Communications & Marketing race: Beth Strahan wants to put the spotlight on engagement

Final year Drama and Theatre Studies student Beth Strahan wants to “make an impression on an audience, but this time the audience is the SU.”

Beth Strahan is a senior sophister student from Belfast running for TCDSU Communications & Marketing Officer. She is running in one of the most contested elections of recent years against current TCDSU Engagement Officer Connor Dempsey and final year student Sarah Murnane.

Asked about her decision to run, Strahan cited her interest in “interrogating the disinterest that a lot of students have towards their SU” in response to the recent failure to make quorum at council. For Strahan, tackling disengagement is personal. “I want to challenge myself and I want to challenge our SU in increasing engagement… if I could summarise my campaign, it would be ‘where are the students that are seen in [their] masses at society events, or at Trinity Ball?’”

Regarding previous experience, Strahan previously received a Central Societies Committee nomination for Best Individual at the 2023 CSC Society of the Year awards for her work as director of Trinity Musical Theatre. Strahan has directed numerous productions, such as Cailíní at the Samuel Beckett Theatre and Sweet Charity for TMT. In 2022, she directed the JCR Halls musical Legally Blonde.

“In my opinion, theatre is art… art is us as students”

She believes that her skills in theatre have prepared her for marketing for TCDSU.  She has stated that she believes the two are not very different: “In my opinion, theatre is art… art is us as students, us as people living in Dublin, us as humans.”

Questioned on how she will switch to a public-facing role as opposed to a behind-the-scenes directorial approach, she said her job as a director is to create a public-facing project. “I’m very, very well experienced in creating something that is meant to be for the public eye. And I’m very experienced in… engaging with the public in a Dublin context to engage with my product.”

Asked about her student outreach strategy, Strahan stated her intent to increase accessibility on all platforms. She believes in the importance of “really connecting with CSC societies and on-campus committees such as the International Students Committee, the mature students committee, and really focusing on where their needs are not met and where their voices are not heard.”

She praised the engagement efforts of TCDSU but questioned the allocation of funds. “As we are making revenue, voices are being ignored…. you can say, oh Facebook is dead and Instagram is where it’s at, and TikTok is where it’s at. That’s not true for everybody.” She also believes social media is not the be-all and end-all of reaching students. “I think there is only so much a graphic can do to engage all students in Trinity. What does all students even mean? There are so many minorities and small cohorts of people that are not included in the Instagram, in the TikTok… that’s where I want to put a lot of my energy into.”

Instead, Strahan said, “I really, really want to streamline and coordinate all of our information across all our platforms.” Key social media strategies for Strahan include the creation of a SU-specific digital calendar and bi-weekly scheduled Instagram takeovers from the PROs of CSC societies.

She also emphasised her belief in equitable access to TCDSU information in the form of multilingual resources. As she begins campaigning, Strahan is interested in “seeing how far we can push that” by having her manifesto “available in as many languages as possible” across social media platforms and pledged to make TCDSU resources, including the weekly email and sabbatical reports, accessible in as many as five languages.

Strahan also intends to launch a podcast-style debrief alongside all weekly SU emails to be posted on Instagram and Facebook, stating that it is necessary when most students do not always have time to read the weekly SU emails.

Strahan hopes to draw from the success of Trinity News short video content in promotional efforts for TCDSU. Asked about what she means in her manifesto by ‘depoliticising’ the key points of every week in the videos, she said her intent was “not taking the politics out of it, I mean making the politics more accessible… I think rather than having it written out and kind of ascribed to the format of the formal SU email, I find that inherently inaccessible.”

Delving into the technically apolitical nature of the Union, Strahan acknowledged that the SU constitution stands against outright action by TCDSU. Still, she is cognisant that “this year there has been a drive and a thirst for the SU to be more political” especially when “outside of the protests, engagement is still low.”

“If misinformation is platformed on socials, then yes… responsibility lies on the SU”

In a world increasingly plagued by misinformation, Strahan believes that TCDSU should take responsibility for any false information shared on social media. “It’s keeping a professional distance from word of mouth information passing on campus… if misinformation is platformed on socials, then yes… responsibility lies on the SU.”

She cited her desire to improve clarity on the  TCDSU Constitution since she “had no idea that the wording as such in the constitution was… that the TCDSU cannot act politically. And so I think that their constitution should be platformed in a more accessible manner.”

Attendance at Council meetings is a huge issue nowadays, and Strahan said that she as well as the majority of her friends had never attended a Council meeting due to a lack of awareness within the Trinity student body over its proceedings. She reiterated that she doesn’t “think that it is transparent enough, so blame cannot be put onto the students for not attending. I think it is my job to interrogate that question, why don’t you care? And how can I make you care? How can I make you want to use your voice in these council meetings? Because that’s where your agency as a student of Trinity lies.”

Her manifesto cites her ability to ‘put bums in seats’ and sell out theatre shows as a strength and Strahan concurred that “If you’re trying to garner attendance in a crowd… [increasing Council attendance] is very similar.” She finds an additional similarity in “where the interesting part of theatre lies is the conversations after. I think it’s the exact same for Council, what changes in conversations is happening after these meetings. I think that is more fruitful than anything that will come in the actual room.”

Her manifesto refers to a need to be ‘realistic’ with TCDSU sponsorships and align them with the ‘base needs’ of students living in Dublin. Accordingly, she aims to ensure that TCDSU policies towards sponsorships are more cognisant of financial realities, such as food-based sponsors. “I want to keep that a focal point of our sponsorships because I’m from Belfast and, say, a student from Queens, I do not think there is the same financial need for sponsorships because there is such a difference in the cost of being a student in Belfast as there is in Dublin.”

She is interested in expanding sponsorship promotion beyond freshers week. “My question is why is that platforming and that energy taken away and suddenly our sponsorships are the last thing you see in our weekly emails… I think that that is a very important factor to keep in mind that student engagement dips, obviously, how can we battle against that and do everything to keep our sponsorships in the student eye?”

Asked about her priorities as a final year student, she said that she would “stay and continue to support the arts in a Dublin context” while taking a break from her directorial responsibilities. Her original intent was to return to Belfast with money as the deciding factor. “I would love to do a master’s in directing, but I’m not done with Dublin. And because I have drawn so many comparisons between directing and this position, well… I still see it as me being able to make an impression on an audience, but this time the audience is the SU.”

In closing, Strahan reflected on the Irish language referendum. “I am seeing the change, the Irish language referendum that just passed as a girl from Belfast who was reared Catholic, but never in my curriculum or in my familial vocabulary, was never offered Irish. I reflect on that and I want to change for myself and I see an SU that is changing.”

Strahan finished by emphasising that, “I want to change alongside it. I want to be part of that. And I want to find the students who were like me, who were disengaged, who didn’t feel that they really had a voice or the agency to have a voice within the SU. And I want to say, look, this is familiar. This is for us. This is about us.”

Campaigning for sabbatical officers runs from February 19 to 28. Voting will run between February 27 and 29, with results to be announced on February 29.

Jayna Rohslau

Jayna Rohslau is the Arts and Culture Editor and is currently in her Senior Fresh year studying English in the Dual BA