Candidates in this year’s Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) sabbatical officer elections had their first opportunity to appeal to voters this afternoon, at a hustings held on the steps of the Dining Hall, in line with tradition.
The event marked the start of campaigning for the elections, which is taking place in person for the first time since 2020. It will run until Thursday March 3, with voting to run online from March 1 to 3.
Gabi Fullam, sociology and philosophy student and TCDSU’s Ethnic Minorities Officer began her speech by saying that she has “spent the past four years in college trying to raise some noise about the things that matter”.
“I’ve written articles, left societies, founded groups, run events, and published reviews,” Fullam continued. “I’ve gotten threatening DMs, lecturers who told me to drop out of College, harassed and frustrated by a college that doesn’t cater to our needs.”
Fullam continued to emphasise that despite all this, she has “always had my voice, and I know I’ll always have my drive, and hard work”.
Fullam continued to stress that she has been active on Trinity’s campus, citing being Editor of Trinity Women and Gender Minorities Review and Co-Editor of Icarus.
“I’m used to teamwork, organisation and collaboration as a previous member of TFM and DU Players committee. I’m here before you right now, asking you to trust me because I know I can get the job done.”
Fullam said that a vote for her “a vote for structural reform”. She added that she plans to form “strong relationships” with Transport for Ireland and Dublin City Council, so “we can be a proactive voice for students in evolving city planning”. Fullam also mentioned plans to reform the tutoring system in College, “so it works for you”. Fullam, if elected, also plans to set up a student working group to ”collect student attitudes towards Schols” and investigate “how to make it fairer and more accessible”.
“A vote for Fullam is a vote for student services,” Fullam continued. “I will continue the fight for the science gallery, and reopen the student union cafe.”
Fullam announced that she also plans to identify an “on-campus location for the student centre you have been paying for and continue to lobby for increased funding for mental health support, particularly at peak times”.
Rebecca Kelly, law student and current Gender Equality Officer of TCDSU, started her speech by saying: “I want to be your next TCDSU President, because I think we can make a change”.
“We are currently standing on a campus that does not make life easy for students who walk through the gates everyday,” Kelly continued. “Our structures, policies and culture are not fit for purpose and these very elections are inaccessible in themselves.”
Kelly added that the prioritisation of student welfare has been “neglected”, and students see this “through our fees, accommodation costs, our oversubscribed services and our limited student spaces on campus”.
Kelly emphasised: “We are only now seeing a long term plan solidified for the structural accessibility of Teach a Sé, but what about the GMB? What about the Museum Building? And so many other integral bases in Trinity.”
“The facilities and even cultural opportunities to engage with student life that we pride ourselves on alienates our commuters, our working students and our students with disabilities, and this needs to change,” Kelly continued.
Kelly added that there is a “need to better support our minority group students” and “amplify the voices that often go unheard”. She continued to point to College’s “lack of a sexual assault policy”.
“How many burdens do we need to place on those who we should be protecting?”
“We can open conversations about how we can do better for each other,” Kelly said. ‘We can introduce accessible education policies and mechanisms such as working student accommodations, hybrid learning models and transparent procedures.”
“We can make Trinity safe for all. Not just safer; safe. We need a detailed and efficient sexual assault policy and I am committed to working with the sexual consent research assistant and welfare officer in streamlining the implementation of this framework.”
Kelly added that the union needs to “craft a culture that makes campus comfortable for everyone”, within the student body, SU Council discussions, College curriculums and union interactions with staff.
“Is feidir linn, agus táim anseo daoibhse. This is my vision,” Kelly concluded. “A union that starts with you.”
In response to a question on promoting Gaeilge in College, Fullam explained that “indigenous languages have to be preserved” in future, including Irish, and this should be looked at in relation to other ethnic minorities on campus. Fullam also said that the Cumman Gaelach room should be made accessible.
Responding to the same question, Kelly emphasised that Irish is her first language, and it is a “real shame” students do not hear it at an event Cumman puts on. Kelly also mentioned that there is a need to create a culture where it is normalised to speak Irish, and it is a “real shame” there are not more services available through Gaeilge.
In a response to a question of how she plans to implement her sexual assualt and harassment policy, Kelly responded that the union are already trained to faciliate focus groups, but they need to “devise this framework”.
“We want to make sure that students who come forward get redress,” Kelly continued.
Speaking on the same question, Fullam noted the importance of an intersectional approach. She mentioned the issue of “racialised sexual abuse within College, specifically in College societies.” She wants an official memorandum with the Central Societies Committee to begin to tackle this problem.
Zöe Cummins, the sole candidate contesting the TCDSU Education Officer position, emphasised the range of positions she has held within the union, including that of class representative and sitting on the Welfare Committee.
Cummins said that she wants to focus on policies that are “not that sexy” but which she believes have the potential to improve students’ lives. She plans to lobby College to introduce “modular billing”, whereby students can pay a fee to repeat modules they’ve failed over the course of the following year without going off books. She said the cost of repeating years or going off books was “not very accessible, especially for students from low-income backgrounds”.
Cummins also said that College needs to increase the availability of “high-flex learning”, making recordings of all lectures available to students. “We all roll our eyes when we think of lecture recordings,” Cummins said, but she believes the measure is important for accessibility and student experience generally.
She also plans to “collect data” on the “hidden costs of College” for students. Cummins said that educational expenses other than tuition were often not obvious to students, and that she wanted to allow them to “better forecast and plan for these costs coming up”.
Welfare & Equality
Current Officer for Students with Disabilities Chloe Staunton began her speech telling the crowd that she is “running for this position as [she] believes [she] can be both an excellent support for students, as well as a great advocate of equality issues here at Trinity”.
“I have experience handling student casework through my current positions as TCDSU Officer for Students with Disabilities and as S2S Head Mentor. I have experience running a campaign week from organising Disability Awareness Week and running society events with S2S Society.”
She also noted her experience “with sitting on committees and advocating for students through the Welfare and Equality Committee, the Communications Committee and the Access Committee” as well as the Trinity Inclusive Curriculum Project committee.
She mentioned the importance of inclusion and belonging in College saying: “Whether students want to get more involved or take advantage of the resources available to them; I want to focus on making the work of the TCDSU more known, transparent and approachable for all student cohorts.”
She highlighted “tangible ideas that can create effective and instrumental change” as a main point in her manifesto. “From creating dedicated peer support training for PTOs to creating practical and constructive mental health campaigns to pushing for more free period products.”
Incumbent Welfare Committee Member Cúnla Morris began their speech by saying; “The Welfare Officers that have come before me thus far have left some big shoes to fill, thankfully, I’ve got big feet.”
“In the past five years of my life in Trinity College, I have already worked as your advocate.
I’ve worked as your Oifigeach na Gaeilge, I’ve sat on committees for LGBT+ Rights, Disability, and this year, Welfare, too.”
They said that they have “already worked to take care of you,” noting their work “as class rep for two years”. They note that they have “dealt with casework” and “have always been happy to make time for you and I’m not finished working for you”.
They spoke about the importance of the Welfare and Equality role saying that “nobody wants to see someone running a vanity project for themselves, you want to see an honest campaign that runs for you.”
“Everybody deserves an officer who is completely transparent, who shows you the work that they do for you.”
After both speeches the candidates were questioned on whether they had plans to collaborate with Trinity Ents to make events more accessible and focused on wellbeing.
Speaking first Staunton noted the importances of “being approachable to all cohorts” and making events physically accessible for all. She said that she would work with Ents to choose venues that are “open to all”.
Morris spoke next saying that accessibility is “a big part” of their campaign and agreed with Staunton about the level of inaccessibility in Dublin. They want to work with Ents to make accessible venues “more popular”.
Comms & Marketing
Julie Smirnova, a Senior Sophister politics and economics student, is the sole candidate for Communications and Marketing officer. Smirnova began her speech by saying that she is running for the role because she wants to help: “build a union that every student feels part of.”
Smirnova drew on her experience in several avenues of College life, including her work as Public Relations Officer of VDP. She said she thought this gave her “valuable experience” in graphic design and running social media. She also emphasised the importance of building community within the SU, saying she wants to: “take the union out of House Six and onto campus.
“The thing is, we’re already engaged. The energy of our student societies is unparalleled. We’re just not engaged with the union.”
Smirnova pledged that if elected, she will work to collaborate with both student societies, and College welfare services.
Another central aim of Smirnova’s campaign is to improve transparency surrounding decision-making in the SU, pledging to circulate an“opt-in newsletter” with minutes from Council. She also touched on the importance of accessibility in online material.
While the union is currently financially stable, Smirnova said: “a rainy day fund always comes in handy,” and that she aims to “protect partnerships” and “build new relationships” with local sponsors.
Ross Donnelly, current Events Officer for Trinity Sailing, said he plans to “focus on communication and collaboration” to “create the best events in our calendar”. Donnelly highlighted the importance of working with societies’ events officers to create “engaging, entertaining and diverse events”, and said that fundraising would be imperative to ents.
Donnelly emphasised that “safety and sustainability” were key to his campaign, explaining that making more use of Trinity’s spaces would guarantee increased accessibility and a “proper route home” for events. Donnelly said that he planned to transform student spaces and classrooms for the night and have a diverse line-up of performances at the Pavilion Bar (the Pav).
Nadia, former Class Rrepresentative for computer science, promised to plan an “unforgettable year for you all”. She said that Trinity Ents needed to do more to represent different cultures and minorities, and she was qualified as a queer woman of colour. Nadia said that this would include LGBTQ+-themed events, as well as cultural events around celebrations such as Chinese New Year and Eid.
As part of her emphasis on sustainability, Nadia plans a “regular Sunday boot sale market” for students to sell second-hand clothes, and said that Trinity Ball would be plastic free. Nadia also highlighted the importance of safety on nights out, and said that she would provide “properly-trained female bouncers” and first-aid responders at all events. She also suggested providing drug testing at T-Ball so drug users could know “exactly what they’re taking” if they were going to take drugs.
Max Lynch, captain of Trinity Surf Club, said that he would provide a “broad range of events”, would “cater to everyone”, and provide “safe, inclusive events”. Lynch said that “engagement only comes from cooperation”, and plans to hold events in collaboration with societies. Lynch noted the importance of learning from the pandemic so that events such as outdoor movie screenings would become a “permanent fixture”.
Lynch also promised to provide “comprehensive” training for the Ents committee in sexual assault and racial discrimination bystander intervention, as well as “free information sessions” on clubbing in Dublin in order to protect incoming students.
When asked how their campaigns would be sustainable, Nadia said that her campaign would be mostly paperless, while noting that due to “time constraints” she was unable to make her t-shirts as sustainable as she wanted.
Lynch said that he had talked to TCDSU’s environment officer Sam Foley on how to run ents sustainably, and had chosen Bow Lane, which only uses glass, for his campaign night out.
Donnelly also said that his event “will be completely plastic free”, but noted that “safety must take priority over sustainability when it comes to issues such as spiking”.
Sole candidate for Editor of the University Times (UT) Mairead Maguire is centring her campaign around the themes of “community” and “accountability”. She described the paper as “the core of my college experience”. Maguire cited a need to get writers from a greater diversity of backgrounds involved in the newspaper, with a focus on LGBTQ+ students and students with disabilities for whom she wants to establish mentorship programmes.
She also said she wanted to establish a social media team for UT, to manage the paper’s online presence across different social networks, as well as an “ents editor” to run social events for the paper.
“Diversifying our staff diversifies our coverage,” Maguire said. “UT should be professional but approachable.”
In response to a question, Maguire said she “[does] not think it’s a coincidence” that the deputy editor has always won the election for UT editor, but said she would welcome other people coming forward if they wanted to contest the role.
Maguire did not make reference in her speech to the recent allegations that she leaked confidential information she collected while writing an article on harassment and bullying in Trinity’s debating societies.
The next hustings event is Equality Hustings, due to take place tomorrow (February 22) at 6pm before TCDSU Council.
Reporting by Jack Kennedy, Shannon Connolly, Grace Gageby, Kate Henshaw, Sarah Emerson, Eva O’Beirne, Ellen Kenny, Elaine McHale, David Wolfe, Ella Sloane, Ria Walls, Fionnán Uibh Eachach and Caroline Higgins.