On the steps of the Dining Hall once again to launch the 2023/24 Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Sabbatical Elections, the candidates all appeared amicable and excited to begin their campaigns. This year’s Hustings saw a change in the usual format with the candidates facing no questions until the Welfare and Equality Hustings on Tuesday night.
Candidates generally stuck to their manifesto points, reading from notes as they introduced themselves and their main objectives. With some sticking to by-the-books campaigns and others promising radical changes, this year’s election season is set to see conflicts surrounding establishment and outside candidates as well as debates surrounding accountability and the most effective ways to channel power and reform TCDSU.
All three candidates presented themselves well tonight, however, they quickly found themselves diverging on the direction they intend TCDSU to take.
Back on familiar ground, current Education Officer Zöe Cummins emphasised her experience with the problems faced by students in her role as Education Officer. “I’ve seen what issues are affecting students and I think I’m the most qualified person to figure out how to address these issues going forward”.
Cummins is the most typical candidate for TCDSU President with her wealth of experience and knowledge. She will go into her campaign with a year already under her belt, which may stand to her in the more technical aspects of the role but may also hinder her appeal as she is the establishment candidate.
In stark contrast to Cummins, László Molnárfi, a third-year PPES student and TCDSU’s Social Sciences and Philosophy (SSP) Convenor, made his position very clear: “I am running because I think we are all sick and tired of no change happening at College”.
Molnárfi received vocal support from the crowd as he outlined a vision that emphasised grassroots action. Molnárfi is known for his radical politics and, judging from his fiery introduction and emphasis on increased action and adversity, this will be the driving force behind his campaign.
“I believe in a union that agitates for students and advocates for an equitable education system across the board, not just a union that measures its engagement in terms of how many condoms or goodie bags have been given out”, he exclaimed.
The only candidate not to come from within the SU, Tilly Schaaf expressed sentiments falling somewhere in between the radicalism of Molnárfi and the experience of Cummins, saying that “the SU is where you go to make change” but also emphasising that she has taken more radical actions including making “speeches and posters for manifestos and plans to block bridges, and [she’s] definitely made some politicians uncomfortable”.
The third-year physics student will run on a platform of transparency and open dialogue – conversations not usually emphasised in the presidential elections. Schaaf also offered an outsider’s perspective with claims of being “a normal student representing normal students”. Schaaf remains the only outsider in the race – a fact that could set her apart but could also see her stumble over the more detailed elements of the role.
While tonight’s Hustings may not have seen the candidates questioned on their manifestos, the tone of the race has already been set, pitting established experience against radical action. It remains to be seen which perspective will come out on top.
Catherine Arnold, the sole candidate in the education race, described themselves as someone who loves “baking, crochet and long-term policy”, getting an early chuckle from the crowd. They emphasised their love for the SU and their desire to reform it early-on, saying that their “passion in this union has always been supporting students to the best of [their] capacity” and that they “want to work for students”.
Describing the Education Officer as “the memory and foresight of the Union”, Arnold was not afraid to acknowledge that the Union needs to change with the times and has a lot to do to get students through the current crises. “I don’t want to be reactive, I want to be proactive”, they stated.
“Our future is in our hands”, they boldly proclaimed. “Every time we fail to support a student we as a college community fail not only them, not only ourselves, but also our future.”
Their campaign appeared to stay away from the usual clichés of tackling major topics such as Schols and the Trinity Education Programme (TEP), focusing instead on the changing needs of students post-COVID and during the cost of living crisis and the need to represent student issues at an institutional level.
Arnold’s policies appeared to fall somewhere in between the radicalism and the establishment mentality beginning to emerge from the presidential race. They clearly acknowledged the need to reform systems within the college and the SU that have not been effective in tackling student needs, but they also have a desire to work with College and “foster a relationship that is unshakeable that will be working to improve the lives of students long after I finish my term in office”.
While they did not display their technical knowledge tonight, this will likely be a topic that appears in the race as the role of Education Officer requires detailed knowledge of college policy and TCDSU working bodies. It is clear from Arnold’s introduction that they intend to work with senior members of the college community, but also that they are passionate about reform and making the changes that will improve the student experience.
Welfare and Equality
Sole candidate Aoife Bennett made it clear just how important the role of Welfare and Equality Officer is within the TCDSU, calling it the “backbone” of the Union. The role encompasses both Welfare and Equality, something not often acknowledged by candidates who focus more on the former title, but Bennett successfully struck a balance between the two: “while the Union should be a radical entity that fights for long term systematic change, it also should act as a support on an individual level for each and every student”.
Bennett was keen to emphasise her experience as JCR Welfare Officer and on the Welfare Equality Committee, which allowed her to gain experience working with students on a personal level as well as with campaigns and policy. Her experience with both the role of Welfare and Equality Officer, and with the Union more broadly, will surely stand her in good stead in addressing the needs of individual students and the student body as a whole.
The balance between the Welfare and Equality elements of the role was evident in her policies. Bennett spoke of her desire to “build upon” current initiatives, referring specifically to the provision of free period products on campus. Her inclusive approach is similarly reflected in aim for greater outreach to off-campus locations, as well as the implementation of consent workshops, queer sex education and diversity training.
Bennett showed her awareness of the variation in students’ college experiences tonight as she had directly sought students’ engagement with her campaign before concluding, “a collaborative, united students’ union is the key to positive change”.
Communications and Marketing
Final-year Chinese-Irish law and politics student Aiesha Wong focused her introduction on her desire to “amplify the whole of the SU” through increased social media presence and streamlining of the weekly email – conversation topics that seem to emerge year after year with the communications and marketing race, where the emphasis is less on activism and advocacy and more on practical elements of the job.
She described the role as facilitating information about the entire SU both within the Union and to the wider student body. “Unlike the other roles where there’s a lot of policy implementation and advocacy, the comms and marketing role is about facilitating and getting that out to everyone so that you all know what you’re supporting and what the SU represents”, she said.
Despite focusing on the more practical aspects of the campaign, Wong was quick to present a number of ideas for her vision of the TCDSU social media pages including increasing the use of video content and posting more frequently. Engagement was her key word of the night as Wong announced plans to get the SU onto other social media platforms such as TikTok as well as giving students and society Public Relations Officers (PROs) the opportunity to learn skills such as photoshop.
Her sponsorship plans were similarly practical, with an emphasis on student needs and a focus on building relationships with services and products that students might use or engage with.
Running unopposed means Wong is likely to win the position, however, with well-trodden points and a heavy focus on the practical, she may face questions about the specifics of her plans over the next two weeks.
Tonight’s hustings saw the return of a familiar face in the form of Nadia as well as two challengers.
The reveal that this year’s Trinity Ball (TBall) will be the last on campus for a number of years also dominated the conversation, with all three candidates emphasising their desire to see the event continue. Where the candidates diverged was in the question of whether the ents officer should push for TBall to be held on campus or moved to another location.
Nadia was keen to prove that her loss had not fazed her. She proudly proclaimed that she was “back again and more determined than ever” and that she doesn’t “want to just attend these events, [she wants] to make them bigger and better”. Her introduction was toned down compared to last year, focusing on her wealth of experience with Dublin’s nightlife and her desire to run events highlighting Trinity’s multicultural students.
Many of her manifesto points returned from last year, including running sustainable swap events on campus. Nadia also emphasised her desire to see TBall run again this year, focusing her efforts on finding an alternative venue. With her now being well-versed in running a campaign, Nadia came across as confident and collected.
Third-year politics and economics student Sam Kelly introduced himself through his colourful personality. His speech was similarly colourful, going from his experience with volunteering to his main manifesto points. Focusing on accessibility, community and safety, Kelly echoed many of last year’s main points. While he didn’t mention TBall directly, he did state that he wanted to make a “true community on Trinity campus”. It is likely that he will be questioned on his position regarding TBall and whether it will go ahead.
Third-year PPES student Olivia Orr had the strongest line on the issue, wanting to “keep the Trinity in Trinity Ball” and stating that she is “already fighting to keep it on campus”. She also expressed a willingness to hear feedback from the student body via a “submission form that all students can submit to”.
This year’s ents race will likely be dominated by questions surrounding the future of TBall given that it forms one of the main parts of the role. With all three expressing a desire to improve safety and accessibility and covering similar points, the candidates will have to work hard to differentiate themselves.
Editor of The University Times
Clara Roche, the sole candidate for the position of Editor in Chief of The University Times, began her campaign with a focus on her vision of change for the paper. Her address struck a positive tone, looking forwards at what she hoped to change, improve, and reform for the coming year.
Addressing front square, she said: “At its best, I think UT is a brilliant place for like minded creatives to meet each other and some of our staff have gone on to do incredible things”.
On the diversity of the wider college community, the final year History and Politics student noted that if elected, she would reinstate positions such as an Ethnic Minorities correspondent, LGBTQIA+ correspondent as well as an Irish language editor.
Roche went on to define her campaign as being one of change, promising to make House 6 and the office of The University Times wheelchair accessible. She also said that she intends to increase methods for accountability within the paper. Looking forwards at the prognosis of this campaign, it is likely that she will face scrutiny over how she intends to increase and reform accountability measures within the paper.