Welfare & equality race: Hamza Bana feels his lived experience sets him up for SU success

The current ethnic minorities officer wants to cultivate a more inclusive space on campus by improving staff training and diversifying health supports

Third year computer science and business student Hamza Bana is well-established within the realm of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU). As the union’s current ethnic minorities officer, Bana has established the Ethnic Minorities Support Group in partnership with the Student Counselling Service (SCS), completed extensive casework, and worked actively within the broader union. With his “tendency to help” and “a therapeutic way of approaching conversation”, Bana now wishes to expand on his union experience by pursuing the position of welfare and equality officer.

Competing against Nathan Harrington and Hannah McAuley for the role, Bana set himself apart from his opponents by expressing his aims to “look out for people who look like me, or have the same experiences I have.”

“I’ve thought about issues that they haven’t,” Bana said, speaking of his rival candidates. “I see different issues that they haven’t seen ever. And that’s simply due to my experience as a black person on campus, and as a black person in Ireland.” 

Bana’s experience within this year’s students’ union has been punctuated by success; he fulfilled his promise to create the Ethnic Minority Support Group in collaboration with SCS, which offers “an inclusive and supportive space for members of these communities to meet, share experiences and advocate for their needs” during a series of therapeutic sessions which are due to begin in early March. Bana’s vision for the role of welfare and equality officer aims to build on such success.

“I have a tendency to help people,” Bana said when asked about his primary motivations for pursuing the welfare and equality officership. Alongside manifesto points which centre around the decolonisation of Trinity’s campus, improving the dignity and wellbeing of students, and cultivating greater equality in the university experience, Bana emphasised that “the main responsibility of the welfare and equality officer is fighting for the welfare and equality of all students.” 

“POCs on campus have not really been looked after”

“I feel myself, as a person of colour and ethnic minorities officer, POCs on campus have not really been looked after.” Bana added.

Improving and diversifying the mental and physical health services provided by Trinity forms a central pillar of Bana’s manifesto. On top of lobbying College to hire additional doctors for student health services and improve accessibility to blood testing services, Bana wants to address the “fucking ridiculous” barriers to appointments. 

Regarding mental health services on campus, the core issue identified by Bana is that there are “not enough staff on the counselling service.” In addition to lobbying for further counselling staff to be employed by Trinity, Bana aims to improve diversity within the staff. Having already coordinated with Ejiro Ogbevoen, the founder of Black Therapists Ireland, to provide counselling support within the Ethnic Minority Support Group, Bana said “what I’d like to do in the future is to bring another POC therapist onto campus.”

“Through the Ethnic Minority Support Group, we will reduce the strain on the service,” Bana promised. “Instead of going to a group where there isn’t really somebody that [students may] need, or somebody tailored towards them, they can go to the best programme that’s actually tailored towards them. That removes strain on the rest of the services, giving more space for everybody else.” 

Fostering equality is the foundation of Bana’s manifesto. In order to alleviate issues facing students with physical disabilities or learning difficulties, Bana’s plans include improving access to online or recorded lectures, increasing the accessibility of College buildings and lecture theatres, and enhancing training provided to staff.

“A lot of lecture theatres aren’t as accessible as they should be,” he noted. His goals include “holding council… in a place where it is easier to walk to and to access.” When discussing how online services could be improved through the recording of lectures, Bana commented, “I’m not sure if it’s because they [lecturers] refuse to put them up, or simply because they’re lazy,” adding that “some lecturers don’t even bother to look at LENS reports”.

Bana aims to address such issues by seeking support both within the union and through broader Trinity institutions. Alongside bringing forward motions for discussion in the SU council, Bana seeks to establish improved, compulsory training for staff, working closely with the Trinity Inclusive Curriculum Project, as they are the main body who “make the diversity inclusivity training.” Trinity Inc. are currently creating a new diversity and inclusion training module for staff that ought to be “near perfect,” Bana said, and assured that, if elected, he “will be working with them to actually build that.”

When discussing the experience of LGBTQ+ students in Trinity, Bana also emphasised the importance of diversity and inclusion training for staff. “Teaching staff and the staff in general are pricks towards marginalised groups,” Bana said, explaining that students are led to feel like they “can’t wear that, that’s too gay” or they “can’t talk like that, that’s too black.”

With improved visibility and greater inclusivity dominating his manifesto, Bana seeks to improve the current state of College both on a structural basis and an educational level. Having completed first responder training for sexual assault cases, Bana stressed the importance of training Trinity staff in order to produce a more inclusive environment, and criticised the current training procedures in place. Bana hopes to push for the SU to lobby the College authorities to “make these trainings compulsory,” ensuring that a diversity and inclusion training procedure is mandatory for all staff. In its current form, Bana said that “staff usually skip over it”, calling the racial inclusion model “laughable.”

In relation to housing support, Bana aims to play an active role in aiding students. Planning to work alongside the future SU President, Bana emphasised the importance of direct action to bring about change. Bana promised to “continue holding direct action and occupying the streets” unless sufficient change is brought into place. “Students need a place to live, a place to learn.”

Speaking of College accommodation, Bana said that “having to pay extortionate prices is ridiculous.” “There should be a rent cap for not only the housing in general in Dublin, but especially in Trinity accommodation.”

“We are students, we’re not cash cows,” Bana stressed, adding that “I don’t think it’s in Trinity’s best interests to look after students. They would do it to a quota, but not out of the goodness of their hearts.”

With these sabbatical elections following a year of particularly radical action from the students’ union, the line between student and general politics continues to blur. “People look down on [student politics] more than they should – they shouldn’t look down upon it, period.” Bana stated, considering the significance of student politics within society. Bana stressed the importance of student politics both currently, and in the past, noting that “students in America during the 1960s — they’re the reason why black people were able to just live, and not be afraid of getting killed.”

Political change in the US was driven by “students of the Black Panther Party, students of any students’ union” Bana said, also raising the importance of TCDSU providing abortion related information during the 1980s. “I fully support the politicisation of the SU because without the civil rights movement, without the repeal of the eighth, without anything of the likes, we wouldn’t be in the world that we are in today.” Pledging support towards the politicisation of the union, he said “the politicisation of the SU I think is very, very important.”

“I really believe that direct action is the way to go”

Expressing his support of TCDSU’s critique of the Irish government this year, Bana said “I think it’s time that the government finally listens to its people. Having to see people on the streets, begging for food, begging for money, having people relying on services such as the Simon Community is disheartening to see, because the government has failed them.” When discussing the direct action which has dominated the image of the current SU, Bana further emphasised his support. “They’re not going to listen to us unless we hit them where it hurts. Whether it be the money, or whether it be just blocking front gates,” adding that “I really believe that direct action is the way to go.”

Bana, expressing excitement for the campaign, said that his “lived experience as a black person has equipped [him] with information people would spend years studying for.” Wanting to be remembered for making “the most amount of positive change of any other welfare officer,” Bana laughingly commented that the campaign, though “going to kill [him]”, also gives him the opportunity to “actually make a change on campus.”