Like previous candidates with union experience before them, Deputy Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty Convenor Catherine Arnold is hoping to “hit the ground running” as Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union’s (TCDSU) Education Officer for the upcoming academic year.
Arnold has previously served as Joint Honours Convenor of TCDSU and as a class representative. They also have experience as a research assistant in the Young Women’s Christian Association and have served as Gender Equality Officer for the Labour Party. When asked ultimately why the role of education officer appealed to them, Arnold replied: “I care about people and that’s why I’m going forward with this. I know I have the drive and I know I have the head and heart for it.”
As a final year sociology and philosophy student, Arnold told Trinity News that their academic background influences their view of the world and impacts how they would approach the trials and tribulations in the role of education officer. Arnold aims to uncover the root of students’ academic issues: “I think there’s a lot of people putting out fires, but never asking, where do these fires originate? And why do they happen year on year?” With this in mind, Arnold is preparing long-term solutions that they hope will remain intact long after their college experience. According to Arnold, short term solutions postpone problems, but system changes enable permanent change.
Increased “holistic” engagement with more types of students take top priority on Arnold’s manifesto. Arnold pointed out that if TCDSU “wants people to stay in College” and if College is“committed to providing quality education”, then students need to be supported “past the front gate”.
Arnold wants TCDSU to increase engagement with working students through increased support and recognition. Arnold hopes to introduce a “working student status” that will give students with jobs similar support given to students registered with the Disability Office. Arnold noted the need for increased academic support and sympathy for students amid issues of artificial intelligence (AI) such as ChatGPT: “It is the most vulnerable students who turn to use it because they’re desperate.”
Arnold believes that working students who, for example, “haven’t been going to tutorials because they’ve been working” are those using AI for academic purposes, and that increased support via an official working student status will give those struggling the resources they need.
Postgraduate representation has also become a priority for Arnold, who promises to create two new paid part-time postgraduate officers. Arnold plans for these roles to be largely defined by postgraduates themselves through consultation, with jobs including “going to meetings and presenting issues at Council”, as well as any other responsibilities the postgraduate officer “feels they can benefit from engaging with”. Arnold told Trinity News that the “postgraduate voice” can aid the sabbatical officers through the “help that a bit of life experience offers them” as older students.
Efficiency is next up on the agenda armed with plans to install an Erasmus portal which will provide Erasmus students with invaluable information ahead of time. The objective will be enabling students to get organised to venture off abroad and to reduce the amount of hassle they face once they’ve embarked on this next chapter in their lives. From making module choices to obtaining budgeting advice this portal will aid students in decision making from people who have the experience to give this support.
Arnold stressed the importance of reminding Erasmus students that even while they are abroad, they are still part of the community, that “Trinity hasn’t just disappeared” and that “the supports are still here for them”. According to Arnold, a student-led portal would mean students could travel confidently with realistic expectations and increased knowledge of their new academic environment. Arnold wants to ensure students abroad have a good day-to-day experience, because ultimately that is what drives students to stay in education, daily enjoyment and an overall sense of satisfaction and wellbeing. The main purpose of the portal according to Arnold is to provide erasmus students with “information ahead of time” to ensure.
If elected, Arnold also plans to reform training for class representatives. Arnold acknowledged that class representative training can be a highlight of any member of TCDSU’s experience, but they noted concerns in relation to to the inaccessibility of the current programme, the issue of “travelling to a hotel oftentimes in a remote location” and sharing a room with a stranger and “the anxiety” which that induces. According to Arnold, this prevents a number of students from running for class representative and discourages class representatives from attending this vital training programme. Arnold’s vision is a programme that first and foremost feels safe and secondly is accessible; the course would occur on campus to accommodate working students and those who cannot travel.
Arnold also wants to prevent elected class representatives from being “worn out by learning about things that are not immediately practical”. Arnold plans to establish a new initiative consisting of “20 projects done out by students [elected as class representatives] for their local communities”, something Arnold believes “takes work, but is doable”: “I want to empower students to feel like they can make change because they can.”
Arnold emphasised the importance of “holistic education” in their campaign. Along with increased academic support, Arnold has a desire to implement more upskilling programmes, from barista training to study skills to financial budgeting. Students, according to Arnold, will be able to access these programmes via SU website, where students can sign up for classes and courses which will be arranged “in accordance with demand” and to suit the student lifestyle.
As a student from the “pandemic era”, Arnold is aware that the entire post pandemic generation of students have emerged from lockdown struggling to live independently, whether that manifests as a difficulty in keeping a clean space, or struggling to eat healthily regularly. Arnold believes this “incompetency” is responsible for a large dropout rate among first year students, and hopes to reverse this trend as education officer.
Thinking of the pandemic, Arnold hopes to empower students further when it comes to academic support. They want to maintain the upkeep of online module recording and increase awareness surrounding Learning Educational Needs Summary (LENS) reports. Concerned for the wellbeing of students Arnold explains how they think “professors don’t understand how important LENS reports are”. Resolving these issues would mean close collaboration with the Disability Service and the IT Desk to sort a variety of academic issues, particularly ones of a technological nature more efficiently than College has in the past.
Despite their admiration for the tutor system, Arnold also discussed the issues that occur when “staff don’t fully understand their responsibilities to students and students don’t fully understand their responsibilities to staff”. Arnold explains that this breakdown in communication or ignorance of what responsibilities can lead to situations where students find themselves needing to contact their tutor three or four years down the line, only to be ignored or dismissed.
Arnold wants to increase awareness among staff to “increase respect flowing both ways” between student and staff. Arnold proposed teaching students to recognise when it’s time to replace a tutor by introducing a guide of regulations explaining what responsibilities their tutor has, as well what responsibilities they have to their tutor.
Arnold holds the belief that staff are on their student’s side and want to give them the resources necessary to support students. They plan to staff with increased information regarding reassessments for students in need as well as briefs on systemic approaches staff can take with students to prevent future miscommunications.How will these policies work? According to Arnold, collaboration between school departments is key. Arnold wants departments to share experiences of issues such as plagiarism or peer assessments so staff are better prepared to deal with students’ problems.
Within the TCDSU, Arnold hopes to introduce new reforms to TCDSU. They plan to reintroduce the debate around constitutional reform that has “been brought to Student Council on multiple occasions in the past five years to no avail”. When questioned how they would reintroduce the discussion, Arnold explained that “the big issue is that there’s not a lot of active debate in Council”, but they hope to restore this. Arnold argued that “the groundwork” is done; as education officer, they explain, they could bring a substantial document to the first council and allow direct engagement from students in the form of town halls. Through this, Arnold believes that “there can be a lot of constitutional reform done”.
Arnold has also suggested the introduction of an “an academic and welfare senate” to replace the current Education and Welfare Committees within TCDSU. This senate will focus on long-term policies in conjunction with systemic review of policies and motions introduced at Council. According to Arnold, College has a “wealth of documentation of issues encountered” as well as the knowledge of how to “overcome them”. Rejecting and accepting proposals will be a “collaborative effort”, and Arnold admits that the board will be “a rather extensive one”. However, Arnold argues that the idea of a public senate ensures that nothing would occur “behind closed doors” therefore students, staff and the senate itself will all be on the same page.
The education officer is also responsible for daily casework regarding students’ academic welfare. When asked about how they plan to balance the flow of supporting students through day-to-day issues and their long-term plans for the union, Arnold was confident in their abilities: “I know that I’m going to do the job. It is my responsibility to do that job well and that’s what I will be doing moving forward.”