Welfare & equality race: Hannah McAuley intends to “lean more towards people than policy”, focusing on how to make the college experience “easier” for all

McAuley views connecting students to the services they need as underpinning the role

If there is one word to describe Hannah McAuley’s time at Trinity, it is varied. The final year radiation therapy student began her time on campus in 2019 before College was forced online in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. An illness led McAuley to spend the following year off books before returning to a changed Trinity in 2022. Her journey in Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) has been similarly varied. Undeterred by the Zoom counsels of 2020 which she attended as a class representative, McAuley spent time as the Therapies Convener before being elected to her current position as off campus officer, a part-time role within the students’ union.

Throughout this time, running for welfare and equality officer “had always been a dream of mine” she explained. Inspired by her experience working with former sabbat and SU president Leah Keogh and her own interactions with College welfare services, McAuley has been working towards this moment for quite a while.

Although she has undoubtedly built up an intimate knowledge of College systems, both through her own interactions with them and her work with the SU, McAuley’s approach to the role of welfare and equality officer would not be a radically new one. She described the work of the last two welfare officers – Chloe Staunton and Aoife Bennett – as “phenomenal.”

“I think it would be a disservice to people that I’ve worked with to say no, burn the whole thing down… I think it’s done a lot of good this year especially” she said.

“Things build up over time and you don’t realise until they’re staring you in the face”

Instead, McAuley sees the problems she faces as more creeping. “Things build up over time” she explained “and you don’t realise until they’re staring you in the face.” She described how students have become less likely and able to avail themselves of College services post-pandemic. She views connecting students to the services they need – through whatever means possible – as underpinning her role. “I think we’ve expected students for a while to meet us halfway” she said, adding “I think that’s fair in some ways, but I think for the most of it, I think we’ve gotten to the halfway point now. I think we can now go further.”

This desire to go further is present in many of her policies. McAuley talked about working with the SU comms officer to increase the visibility of welfare within the union’s communications, saying that she would ideally like to have a copy of the welfare directory – which contains contact details for all of College’s welfare services – on the back of all bathroom doors. She is a strong believer in the signposting of sexual health resources, particularly STI test kits. She believes that increased visibility would go a long way to ending the stigma around sexual health. “If I have to get on Trinity live and do an STI test every week, I will” she said, chuckling.

McAuley also identifies several other union activities which she would push to the fore if she was to be elected. Cementing the T-Fund and reinstating the placement bursary are key examples of this. She also plans to continue to push for a “blanket policy” which will oblige lecturers to record their classes. “I understand why lectures are reticent in certain circumstances,” she said, “but I think that it needs to be framed as a tool for everyone.”

While McAuley is focused on keeping up the union’s work as it stands, she is not afraid to step in where gaps appear in Trinity’s services. With regards to mental health support, though Trinity is in the process of hiring more counsellors, McAuley plans to “go back to the drawing board and find what you do in the meantime.”

This keenness to fill the gaps experienced by students in their interactions with welfare services is a key theme of McAuley’s campaign. She intends to “lean more towards people than policy” and to interact with those who may feel left behind by the SU’s broader initiatives. While she recognises that legacy-leaving policies are important she says that ultimately “I always like to operate in the here and now. It’s sort of a balancing act between them both.”

One of the most pressing “here and now” issues McAuley identifies are the conditions experienced by health science students studying off campus. An animating factor for her campaign, this interest arises both out of her personal experience as a radiation therapy student and as the current off campus officer. McAuley is explicit in her criticisms of the conditions experienced by students in James’ hospital: ‘It’s, I don’t want to say insulting or anything that strong, but it is quite egregious the way that they’ve been overlooked” she stated. The removal of the café, the lack of seating, the inaccessibility of the building, McAuley classified these issues as “mismanagement” – mismanagement which she would work to rectify.

“When you’re in the role, you just have to be able to learn on your feet”

However, while this issue and many others in her manifesto (including, for example, the placement bursary) will undoubtedly resonate with health sciences students, does McAuley worry about her appeal to the large part of the student body which have never bought scrubs or been to St James’? “I don’t think people’s grievances are that different on the whole” she said, “it usually comes down to lack of infrastructure…something has been missing or something has been neglected. It’s been ignored and it festers and I think a lot of people can relate to that.” Ultimately, when it comes to meeting the needs of the student body as a whole, McAuley is quick to admit that she doesn’t have all the answers: “When you’re in the role, you just have to be able to learn on your feet” she said. This, however, is not something she is a stranger to, “that’s what it is to be working in sort of a hospital background. You’re never gonna know everything,” she added.

Speaking to McAuley, it quickly becomes clear that she is someone who believes that dialogue and deference are important. This comes sharply into view with her approach to the equality aspect of her role. She indicates that her push for further recognition of non-binary pronouns by the Academic Registry and her desire to create a protocol for students who feel threatened by racist comments will be fuelled by dialogue with the relevant SU committees and students in direct contact with these issues.

Nevertheless, this deference should not be mistaken with a tendency to remain silent on important issues. McAuley is a firm believer in “your rallies, your direct action, your putting pressure on things on a College level.” She speaks positively about the current Union’s use of direct action and its coordination with the USI. She wants to push the government on building more purpose-built student accommodation and is in favour of the boycott, divest, and sanction movement against Israel. “I think everything comes back to welfare” she said, adding “I’d like to insert it into the centre of this conversation that comes around student rights and student performance in College.” She seems to suggest that a welfare-centric approach to student issues is more about giving students what they want than it is about adhering to an ideology: “I don’t really have a political background. I just sort of have what I think should be done or what I think is right or wrong,” she explains “people just want what they think works for them or what they genuinely think is best without any kind of party line or whatever. And I think part of a union is making sure that it works for everyone.”

Ultimately, it seems that making things work for people is McAuley’s driving motivation. “I just really want to help people,” she repeated, with an undeniable earnestness. Expressing her gratitude, McAuley stated “I wouldn’t be sitting here if I hadn’t had support from the union and the bodies that are in it”, and now she wants to give back, better. “If I was elected by the time I finish, there would be less people feeling alone with no idea where to go” she said, and when asked what she’d like to be remembered for her answer is simple: “Making it easier.”

Sam Walsh

Sam Walsh is a Deputy Features editor for Trinity News. He is currently in his Senior Sophister Year studying Law and French.