Analysis: The TCDSU sabbats’ first months in office

The union has spent the summer months preparing for the coming year as well as providing assistance to students resitting exams

At the end of what has been an uncertain summer, students at Trinity now have some clarification as to what a new year on campus will look like. Students will return to campus. Events will be held outdoors. And a further relaxation of restrictions is to occur after reading week.

However, the changeover of the Trinity College Dublin Student Union (TCDSU) Sabbatical Officers is something that happened without much fanfare. It shouldn’t be expected that new officers will enter office with a bang. But it is useful to consider going forward into the new year what this new union has set out to do and whether, in the last two months, much has occurred to indicate that these goals will be accomplished at all.

Upon taking office, President Leah Keogh told Trinity News that she was; “eager to get to work and will spend the summertime preparing for September.”

Speaking again to Trinity News two months later, Keogh has now said that; “This summer has been non-stop in the run up to the next academic year.

“I sat on 6 recurring college committees and lots of ad-hoc meetings, averaging 20 hours a week. I sent and received thousands of emails”.

Keogh’s reports of a busy summer do ring true, having been part of discussions around the reopening of campus alongside figures such as the provost and the minister for further and higher education. It is difficult to say, from the outside, how much influence TCDSU actually had in these meetings, or whether Keogh occupied more of an observer role.

Keogh met with Minister Harris in July and had the opportunity to discuss with him “the importance of co-curricular activities being deemed essential…to promote student mental health.”

Education officer, Bev Genockey, who attended the meeting, described it as brief but said that issues like the importance of clubs and societies and the priority they deserve were discussed.

Genockey added that TCDSU were determined to engage with Harris on an ongoing basis. And while further meetings have not yet occurred, Genockey added that TCDSU also sits on “several college committees representing the student voice in these discussions”.

No doubt Keogh and Genockey hope that these meetings will be useful to TCDSU, establishing communication between the union and the Department. In the coming year, the SU will no doubt try to leverage these connections to progress issues of student welfare.

Keogh has also sought to establish a working relationship with College. Her Q&A session with Provost Linda Doyle this month certainly facilitated familiarity between students and their new Provost, giving Doyle an opportunity to state and explain college’s decisions regarding reopening, in a way that College’s “Covid Update” emails never could.

One could potentially ask if this familiarity is an unbridled positive, however, and whether TCDSU should be communicating students’ grievances to College, rather than merely facilitating its messaging uncritically.

Speaking to Trinity News, Welfare Officer Sierra Mueller Owens spoke of work she has done “with a lot of students on an individual basis to ensure that they have a smooth transition into the academic year.”

SCommunications Officer Aoife Cronin added; “Looking back on my time in office so far, I believe I’ve had a productive summer and have facilitated the Union in a number of ways.

“I assisted the Education and Welfare Officers with their Fit2Sit Reassessment campaign.

“During this campaign, I designed new Student Union business cards, brochures, and stickers. Additionally, I designed the newly updated Exam Success Guide.”

The Fit2Sit Campaign aimed to assist students resitting examinations in the summer. The  union provided tips to students on how to succeed in exams, as well as information on subjects such as study drugs. Care packages were also provided to students.

Ents Officer Greg Arrowsmith has succeeded in his aims to establish a marquee outside the Pavilion Bar. The marquee is to be used to host outdoor events during both Freshers’ Weeks, beginning September 6 and 20.

Speaking to Trinity News he said that; “Despite the uncertainty surrounding live events, I’ve been busy this summer preparing fun, socially distanced and outdoor events.

“I’ve also been very busy preparing for both Freshers’ Week and Senior Freshers’ Week, with 45 Ents events planned for the next 3 weeks.”

TCDSU has endeavoured to remain responsive and assistive to students, particularly to those facing resits this summer. The beginning of the semester will be a vital time for the union, testing its ability to support students and to lobby on their behalf to College. The sabbats have had a busy first few months in office, and the coming weeks will be a test of the efficacy of those efforts.

Jamie Cox

Jamie Cox is current News Analysis Editor for Trinity News and previously served as Higher Education Correspondent. He is a Junior Sophister Ancient and Medieval History and Culture student.