President race: Rebecca Kelly still has “so much more to give”

Current Gender Equality Officer Rebecca Kelly wants to target the “imposter syndrome” many students experience on campus

Rebecca Kelly prides herself on “knowing how to make things happen”. A self-proclaimed “woman of action”, the final year law student has served as gender equality officer and law school convenor in the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU). Kelly has also been involved in society life as Trinity Law Society’s Women in Law Officer, and founded the Trinity branch of the European Law Students’ Association. Now, Kelly is running for TCDSU president because she feels her work is not yet finished.

“I’ve been so passionate about the work I’ve done so far, and I’m really happy with the work I’ve done so far, but I still feel like I have so much more to give,” Kelly told Trinity News on why she chose to run for president.

Kelly credits her own personal experiences for her political passion. As a “proud access student” and past access committee member, Kelly wants to target the “imposter syndrome” that many students experience on campus by fostering “more of an outreach from the union” to students. Kelly’s mantra is “our union starts with you”, and she hopes her plans for the union will benefit not only the students who are “politically engaged” with the union, but also “the students who come in at nine and leave at five, who just want to go home and have their dinner”.

As the union’s current gender equality officer, Kelly successfully passed the motion to form a gender equality working group within the union  to target issues relating to sexual assault and sexuality/gender-related hate crimes.

When asked about what part of her manifesto she was most passionate about, Kelly responded that she believed safety, particularly when it comes to sexual assault, is the most pressing matter facing the union currently. She explains that sexual assault has been at the “centre of discussion” on campus for the longest time, and that “far too many students have been subject to [it] and have been left voiceless over [it] in the College”.

“Kelly also wants to increase sabbatical officer office hours for issues related to sexual assault”

There is currently no sexual assault policy in the College separate from the Dignity and Respect Policy, and there is no “efficient mechanism” to protect or support students, something that “frustrates” Kelly. According to her manifesto, she wants to create an “efficient sexual assault framework”; she believes this will “amplify” students’ voices and “make students feel safe on campus”. According to Kelly, this framework would include response workshops, self-defence classes and increased collaboration with the Student Counselling Services. Kelly also wants to increase sabbatical officer office hours for issues related to sexual assault. When probed about support for students who prefer to maintain anonymity in these issues, Kelly confirmed that anonymous forms could be created for these students. Kelly is “tired of victims having to take matters into their own hands”, and she believes a complete “culture change” is needed to reduce discrimination and to create a campus enviornment that reflects its student population, not only for women but other marginalised groups.

Kelly also plans to advocate for more diverse curriculums across all courses in Trinity. While she knows it will require a lot of collaboration from students and staff, she believes that it is hugely important that students are “celebrating other voices and learning more and expanding our viewpoints”.  Kelly thought this initiative was particularly important when it comes to the health sciences, as current curriculums do not provide adequate knowledge when it comes to transgender patients: “How are we supposed to trust our doctors with trans healthcare when they’re not being taught enough about it in their curriculum in university?”

She asserts that even measures as simple as “updating reading lists” or going further to introduce new modules akin to the recently created black studies elective will go a long way in “making sure that voices that often go unheard in scholarly discussion are amplified and that people are exposed to diverse perspectives and experiences through their learning”.

When it comes to representation, Kelly also plans to represent the Irish language on campus more; as a former Gaelscoil student, she is excited to “normalise [Gaeilge]  a bit more and make it a fun thing to be a part of”. Her manifesto sets out to “increase the availability of services as Gaeilge”, including sabbatical officer reports and procedural motions at council meetings being said in Irish and liaising with the Academic Registry (AR) to prevent issues such as fadas not appearing on students’ T-cards.

Another way Kelly hopes to represent students is by making their day-to-day life on campus easier. Coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic, Kelly believes that the current union has not campaigned enough to keep certain beneficial measures created during the pandemic in place, and “it’s really important to take that opportunity to hold on to them”. Kelly wants to maintain the hybrid model and plans to ensure academic materials such as lectures are posted online. According to Kelly, we have a responsibility to advocate for these accommodations for students with disabilities and commuters. When asked about the logistics of organising a hybrid learning model and protection for working students, Kelly said that she would need to “unite a few different limbs of the SU to make it work” and that “convenors are key to anything that requires a school-by-school approach”. Kelly also wants to create a process in which students with full or part-time jobs can apply for “working student status”, which will then allow students to seek extensions on assignments and exemptions from attending certain classes and seminars. Although Kelly sees this idea as a “long-term project”, it is something she is “passionate about streamlining.”

When asked about accommodation, Kelly explained her plans to lobby the college for more purpose-built student accommodation owned by Trinity. When probed about where this accommodation could be situated, Kelly said she thought it should be close to campus to remain accessible, but she is also “mindful of the fact that we are in the inner-city”, making this project more difficult. She also confirmed she had spoken to the students advisor in the College accommodation office on the matter, who pointed to securing funding as the main issue. Also on the topic of accommodation, Kelly plans to continue the union’s support for students who complain to College about the condition of campus accommodation, such as the complaints about missing appliances and unannounced construction work in Goldsmith Hall this year. Kelly admits that these situations are “difficult to navigate sometimes”, but asserts once again that the “key to everything like this is communication, it’s asking what can we do”.

Another duty Kelly feels the union has is to continue campaigning against the closure of the Science Gallery: “It’s the only open door we have with the community, really,  and we need to keep that.” Kelly pointed out that it is the first “tangible interaction” that many students, including herself, have with Trinity when they are younger. Kelly is passionate about creating a mandate binding the union to campaign for its reopening, and she is confident that the union will be successful in this regard: “There’s going to be a way to do it and I’m going to make sure we find a way to do it.”

Environmental sustainability is a key part of Kelly’s campaign. Kelly wants to combat the “empty promises” continuously made by College in this regard, and highlighted that “even outside the Arts Block there was a bin that said “recycling” and then “general waste”, but then you lift up the lid and it’s all the same bag”. Kelly plans to introduce more plant-based options to campus, and her own campaign uses business cards instead of flyers to reduce waste, but Kelly firmly believes that the “biggest thing we can do is hold them accountable and make sure that the goals are implemented”.

“Issues that start locally and exist locally can be addressed nationally as well. It starts in the union, but it doesn’t end there.”

Kelly highlighted the dual identity of the union as an organisation with “local responsibilities [and] a national platform”. When it comes to balancing local and national issues, Kelly affirms that these things go “hand in hand”. After nine years of experience in activism, Kelly knows that “there are students in our population whose existence is inherently political”, and that their needs must be met through a greater cultural change in Ireland. Kelly explained: “Issues that start locally and exist locally can be addressed nationally as well. It starts in the union, but it doesn’t end there.”

When asked about recent concerns from students that the union failed to respect opposing opinions or foster debate, Kelly said: “We have a duty of care to provide a safe space for healthy debate and discussion and collaboration, and I think in any situation there’s going to be scope for toxicity, and that’s not acceptable. I think we do need to take a more proactive approach to combating that and creating a healthier environment where people can stand up.” As part of this approach, Kelly plans to introduce a mechanism through which students can respond to motions prior to council meetings.

On the topic of working relationships with other sabbatical officers, Kelly addressed the recent allegations against SU newspaper, the University Times (UT), of journalistic misconduct and mishandling of anonymous sources on sensitive topics. Although UT has editorial independence according to the TCDSU Constitution, it remains a part of, and funded by, the union. Kelly said that her “heart is broken for those victims involved” and that she was frustrated that “College failed students to the point where they had to take matters into their own hands” on issues such as those discussed in the article. Kelly questioned why there was “no one over this particular reporter” involved in the allegations to give them “proper training” on the issue.

When asked about how she would balance her responsibilities to protect students and respect the UT’s editorial independence, Kelly confirmed that she wants to “look at” how “the UT editor keeps its staff informed on what’s okay to do and what’s not, and what procedures are  in place when allegations arise”. While she is adamant to ensure that a situation like this “never happens again”,  she is confident that it can be resolved through open collaboration: “If you have a good relationship with who you’re working with, and you have an open dialogue with them and constant communication, it’s easier to hold them accountable.”

In her campaign for president, Kelly is aware that “a  great leader is also a great team member”, and she believes she is ready to lead the next student union: “My passion for it was just so profound that nothing else could really overcome it.”

Campaigning for sabbatical officer elections will continue until March 3. Voting will run from March 1 to 3. Students have until noon on March 1 to register to vote.

How are you planning to vote in the election? Fill out Trinity News’ poll and help us understand how students feel.

Ellen Kenny

Ellen Kenny is the current Assistant Editor of Trinity News and a Junior Sophister student of Politics and Sociology. She previously served as Features Editor