The second hustings event of the 2023/24 Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) sabbatical officer elections took place this evening. At Equality/Council Hustings, candidates faced questions from a range of students including previous sabbatical and part-time officers, the wider student body, and societies and organisations representing various marginalised groups of students.
Zöe Cummins was questioned about notable absences in her manifesto at tonight’s Equality/Council hustings. When asked about why her manifesto did not mention disabled students, the current education officer stated that it “wasn’t an oversight”.
“I understand that [disabled students] have very specific issues andI did not want to throw them in as a token box to be ticked,” Cummins said.
She also was questioned about why her manifesto failed to acknowledge ethnic minority students and the Irish language. When speaking about ethnic minorities, Cummins noted that “she is not a person of colour” and she didn’t want to “take a token person of colour and stick them in there”.
“I want to make sure the power is with the students and who am I as a white woman to dictate what strategy students of colour need?”
Regarding the lack of mention of the Irish language in her manifesto, Cummins said she had been contact with the “only full time officer for Gaeilge” in the student union for the University of Galway “to find out how they’re inventing procedures” showing that Gaeilge is not just “translation”. “The Irish language is very important, it’s our native language,” Cummins reiterated.
When asked why ethnic minority and LQBTQ+ students should vote for him, László Molnárfi mentioned his opposition to the “racist and invasive” exam monitoring software proctorio. As well as his plans to promote the “Speak Out” tool and the “What Do I Do Now” documents, which would help students to report incidents of racism. He also outlined plans to “do a survey” in the health science faculty on inequality and racism in healthcare.
When asked about issues faced by access students, Molnárfi mentioned the “political issue of rising fees and rents”. He discussed his plans to “set up a food bank for [students] who are struggling”. He also promised to advocate for mental health services and for more lectures to be recorded to aid students who “skip lectures to go to work”.
On the topic of making Seomra na Gaeilge accessible, Molnárfi said the room “would be accessible already if the Fellows would let students use their room.” He added “if our demands aren’t met we need to escalate”. Molnárfi was also asked how the Irish language would fit into his plans to decolonise the syllabus, he said that the college has “British colonial roots” and that he would work with the Irish language officer to address this.
When the question of how he would promote the Postgraduate Workers Organisation (PWO) was raised, Molnárfi said: “PHDS want to be represented and recognised by a union in college”. He promised to “pledge support” for strikes and occupations organised by the PWO.
When asked about her plans to work tirelessly for disability support in college, Tilly Schaaf was quick to mention the online booking system relating to students with disabilities , and the “hurdles in the logistics” of that system which students experience. “LENS reports are not communicated, “ Schaaf went on to say, as well as highlighting the “problems with referrals they currently have.”
She concluded her statements on advocating for students with disabilities by referencing first year students entering the college. “First years coming in could really be made more aware of the rights they do have,” Schaaf said. “Increase the advocacy to say that the means are in place to guarantee them access.”
Schaaf was also asked about her plans to consult with the Irish Language Officer on everything, and how exactly this would work. “I think to support a language like Irish it has to be consistent,” Schaaf said, “and Trinity takes great pride in supporting Irish”.
However she went on to articulate how her plans to promote Irish in college “wouldn’t necessarily rely on the Irish language officer” – “A lot of students are able to contribute to keeping Irish alive”, Schaaf concluded.
When asked about how she planned to protect gender minorities and women on campus, Schaaf responded that “ To a certain extent you have to be what you represent.” She also discussed the importance of hearing authentic student experiences . “You cannot always put a projection on somebody and say this is your experience now”, Schaaf said, “We are here to hear your own experience”.
She finished her response by advocating for women and gender minorities on campus “to get the right resources to be able to speak up”.
During Council Hustings, candidates were asked about how they plan to make time sensitive decisions, and not let their own views cloud the issues. Schaaf said that it’s “a lot of compartmentalisation”, and a student survey given directly to student representatives would be how she would give students a voice.
Answering the same question, Cummins said that she doesn’t think “we talk about campaigns enough”, and that there is a need to “make sure” they have things prepared. Cummins also mentioned the need for reform.
Molnárfi answering on making time sensitive decisions, said that he will “transform” the campaigns committee into a “permanent grassroots townhall”. He said that it is such a big issue for the union to “talk down” campaigns.
Sole education candidate Catherine Arnold was first asked how they plan to approach issues facing the college community. Arnold explained that “working students accommodations” and “food insecurity” are their top priorities, with suggestions such as a “codeword for discounts” in the union café.
When asked about the main issues facing disabled students in academia Arnold was asked about, Arnold said that professors specifically fail to understand the Learning Educational Needs Summary (LENS) reports. By engaging with these professors “directly through seminars”, Arnold feels certain that the welfare of these students will greatly improve as a result.
When asked what role the Irish language will play in Arnold’s policy of “decolonising the curriculum”, Arnold said that they hope to create “a report on every department showing the existing gaps that they all have” in order to get “commitments out of the College”.
Arnold was asked about their proposed academic senate to replace the current welfare and equality committees in TCDSU. Arnold explained that “the current committees are formed more to inform the individual officer on what issues are on the ground” and that there are “better ways to do this”. They said that through “incorporating part-time officers and staff” into a newly formed senate, “we will be able to focus on long-term policy”.
When asked why their manifesto did not include any mention of LGBTQ+ students, Arnold acknowledged that they “overlooked” this area and that they think “that there are huge issues that are being faced by LGBT students”. They said they plan to “mediate” the process through which students can change their name and pronouns on Blackboard so they feel “supported in the classroom”.
Arnold was to “elaborate” their roadmap for decolonisation in College. Arnold said, as well as completing a lot of “groundwork” over the summer, they want to do a “full exploration with individual departments” to prevent any “blanket statements” for different subjects.
When asked if they believed the working students group of which they are chair is useful, Arnold said that they are “reviewing terms of reference”, but that they believe the institution needs to be more flexible. They said “by creating outreach programs in hybrid environments”, more working students can be engaged.
During Council Hustings, Arnold was asked if they had consulted the Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation on their plan to “integrate” the organisation with TCDSU, but Arnold clarified that they do not want to integrate with the PWO. They explained their plan to create two postgraduate officers who work part-time “on a sabbatical level”, which they say is “ way for postgrads to have a say on the board”.
When asked to explain what working student status is and how feasible it is, Arnold explained that students who work “a certain amount of hours” can apply for working student status. They envision that this status will provide “academic supports” from College that are “more flexible in the way of assessments”. Arnold said that this status “can be incorporated through different Trinity structures”.
Arnold was asked by a member of Council about their plans for sustainability as education officer. Arnold emphasised the importance of “hybrid tutorials” and “setting up Zoom calls rather than having students travel in and out”.
Welfare and Equality
Uncontested candidate for Welfare and Equality officer Aoife Bennett faced questions relating to the welfare of disabled students and her implementation of consent workshops.
When asked how she planned to address the issues associated with being an access student in the college environment, Bennett said that she would like to engage with the access officer to ensure that access students are fully “engaged in events”. She also noted that “small loans” may be an option for access students who are “really struggling”.
When asked why they were not explicitly mentioned in her manifesto, Bennett reiterated her support for students with disabilities. Bennett said that she believes there is “a lot that we can do for now” and recommended holding “accessible office hours”.
In response to a question that asked how she will “implement consent workshops”, Bennett said that this is something she’s “really passionate about” and believes that it is “very feasible” that consent workshops can be expanded. She plans to hold them “first in halls, and then on campus”. Bennett also believes these workshops “should be implemented during orientation week”.
When questioned on why her manifesto fails to mention inclusivity measures for ethnic minority students, Bennett reiterated her support for these students. She intends to work with the ethnic minorities officer “to increase inclusivity for events”. She also plans to consult ethnic minority students to promote an inclusive environment at welfare and equality meetings: “A big part of my manifesto is inclusivity and making sure that everyone’s experiences are at the forefront.”
During Council Hustings current Welfare and Equality officer Chloe Staunton asked Bennett how she will avoid bureaucratic delays in improving access to free period products in College. Bennett noted there is a “big problem” with funding for this initiative. She aims to campaign for changes in national policy to alleviate this.
Communications and Marketing
Sole candidate for Communications and Marketing officer Aiesha Wong was not in attendance at Equality/Council Hustings this evening.
When asked how she will carry out her manifesto point of free earplugs at events, Nadia ensured that this is a “very affordable” plan, and continued that her ENTs committee would be able to provide these at both nighttime and daytime events.
She addressed financial accessibility specifically, and stated that “even a little bit can help someone”, in reference to her initiative of subsided events. She recounted that she couldn’t afford tickets herself in the past, and that “(she) doesn’t want people to go through that”, especially during freshers week.
Regarding the inclusion of an Irish language community, Nadia made reference to her work in the TCDSU marketing and communications team, and stated that even though she does not speak Irish herself, she has still taken part in social media initiatives. Nadia highlighted her manifesto point regarding the increase of cultural events and said that “it is important to have Irish events and cater to that [community]”.
When asked what measures she will take to prevent spiking at events, Nadia acknowledged that bystander training is already in place for the ents committee, but added that she “also want to have first aid training”. She also mentions her manifesto point regarding the availability of spiking kits at events, saying she has “been in contact with drugs.ie”.
When asked about LGBT inclusivity, and joking that it is a “good question” for her, Nadia calls it a “big part of her campaign”, and stated that she “has been talking to the LGBT officer”, as well other head of societies about potential collaborations.
When asked about ENTs for access students, Sam Kelly spoke about the importance of daytime and alcohol-free events to cut costs for students not living on campus. He adds that having more spectacular events means students can splurge on events they want to attend.
Regarding Irish language events, Kelly wants to focus on the decentralisation of Ents events. He wants Ents to be a facilitator, supporting those who want to run Irish language events to do so. He believes the Ents handbook will be helpful in doing this.
Kelly wants free cup protectors made available at every Ents events, and stewards trained in safety procedures. He hopes that transparency about safety will increase student confidence in reporting mechanisms, and lead to greater numbers of disclosures.
Kelly believes that LGBTQ+ inclusive events are a less intimidating way to explore sexuality and identity, and wants inclusive events such as drag shows, which make people comfortable to do this. He advocates a zero tolerance policy for transphobia and homophobia, and promises to promote this by having things like pride flags at events and on social media.
Kelly says that hate crimes are less likely to happen during the day, and so daytime events are important for those who might feel unsafe at night. He stresses that all stewards will be trained in bystander intervention training.
Regarding working and on-placement students, Kelly says that utilising off-campus locations, such as the Old Stone building in St. James’ Hospital, is important. He says that by publicising events far in advance, these students can get time off work. He also re emphasises daytime events, saying that those with busy schedules could eat their lunches at midday events.
When asked about the issue of spiking and nightlife safety, Olivia Orr re-emphasized the significance of her submission form and advocated for student training during freshers and refreshers week to explain what spiking looks like as well as safety procedures. She will also install a “welfare officer [to the Ents committee] so people will feel more comfortable to come up to them when something has happened”.
She again referenced her submission form when asked about hate crimes being on the rise. She promised to highlight Ents’s zero tolerance policy on every event flyer and hopes to see “Ents collaborating with every society so every student feels represented”.
Society inclusion will also be an important part of her plan in including more events for Irish speakers. “I have spoken to trad soc and yourself. Consistently throughout the year…I think [Irish] is very important for Irish and international students” says Orr.
Orr also introduced her idea to include an accessibility officer to the Ents committee for next year when asked about how she has already improved accessibility in her capacity as the current Ents treasurer. She also highlights that “recently we’ve been focusing more on daytime events” in her current position.
She once again advocated for additional daytime events in response to questions regarding accessibility for working students or students on placement, and questions about cost of events.
The University Times (UT)
Sole candidate for the UT race Clara Roche faced questions relating to access and Gaeilge within the paper.
When asked how she planned to engage access students who often deal with the struggles of college on a heightened level, Roche advocated for “more collaborative work” and suggested: “Maybe having one student do the research and one do the writing.” She emphasised the importance of ensuring that everyone on the staff feels comfortable expressing how much work they plan on taking on.
When asked if requesting the accessibility needs of students in order to make UT a more accessible place was a violation of their privacy, Roche explained that an “anonymous submission form” may be a good way of protecting student privacy in a situation where UT needed to respond to accessibility on an “on-requested” basis with the Central Societies Committee (CSC).
When asked why she didn’t officially contact Cumann Gaelach before including in her manifesto that she wants to run Irish language workshops with Cumann Gaelach, Roche said: “I definitely plan on reaching out to Cumann Gaelach and there shouldn’t be a limit to how many Irish language publications we have on campus. I still really want to reach out to them and organise things like writing fairs.”
When asked how she plans to codify and enforce UT’s Editorial and Ethics policy, as she pledged in her manifesto, Roche said that a good way to do this would be to make the writing of the UT constitution a “collaborative” process. Roche said that if UT is able to build up a diverse staff, then this staff can work together to write a constitution that “highlights all voices”.
Answering a question at Council Hustings, Roche said that one of the positive steps taken by a previous editor was “reducing print run from nine issues to six”, and would continue to move to a more online presence. Roche also noted that they can “can improve out coverage of climate issues”.
The next hustings event is Media Hustings, due to take place Friday (February 24) at 2pm. Location details will be announced tomorrow.
Reporting by Shannon Connolly, Kate Henshaw, Ellen Kenny, Eva O’Beirne, David Wolfe, Ella Sloane, Aidan Cusack, Evan Skidmore O’Reilly, Sofia Ferrari-Bravo, Rose Heaney, Charlotte Kent, Faye Madden, Conor Healy, Miriam Treitinger, Holly Thompson, Ella McGill, Madison Pitman, Ruby Topalian, Libby Marchant, Jayna Rohslau, Emily Sheehan, Alan Nolan Wilson, Evan Carron-Kee and Stephen Conneely.
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