Communications & Marketing race: Connor Dempsey wants to “burst the bubble” of inaccessibility surrounding the Students’ Union

The fourth-year politics and sociology student is focused on improving procedure for class rep elections, making SU communications more accessible and visible, and increasing student engagement with SU-led activism

Fourth year politics and sociology student Connor Dempsey has spent his four years of university being, as he put it, “fairly too involved in campus.” He has served as Classes officer of DU modern languages since his second year and has risen through the ranks of Student2Student (S2S) mentoring  – starting as an OCM (2nd year), then treasurer (3rd year), PRO (3rd year), and finally as an Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (AHSS) representative (4th year). 

After having the opportunity to engage in many meaningful conversations with students and societies in these roles, Dempsey decided to expand upon this work by getting involved in the Students’ Union. In his third year, he became citizenship officer and today, he is the engagement officer – a role that he created while on Erasmus in Sweden as he felt that “everyone wanted to talk about engagement, no one wanted to do anything.” 

I’ve seen that when you give people a platform, when you work with them, great things can happen … I want people to feel that for their union”

Working in these communications-focused SU positions over the last few years, Dempsey has met many dissatisfied students who have expressed that they don’t “trust the SU services,” feeling that the union is disconnected from the student body. This is what ultimately encouraged Dempsey to run for SU Communications and Marketing officer: “[it] made me sad. That made me feel like we’re not doing enough to make the argument…I want to use my experience liaising with the different groups on campus because I’ve seen that when you give people a platform, when you work with them, great things can happen … I want people to feel that for their union. Because it is their union.” 

When asked about the primary goals of his campaign, Dempsey said that his focus is “bursting the bubble.” In other words, “Comms assumes that students are going to follow the Instagram, read the email, do all of this, when really we should make it as easy as possible for people to engage with their union. And we should think about how we can specifically benefit students.” 

For Dempsey, a large part of this plan is expanding SU partnerships with companies that can provide students with affordable, essential services like healthcare. Current Communications and Marketing officer Aiesha Wong successfully secured a partnership with Merrion Square Dental this year and if elected, Dempsey said a main focus of his would be to multiply these partnerships: “it’s just about reaching out, seeing if it can work, but particularly smaller businesses in Dublin are a lot more willing to work with us … Merrion Square Dental is actually a bit of a newer business and that’s why they’re so happy to work with us, because they’ve gotten so much business because of us. [I’ll target] newer businesses, businesses that share our ethos.” 

Another core part of Dempsey’s plan is making all aspects of SU communications more accessible. This means “normalising the Irish language in every space” (a core part of his manifesto), providing alt text in all posts and using colour blind accessible colours. But for Dempsey, this is the “basic minimum.” Accessibility has a personal significance to him and he wants to make sure that the SU is constantly searching for innovative ways to work on this: “I am a student with mobility issues, I have trouble walking long distances. I know other unions, other organisations, when you’re having a march, they provide information on where you can meet the march at the end, rather than marching with them if you can’t make that walk. Making those little comments allows someone like me to participate.” 

While social media is an important component of Dempsey’s plan to improve the accessibility of SU communications, he also believes that “physical media has a universalizing effect,” especially for those students without social media: “when you’re going to lecture and you see a little blurb on the wall […] and you read it, that reaches everyone, even if people don’t follow us.” He hopes to increase the number of flyers and notice boards on campus, visit lecture halls regularly as the SU did before Covid, and run stalls across campus.

In the spirit of making campus more accessible and increasing student engagement, one of Dempsey’s top priorities is addressing the “bubble” that surrounds SU Council meetings, and improving the ability of Class Reps to get involved. This year, as engagement officer, Dempsey and the Engagement Working Group (EWG) published a report which found that “Class Reps really didn’t have a voice. Because people would get up there, there wouldn’t be much discourse beforehand about motions and then when you proposed it, it was just kind of rushed. Because people didn’t really want to take feedback, you couldn’t really make amendments on the floor. So if you weren’t in the loop beforehand, you didn’t get a chance to contribute to motions … [Class Reps are] not given that privileged access.” 

To address this problem, Dempsey has two solutions. First, he wants to change the way that class rep elections take place. Second, he aims to revitalise social media outreach about council. 

For the first part of his plan, more generally, Dempsey wants to give all class reps, across faculties, the chance to campaign and the opportunity to share their stances with their classmates so that the process is more engaging for everybody. But more specifically, Dempsey has observed that year after year, certain faculties hold Class Rep elections independently of the SU because the SU takes far too long to start the election process. The health sciences faculty, for example, due to its demanding curriculum, often needs a class rep earlier in the year to address the many problems that arise as soon as they emerge. As a result, this faculty – and others – generally hold class rep elections independently of the SU, earlier in the year. Being independent of the SU, these reps do not go to council and do not have the “education officer to go to for help, they don’t have any support; we can’t offer them anything because we don’t have their emails.” Understanding this, Dempsey said that the first thing he’ll do if elected is contact these faculties about elections: “I know from July 1, that we need to start getting in contact with the Health Sciences faculty. It’s immoral that Class Reps would be elected without any institutional support.” 

“We need to reorient the centre of gravity of the union.”

As part of this plan to increase communication with faculties that are currently less involved with the SU, Dempsey plans on working at both the Hamilton and St. James’ Hospital for one day each per week: “St. James’s is the most important one because … the health sciences students are just fully isolated, none of them are able to make it to council because they’re working proper jobs through their degrees. [As for the Hamilton, it is] on the whole other side of campus, it doesn’t get that much attention. We need to reorient the centre of gravity of the union.” 

For the second part of his “SU council bubble bursting plan,” Dempsey not only wants to enhance the quality of social media streaming for council meetings by investing in new camera and audio equipment, but also wants to improve communication online about the progression of council motions so that students understand that these hours-long meetings are not just performative: “We [shouldn’t] just publicize that a motion has been brought to council, we [shouldn’t] just publicize that a motion has been passed. We [need to] talk about [the legislation] two, three weeks after the fact [and say] ‘Hey, where did this motion go?’ We need to build that context, tie that thread through all the motions …. so we don’t look like a government simulation…things we’re doing go on to have an impact.”

Similarly to this year’s sabbatical officers, Dempsey thoroughly believes in the power of student activism. In his manifesto, he calls for increased efforts to use freshers’ week as a time to involve first years in the SU’s initiatives. When asked whether SU officers should take staunch political positions and use their time to platform issues that go well beyond the scope of college, Dempsey said: “all the SU’s activism has to be rooted in student issues… [for example] when we’re talking about rent, we have to be talking about student accommodation.”  For him, student activism doesn’t mean “leading every protest, it can mean just watching a protest and saying I understand that [or] going to send an email, say[ing] ‘I agree or disagree with that’ … It’s cultivating citizenship, giving people the confidence and the willingness to participate in their college community. They might oppose an overly activist and overly political union – I would disagree with them. But the fact that they’re engaging with that and thinking about that is, in a way, a success of the Union.”  

Finally, given his support for student activism, Dempsey was asked how willing he would be to end any and all SU partnerships with companies that maintain conflicting political stances to those of the SU. In response, he said: “boycotts really have worked, as we saw with Domino’s. However … every instance deserves a conversation…If we can boycott for a purpose, that’s something we should engage in…I do believe we have to have a moral backbone and importantly, we have to fulfil our mandates.” 

With all of this said, if elected, Dempsey explained that above all else he wants “to be the light in the dark, because it’s so confusing. I know that when … I send someone an email and they send me back a nice response with a smiley face, I feel safe, I go back to them. People deserve that. I really hope I can be that for people. And if I can’t be there for people, I hope that I’m communicating enough and I’m showing them that, hey, there’s an ethnic minorities officer, there’s a gender equality officer, there’s all these people who can be there to help you. I hope I have a role in making sure that the union has that friendlier, human, personalised approach.” 

Campaigning in the TCDSU sabbatical elections continues throughout this week with voting opening on February 27 and closing on February 29.

Have your say: Fill out the Trinity News election poll here.

Ruby Topalian

Ruby Topalian is a Senior Freshman, Dual BA student of Middle Eastern and European Languages and Cultures. She is the current Features Editor of Trinity News, having previously worked as Deputy Societies Editor.