in Four Weeks”, which is already “College policy”, would be his choice, as it is something that is a “systemic problem” which can be solved by setting up a “rubrics system” for lecturers to give back feedback.
The two candidates were asked about how they plan to help students transition from online learning back to in-person learning. Genockey emphasised the importance of her roadmap to a safe reopening of campus, alongside helping students navigate through a hybrid approach from September to March. O’Reilly in response expanded on an existing manifesto policy of assisting incoming and current students who have never set foot on campus, with a map displaying various on campus facilities, such as gender neutral bathrooms and facilities.
Both candidates were posed then posed the question of how well they think they can represent AHSS students, as they are a STEM Convenor and Deputy STEM Convenor. Answering this, Genockey said that she acknowledged that “languages are underrepresented” in relation to careers fairs. However, she expressed that regarding arts students she “knows what they’re looking for” and elect “Erasmus Part-Time Officers” as arts students make up the biggest cohort of Erasmus participants. Addressing this, O’Reilly likewise acknowledged that this was “definitely a weakness” of his, pointing out that he has in the past worked on a “casework to do with art student.” He expressed that he has “seen the value” Faculty Convenors have, and that these would be crucial to this issue, and he would be “deferring a lot” to class reps.
Welfare and Equality Officer
Welfare and Equality Officer candidate Cathal Ó Ríordáin was not in attendance at the hustings, leaving only Dylan Krug and Sierra Mueller-Owens to answer questions posed by incumbent Welfare Officer Leah Keogh and students.
The pair were first asked to outline “creative ways” in which they planned to engage students with online campaigns. Krug emphasised the importance of making such campaigns “accessible to students…with a diversity of venues,” naming Discord, Zoom and Google Hangouts as potential platforms. He said the union needed to make these events available “no matter how [students] want to engage with them”.
Mueller-Owens said that while she believes it is important to hold “regular panels and formal discussions”, she further believes a more diverse selection of events should be held “in order to get more people” to attend. This “broader array of events” could include “sex toy bingo…[and] a multicultural women’s symposium,” the latter of which she plans to hold during Women’s Week next year.
The two candidates were then asked what they considered the biggest issue facing students at the moment. Both agreed that Covid-19 presents unique and significant challenges. Krug focused on mental health specifically, and the subsequent need to consolidate resources so that they are easily accessible for students. “Something that makes this worse is where people seeking help are not able to find the adequate resources,” he said. “It’s important that, in this mental health crisis, we make it as easy as possible for students to engage with the frankly numerous amount of services available to them.”
Mueller-Owens said that there was “a sense of isolation and loneliness” present for many students, “which I have been experiencing as well”. She said it was important to strike a balance “between starting college as soon as possible…but also protecting those students who are vulnerable to Covid-19”. She said that even if College were to return to in-person teaching, she would work to make sure online learning was still available to students who needed it, and to facilitate online SU and society events.
Both were then asked what they planned to do if they didn’t win the election and if they would keep campaigning on important issues. Krug promised to continue fighting for his “What to do now” documents event from outside the sabbatical position, noting that he has another year left in Trinity even if not elected. Mueller-Owens said that her capacity to influence change would be limited given she is in fourth year, but that she hoped to return to Trinity for her PhD, and to stay involved in the issues discussed in her manifesto in the Graduate Students’ Union and on a national level.
Communications and Marketing Officer
Asked how she defined student engagement with the union and what metrics she would use to measure engagement, Cronin acknowledged that “almost every students’ union candidate has great dreams of solving the engagement question”.
She set out her goals stating that by the end of her term she would like to see “the majority of students know who the SU is… and what we do for them”. Cronin promised to increase the visibility of faculty convenors part-time officers within the union, as well as putting a “greater emphasis on what the sabbats are doing”. She also committed to “more press releases on major union decisions”.
On the issue of the union’s branding, Cronin said she would build on the work of incumbent Philly Holmes, saying that “part of good branding is continuity” and that she would “straddle” carefully the balance between continuity and rebranding. Cronin said that this year Holmes had “started to take steps” to rebrand the union, and that she would “continue those steps forward”. The changes she would like to make would be “as simple as slowly incorporating simple colours and simple fonts while still having an overarching visual identity”. Cronin also proposed a highlights series of the union’s campaign weeks.
Fielding a question about balancing the cost of events with the profit made, Antonia Brady stated that she would prioritise hosting events that were “large scale and low cost”. Wary that there may be a possibility of more online events next year, she affirmed that all online events would be “free where possible”. In the case of in-person events, she also stated the desire to host more events on campus in order to “keep them as cheap as possible”.
Greg Arrowsmith stated that he, too, would make use of campus facilities such as the Pav and the Exam Hall. This, he claimed, would allow for events to remain low-cost. Arrowsmith also proposed an idea to host charity events through Ents. If most events were held on campus and kept low-cost, he argued, students might “engage with potentially bigger, more expensive events that then have a charity function as well”.
Another question posed to the candidates focused on how they plan to diversify in-person events. Brady said that she plans to focus on collaboration with “smaller societies on campus”. Secondly, she plans to host a wider variety of events, including both drinking and non-drinking events. Arrowsmith detailed his five-point plan, “Ents for Everyone,” which includes a Sober October campaign, an “Easing Into It” month that slowly reintroduces students into social events, and promises to reach out to the Lir, Medicine and Nursing Class Representatives to organise events that will fit within their schedules.
Arrowsmith also focused on the point of accessibility on nights out and stated that he plans to find locations that cater to all students. In the case of venues which have a history of harassment, particularly toward LGBTQ+ students, he affirmed his plan to blacklist these venues, and he promised to work to find venues that accommodate students with disabilities.
Both candidates were asked about the possibility of hosting a “senior freshers’ week” next year for current first-year students who never experienced an in-person freshers’ week. Brady stated that, as Trinity is a “community”, she does not believe that incoming first- and second-years should be separated. Instead, a combined first- and second-year Freshers’ Week would allow students to “party as hard as we can”.
Arrowsmith stated that he did not agree with Brady’s stance, claiming that “logistically, they must be separate”. He called again to his “Easing Into It” month, which would allow students who “will never have seen the inside of a nightclub before” to engage in consent and alcohol workshops as they make their way to attending larger scale events.
University Times Editor
The distance between the UT editor candidates’ approaches came to the fore this evening as they fielded questions from the paper’s current editor Corman Watson and students.
Watson asked the candidates which national or international newspapers the paper should seek to emulate. Emer Moreau named the New York Times and the Washington Post as her “two favorite newspapers”. She cited how well she felt the New York Times had adapted to the pandemic and highlighted their “online first model”. She said that this is a model that she wants the University Times to follow, with the print edition acting as a compilation of the best pieces from the previous month.
To the same question, Peter Caddle said that although it was “cliche” his choice was “quite obvious and that is The Burkean” – the online right-wing publications which Caddle is the Chief Projects Coordinator of. Caddle agreed with Moreau’s statement that the University Times should be “online first”, but went further to propose that the publication should be “digital only”. “No one is paying for the physical issues that University Times is printing.”
On how to make the paper more racially diverse, Moreau noted her manifesto promises to create an Equality and Inclusion committee and an Ethnic Minorities correspondent. “As a white journalist you cannot tell somebody’s story better than they can themselves,” she said.
Caddle sidestepped the question of diversity by saying there was a “more serious problem”, that of “general engagement”. He said that in his experience the paper was not open to new writers as “I’ve tried to [write] for the University Times”. “This question is pretty much pointless to us unless we solve the initial problem,” he concluded.
Asked how he can represent a predominantly left-wing student body given that he currently writes for a right-wing publication Caddle denied that the Burkean is right-wing, contradicting the publication’s own claim to being ‘Ireland’s largest conservative magazine’. He characterised it as a “free speech publication”. Caddle said that he had no problem publishing articles that he disagrees with, saying that “if someone wants to write a good article I want to publish it”.
Caddle rejected the suggestion that cutting the print editions of the paper would potentially isolate students from the University Times, claiming that the Burkean, an exclusively online publication “has more than doubled in size each year”. “If the Burkean can do it UT can do it,” Caddle stated. “Produce good content and people will come, we don’t need a physical presence”.
The next hustings will take place on Thursday evening, hosted jointly by Trinity News and the University Times. Voting in the SU elections runs from Tuesday March 9 to Thursday March 11.
Trinity News is currently running a poll of students’ views in advance of the elections. We want to hear from you.
Reporting by Lauren Boland, Connie Roughan, Dearbháil Kent, Kate Henshaw, Shannon Connolly, Jamie Cox, Jack Kennedy, Olivia Flaherty-Lovy, Rebecca Deasy-Millar, Jade Brunton, Finn Purdy, Audrey Brown, Julia Bochenek and Kate Glen.