As a first-year student, I am used to not fully understanding the ongoings of College. Getting lost on the way to tutorials is a regular occurence, and I am forever asking the meanings of words I hear on campus, only to find out that they are the name of some beloved society or hallmark of Trinity life. Recently, it has been the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) elections that befuddle me. The union itself feels quite distant to many first years – who, from my experience, mainly know TCDSU as the elusive writers of the weekly emails and the red jackets at those chaotic freshers’ events.
Indeed, it seems that few people in my year group fully understand and take an interest in the elections, not because we are an uninterested population – from my experience, quite the opposite is true – but because little effort has been made by the running candidates to secure the first-year vote.
Though the issues in each candidate’s manifesto are those which first years undoubtedly care about, from increasing the accessibility of events to mentoring younger students through workshops, a potential sabbatical officer cannot secure a vote off the back of these promises if the students themselves are not aware of them. And it is precisely this lack of awareness that is the golden opportunity for a running candidate, as first-year students largely have no preconceived notions of the candidates running or loyalties to any of them. We are prepared to be persuaded by your promises of change, and, though a critical thinking bunch, are still naive enough to have hope of such promises being instigated.
Little effort has been made by the running candidates to secure the first-year vote
Most simply, and crucially, however, first years are the easiest to get on board because we appreciate anyone who is amicable, or even just attentive. Still in the mindset of making new friends and meeting new people, we are ready to engage with anyone who shows an interest. I am certain that a candidate who takes the time to introduce themselves to first years would go a long way in winning our votes. On top of this, college can be daunting, and first years are always looking for more manageable ways to get involved and feel a part of Trinity life. If a candidate makes first year students feel immersed in their campaign or the election in general, they can be confident of not only their vote, but of their continued backing.
Some candidates are taking strides to get first years on board, for instance, Ents candidate Max Lynch, who has a strong concentration of first-year followers on Instagram, and has been promoting an event which, according to the Trinity Hall grapevine and course group chats, many freshers are planning to attend. Steps like these are crucial not only for getting a candidate’s attention among this demographic, but for getting first-year students involved in the election at large.
Like the union itself at times, the sabbatical elections seem to be a part of Trinity life with which first years are not expected to fully interact. Though we will obviously be affected by the changes (or lack thereof) instigated by the various officers, and will arguably feel the long-term impacts of these most keenly, there is a widespread lack of enthusiasm and, at times, lack of understanding towards the elections. Using the Student2Student system to explain the election process and point first years in the direction of manifestos and other information could prove a more approachable way of encouraging first-year involvement.
Though candidates did pay a visit to Trinity Hall to speak, most residents were only made aware of this by way of a hasty Instagram post from the JCR as the candidates arrived. A properly planned Halls event could empower a larger proportion of my cohort to vote (while the added incentive of free food never hurts). The simplest actions are effective – simply making a first-year student aware of you can guarantee a vote, as I have witnessed myself when my friends and I were polled on how we would be voting, and the only candidates some were aware of (and therefore would be voting for) were the ones who had requested them on Instagram.
First years are the easiest to get on board because we appreciate anyone who is amicable, or even just attentive
The potential power of freshers and our votes is, as of yet, largely untapped by the TCDSU candidates. The fact that our strong and quickly formed allegiances and unrivalled ability to spread information (or disinformation) like wildfire through Halls and rampageous group chats alike, have not been utilised by those running for sabbatical officer positions is an extreme oversight. In changing this and galvanising first-year students to get involved in the election, candidates will benefit not only their chances of being elected, but also their ability to enact change once voted in. Those who are no longer fresh faced (which very few freshers are since clubs re-opened) remember those who showed an interest in them at the beginning, and will continue to return the favour.