Emerging from the wake of Covid-19, this year’s Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) undoubtedly faced additional challenges and responsibilities in representing Trinity College’s student body. As the year draws to a close, Trinity News considers the TCDSU Sabbatical team’s performance in dealing with these challenges, the degree to which they delivered on their campaign promises, the experiences of some outgoing officers, and their hopes for the future.
Assessing her performance as TCDSU President 2021/22, Leah Keogh immediately emphasises the different challenges faced by this year’s Sabbatical team: “Every year is different, and I think specifically this year, coming out of Covid, the priorities were different from the outset.” According to Keogh, much of her time this year was spent “trying to get the basics – trying to get the libraries open, students to classes, the whole piece around exams having to go online, trying to get the right equipment for people.”
“Keogh still believes she managed to achieve most of her manifesto points: ‘If that’s how you’re quantifying it [job performance], I would say I did well.'”
Despite these additional challenges, Keogh still believes she managed to achieve most of her manifesto points: “If that’s how you’re quantifying it [job performance], I would say I did well.” Keogh achieved both immediate, short term goals and strategies for the achievement of long term targets like the development of a student centre, which “students might not feel the benefits of immediately but which they will feel down the line.” Shorter term plans in Keogh’s manifesto included making Trinity Ball 2022 plastic-free and introducing menstrual cups to the TCDSU shop, the former having succeeded. There are also plans to make House 6, home of TCDSU, accessible by 2024, an integral part of Keogh’s manifesto.
Keogh’s achievements mirror her priorities: “I think a good president is a good firefighter; you have to be willing to be dynamic, to cater to students’ needs at that time, but also not to lose sight of the long term goals.”
Greg Arrowsmith is similarly satisfied with his performance as Ents Officer. After a surprise win in the 2021 elections, Arrowsmith faced an uphill battle in restoring College’s pre-Covid social scene while restrictions remained tight. Speaking to Trinity News, Arrowsmith said he was happy with the way in which he and his team adapted to pandemic restrictions, especially in the first half of semester one when social distancing measures remained in place and bars and nightclubs remained either closed or on restricted hours.
“Similarly, Arrowsmith declares time to have been the greatest obstacle impeding the realisation of all of his campaign goals.”
“Compared to any other colleges in Ireland I think we had more events and more successful events,” Arrowsmith says. When asked of his proudest achievement in office, he points to the Senior Freshers’ week which was held at the beginning of September, just as “front gate was thrown open for the first time in two years.” In September, Trinity Ents announced they had hosted “65 events” and “two Freshers Weeks”, selling 15,932 tickets and raising €7,886 in total. The momentum of these first events continued throughout the semester, with the reopening of nightclubs at the end of October heralding the return of Ents club nights and the beginning of a new element of college life for half of the current student body.
Despite achieving most of their campaign goals, both officers admitted to facing bureaucratic challenges which impeded the realisation of certain targets and promises. Keogh admits a “practical limitation to be the dense bureaucracy of the institution,” with the Sabbatical team required to engage in increased amounts of administrative work in light of Covid: “There are a lot of hoops to jump through and a number of committees to sit on.”
Similarly, Arrowsmith declares time to have been the greatest obstacle impeding the realisation of all of his campaign goals. “That was the one thing that surprised me most about the job – how little time you end up having and how much time everything takes up. There’s so much paperwork and admin.” However, he was quick to emphasise that “within the SU and within the college, as long as you’re willing to work at something and you make your points well, there is the appetite to do pretty much anything.”
When asked whether she would encourage students to run for a Sabbatical position, Keogh, although quick to answer in the affirmative, refused to “sugarcoat the more demanding sides of the role – what we do on a day to day basis probably doesn’t match most student’s expectations of the job.” In addition to working full time from 9:30 to 5:30, “you have to put in the groundwork to deliver on your manifesto promises, and sometimes that means 20 hours of Zoom meetings a week and 100 emails a day.”
“Many TCDSU Sabbatical positions have been similarly uncontested or under-contested in recent years, with three of the six Sabbatical positions uncontested this year.”
Undeterred by the slog of the job, however, Keogh deems it an “honour to have the mandate of so many students.” Yet despite being the elected voice for the entirety of Trinity College’s student body, voter turnout in TCDSU elections is extremely low, with only 11.93% of students casting an electronic vote in the recent 2022 elections. This comes at the same time as four out of five of the Sabbatical positions for UCDSU being defeated by a vote to reopen nominations (RON). This call to reopen nominations reportedly arose in protest to the lack of contested positions and candidate choice in the elections, though this RON campaign is also attributed to misinformation spread by the anonymous Instagram page, “ucdconfessions.” Many TCDSU Sabbatical positions have been similarly uncontested or under-contested in recent years, with three of the six Sabbatical positions uncontested this year. A successful RON campaign emerged in Trinity during the election for University Times (UT) Editor after many students were dissatisfied with the performance of the sole candidate running and saw no other alternative. Arrowsmith admits that “it’s disappointing to see the lack of contested races,” deeming this to be symbolic of “a bigger problem of student engagement.”
Keogh agrees that “democratically and generally, people like to have options, so we always want to encourage different candidates to run so that students have options and can make their own decisions.” Arrowsmith emphasises the importance of “getting people running from different sides of college, different courses and different walks of life.” Having served as Welfare and Equality Officer prior to being elected President, Keogh acknowledges that “there is something to be said for retention. Having that institutional knowledge is definitely an asset in navigating any of the obstacles that arise.” She also recognises, however, that there is “value in the one year turnover, because what students want will change, and I think it is important that leadership reflects that.”
As the conclusion of the academic year fast approaches, so too does the time for the current Sabbatical team to “pass on the baton,” as Keogh puts it. In spite of her imminent departure, her hopes for the future of the SU are palpable: “What I’ve realised in this job is that the student experience is so dynamic, as are the experiences that face students.” Keogh’s hope for future officers, therefore, is that “they’ll keep on the fight, whatever that looks like.”