Supporting Disabilities and Engaging with Off-Campus Students Take Precedence at Equality Hustings

All candidates were pressed about increasing the use of the Irish language in their roles, and improving the union’s outreach to ethnic minorities in College.

John Conway, Donal MacNamee, Philip McGuinness, and Róisín Power
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In the third hustings of the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) elections, candidates were more confident in their answers, with disability acting as a major buzzword, and improving engagement with off-campus students a top priority for all.

Co-hosted by An Cumann Gaelach, the equality-themed hustings saw candidates quizzed as Gaeilge about their plans for improving the use of the Irish language within the union. Every candidate was questioned on what they believed were the biggest diversity issues facing students today by last year’s TCDSU Welfare Officer, Conor Clancy; and Síona Cahill, Vice President for Equality and Citizenship with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).

The hustings did not see a large audience beyond campaign teams themselves and, following the hustings, President of TCDSU Kieran McNulty implored all students present to get their classmates to vote.

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President

With the three presidential candidates once again bringing hustings to a close, the opening question followed the trend of the evening by asking the candidates which areas of diversity in College they felt needed attention. In contrast to the other races, however, these candidates were asked to outline two areas. Thomas Emmet was first to respond, immediately reverting back to his core manifesto promise of representation. Emmet stated that the union needs to listen “all our voices” and that the union need not “silence other voices” while following its mandates, before noting that more work needs to be done in regards to diversity in off-campus College locations.

Kevin Keane moved away from his manifesto and specifically pointed to the “decent” job being done by the union on LGBT issues, but highlighted the need to do more to “address transphobia and biphobia” in response to the same question.

The third and final presidential candidate, Bryan Mallon, used one of his manifesto points, like Emmet. Mallon mentioned how improving accessibility is the key to addressing diversity across the board, noting that this need not apply to people only from “low-income backgrounds”, but extending accessibility to “mature students” and “students with a disability”. Mallon then moved away from his manifesto promises by addressing the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and how people with disabilities “are not treated as equals in this country”.

Clancy then quoted what Bob Geldof recently said with regards to “transgender bathrooms” while addressing Trinity students, asking for their thoughts on Geldof’s criticism of student efforts on gender-neutral bathrooms . Keane described Geldof’s comments as “misguided”, going on to say that gender-neutral bathrooms are “vitally important” and that as a representative body, the union needs to “think about how this affects students”.

Mallon, after agreeing with Keane’s description, referred to Geldof’s statement as “disrespectful” and called on the former Boomtown Rats frontman to “respect people who do not agree with him”. Emmet criticised Geldof’s “misuse” of his voice as a celebrity, stating that it is “fine” that it is not an issue for him, but Geldof “shouldn’t tell others it’s not an issue”.

Following on from this, a question on gender-neutral bathroom policy was put to the candidates, with each one effectively agreeing with each other on the need to install more of these facilities and more sanitary facilities in all bathrooms, regardless of gender specificity.

Ivan Rahkmanin for The University Times

The candidates were then asked what they would do in support of pro-repeal campaign should the ongoing Citizens’ Assembly call for a referendum on the matter. Mallon emphasised the need for “on-the-ground” efforts, including going to “every lecture” possible and educating the student body as well as connecting with “absolutely everyone”. Keane suggested that there would be a lot to learn from the “major campaigns”, including Yes Equality, and noted the need to be “innovative”, both in terms of social media and with on-the-ground operations too. Emmet also pointed to the lessons to be learned from the Yes Equality campaign, in particular drawing attention to utilising College’s ability to “reach a new generation” to see how they will vote, referencing the benefit of the campaign of students calling home ahead of the marriage equality referendum.

In the first question directed at a specific candidate, Mallon was asked how he could be “trusted” to deliver upon equality in the wake of his apology over “derogatory” tweets in the past. Mallon admitted there are “no excuses” for what he had tweeted, calling the content of the tweets “completely and utterly wrong”, and saying that he would have no problem with putting his “reputation on the line” in order to develop discussion on the topic and change minds: “It’s as simple as that.”

Moving from this on to a question put to each candidate of whether a man could lead a women in leadership campaign, Mallon addressed the fact there was no woman candidate on stage, “and that’s not good” while saying that he would “love” to see a scenario next year where there were three female presidential candidates with a man not running because of being “afraid to lose”. Keane also addressed the absence of a woman candidate on stage, remarking that it is “unfortunate”, before pointed to his experience working on the committee of the College branch of SUAS – an organisation he is the sitting president of – and how this committee consists of more women than men. Emmet also mentioned his committee work, drawing attention to working under female auditors of DU History in the past, but said that there is a need not to “just stop” with women in leadership, but to address the need for trans-leadership and LGBT-leadership as well.

However, Emmet appeared stumped when posed with the next question on the candidates’ experience in working with feminism, responding with “the typical Irish answer” of being close to a “strong female role model” in his mother after a notably long pause. Keane again returned to his SUAS experience, highlighting his volunteer work and how he has experienced “first hand the devastating effects on communities” that sexism can have. Mallon said that his experience with feminism began “about a year and half ago” when a friend helped to educate him on the matter before mentioning his involvement with Feminists of Trinity campaign again, having brought this up repeatedly throughout the campaign.

Regarding consent, Mallon emphasised that he had been “vocal” in favour of the consent campaign in the past, praising the union’s consent workshops that took place earlier in the year. He then went on to note that there is a need to make the workshops better, such as giving “exit polls” to those in attendance and expanding the workshops to “everyone in first year, then everyone in the university”. Mallon also noted that he would like to lobby for increased funding for the consent campaign and start a campaign “all over campus”.

Keane also said that he would like to extend the consent workshops, suggesting that it may be beneficial to involve secondary school students in the workshops, where “12 and 13 year-olds are forming their attitudes about everything”. Emmet, agreeing with his opponents, also said that the consent workshops need to be expanded, while also drawing attention to the role sex-positivity classes play in the matter as “the more we talk about sex, consent and positivity, the more we’ll get people to discuss it”.

In a question taken from Twitter, the candidates were then asked how they would get a more diverse group of students to come to the College and “what supports they would put in place” to assist them. Emmet paused yet again here, before declaring that it is “really important to lobby on grants”, particularly to get students with disabilities in.

Keane pointed to the significance of the union’s class reps play in diversity and how they and “anyone organising events” should get training to make them more accessible, hearkening back to his manifesto policy on inclusivity. When asked how he would go about this in relation to societies that are separate to the union, Keane said that he would not would not be looking to change existing policy, but to develop a “coherent system” that is available to the Central Societies Committee, in particular for use in Trinity Ents events.

Mallon returned to his main campaign theme of accessibility, speaking about the need to go back to schools to show anyone can “make it to Trinity College”, including going to mature students sitting their Leaving Certificate and use programmes such as the Trinity Access Programme to have “Gaelgóirs go back to Gaelscoileanna” to encourage more Irish speakers to come to the College.

When asked on how the candidates would help engage with LGBT students, Emmet put forward the idea to expand the LGBT lobby group as well as students taking a firm stand on the MSM blood ban. Further questioned on what he would do specifically to help, he furthered his point by claiming that the 12 month ban is “ridiculous” and that the use of PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, would help reduce HIV rates. Mallon agreed that PrEP would be a simple solution that solves a lot of problems. He also highlighted the continuously asked question on the topic of gender neutral bathrooms, stating that the new buildings are a “golden opportunity”. He also voiced his belief that directly addressing students through societies and sports clubs, stating that he would “even go to meetings” himself. Keane stated that the Gender Recognition Act should be further expanded and that there should be a movement behind it, specifically stating that age restrictions need to be re-evaluated.

The question from An Cumann Gaelach addressed the lack of campaigning for Irish language rights by the union in recent years. Keane, responding first and in Irish, stressed the importance of the language and that the work done by the union has been good, including Éigse. Mallon, again repeating the statement he made in the media husting in that he does not actually speak the language, stated that it’s “still [his] language”. He stated that one of the underlying issues with the proliferation of the language is fear, stating that he “has been afraid in the past” to engage with student speaking Irish and encouraging more people is “very important”. Emmet agreed with Mallon on the point of fear, saying that working with the Cumann would help people overcome this fear.

The candidates were asked what they thought of the student partnership proposal, an area in which all three candidates were clearly under-prepared. Keane firmly stated that the project had great value and that he would work with the education officer. When further questioned on his understanding of the project, he conceded that he doesn’t “have a huge understanding” of it. Mallon parroted Keane in stating that his knowledge of the topic isn’t as extensive as he would like, but reaffirmed that “it makes sense that everyone in college works together”. After asking the hosts for more time at the beginning of the question, Emmet believed that it is a great opportunity to engage with the Education Officer.

Highlighting the stereotype that Trinity is often seen as an elitist institution, the hosts asked the candidates what specifically they would do to challenge that. Both Emmet and Keane commended candidate for The University Times editor, Dominic McGrath, for his manifesto point of bringing journalism to secondary school students, stating that it would be a great way to reach out. Keane also reiterated his time both as member and president of SUAS and its education of students. Mallon brought up the points running throughout his own manifesto, mentioned his support of the Trinity Access 21, claiming that he would not only ask students to be involved, but that he himself would personally be involved.

In a turn from the majority of questions of the night, the hosts asked the candidates to compliment something from the other candidates’ manifestos. Emmet complimented Mallon on having accessibility be the main point of his campaign. Keane commended Emmet of his support for the increase and expansion of the lobby group, saying “it is something we should build”. Last to answer, Mallon lauded Keane on his introduction of an Empowerment Week, claiming that “when one of us is elected, we all work together to make things better”.

Education

With equality a key theme of her campaign policies, the sole candidate for Education Officer, Alice MacPherson, took the opportunity at tonight’s hustings to develop on the policies outlined in her manifesto.

When, like candidates in other races, she was asked what she saw as Trinity’s main diversity issue, MacPherson was clear that for her it was “without a doubt” the issue of “diversity in leadership”, a key area in her manifesto. MacPherson pledged to be “intersectional” in her approach to the issue, and mentioned the need to be inclusive of trans students, students from ethnic minority backgrounds, and students with disabilities” in such campaigns.

In another question on disability, MacPherson was asked whether she thought students with disabilities are supported adequately at the moment. She stated the need for study spaces to be accessible, and in a nod to her manifesto policy to create alternative study spaces, stated the need to create study spaces for “many different types of learners”. She also noted the “physical barrier” of the union’s offices in House Six being inaccessible to those with mobility issues, mentioning her policy of holding Skype office hours as important in this regard. Asked about issues facing off-campus students, MacPherson pointed to her approach as being centred on making “small, tangible changes that make differences to everyday [student] life”.

When questioned as to why mature students are not mentioned in her manifesto, MacPherson stated that she nonetheless had policies directed at them, pointing to her policies regarding the transition to third-level education in her manifesto, stating the importance of “tailoring transition to university workshops to mature students”, as well as pointing to her policies for health sciences students, a faculty which she noted has a “huge number of mature students”.

When specifically asked about issues in clinical education in the health sciences, MacPherson referred to “issues recently with bullying”, stating the need to make students “aware of what [system] is already there”, adding that she doesn’t “assume to speak for people” and that she seek the “expertise of health sciences representatives”.

With regards the Irish language, MacPherson was asked her thoughts as an international students about how College deals with Irish. MacPherson stated that she did Irish classes in first year, and yet again the source of more light-hearted moments in hustings, MacPherson stated: “The only thing I can do now is say ‘I live in Rathmines’, even though I now live in Phibsborough”. MacPherson stated that she was “not one to assume the needs of Irish speakers” and that she would encourage Gaelgeoirs to “come to me with your ideas and I’m happy to facilitate them and make it a reality”.

Welfare

Tonight’s hustings began with questions for the welfare candidates. The five candidates, now on their third night of hustings, appeared more relaxed than at last night’s hustings with The University Times and Trinity News. They were faced with a number of more challenging questions, asking them to critique one another’s policies as well as questions on the role of the Irish language for the position of welfare officer. While answers branched apart on certain issues, disability appeared the main issue for all candidates.

In a question that received a sharp reaction from the crowd, Clancy invited the candidates to highlight one or more policies of their fellow candidates that they disagreed with. Rachel Skelly and Damien McClean opted to avoid this question, claiming that it would too difficult to critique their fellow candidates. Emma Purser intervened on the issue of gender-neutral bathrooms and their feasibility, claiming that while it remains a priority for her, it needs to be well thought out before it is bandied about as a policy position, and that the idea of them can be be tokenistic when students who wish to use them often have to travel long distances or find them closed. Meabh Cullen questioned Purser’s policy of active drug testing at the Trinity Ball, claiming it is infeasible.

With the news that University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU) is to cutting its consent workshops due to lack of interest, the welfare candidates were asked about the extent to which they saw consent as an issue. Here the candidates’ answers began to converge once again, probably for the simple reason that they all have similar views on it. Grady and Cullen described the news as incredibly “disheartening”, and all candidates made clear their intention to continue with these workshops.

Clancy pressed the candidates to identify the most important diversity issue in college at the moment. Here, the candidates’ answers differed. Grady spoke of the importance of “smaller issues”, without mentioning anything specific. McClean praised the work being done on diversity in college, while highlighting the importance of communicating a message which would allow “people to be able to look after their own welfare and their friends’ welfare”. Purser identified the issue of off-campus students as particularly pressing, claiming that they “are too often forgotten about”. Skelly claimed that there is no one diversity issue that stands out about the rest, stressing the fact welfare places a particular emphasis on the personal issues of individual students. Lastly on this issue, Cullen spoke of the issue of disability, stressing what she sees as the need to increase awareness both of physical, mental and invisible disabilities.

Ivan Rahkmanin for The University Times

Clancy followed up by grilling the candidates on the long-term effectiveness of welfare campaigns. All candidates spoke of the importance of these campaigns and getting feedback from students. They sought to emphasise their desire to consolidate the work which is done during these weeks, and to increase the outreach to all areas of college.

The candidates were then questioned on what particular college campaign they would like to see rolled out in the future. Grady spoke on the need to expand the reach of the college disability week, in order to ensure “that there is greater discourse, that no one is afraid to talk about it”. McClean claimed that no one campaign stood out for him, that his focus would be on making each and every campaign more effective. Purser spoke of the need to harness the work done in Mental Health Week to broaden the understanding of mental health and mental ill health in the college community. Skelly wished to highlight her intention to focus more closely on the issue of our every-day mental health, telling the audience how she plans to help students overcome their daily stresses and anxieties. Cullen homed in on the issue of disability awareness, speaking of introducing disability days and looking at the possibility of expanding it to a disability week.

All of the candidates fielded questions specific to their own manifestos. Skelly expressed her determination to make good on a campaign promise to collaborate with societies. McClean attempted to demonstrate the feasibility of his proposal to introduce a map for LGBT students, describing it as a “breaking down of what [an LGBT student] could possibly need to know”. Purser’s ideal of an educated college community came under scrutiny, while Cullen was asked to discuss her ideas for non-cisgender people outside of her policies on gender neutral bathrooms. Grady defended her manifesto against claims that it is, as Clancy put it, “light on specific issues of equality”. She spoke earnestly of her experience with the Pink Training, describing it as “eye-opening”.

Questions relating to the Irish language were posed by Leas-Reachtaire an Chumainn Gaelaigh, Ciarán Wadd. Wadd questioned the candidates on their intentions to incorporate the Irish language into college-wide campaigns during the course of the year. McClean began by stressing the need to pay the Irish language due respect, saying “his is not just a matter of Google Translate”. Grady cited personal involvement with the Irish language, saying “I’ve done yoga as Gaeilge, I would love to see more events like this done through Irish, it would be phenomenal”. Skelly was quick to inform the audience of her lack of proficiency in the language, saying “I did gnáthléibhéal, I won’t even try”, but did speak of the role of the welfare officer in harnessing the Irish culture and language for such events throughout the college year. Cullen and Purser finished off this round of questions by highlighting the importance of bilingualism, from the standard “cúpla focail” to ensuring the continuation of the weekly TCDSU email trí mhéan na Gaeilge.

Communications & Marketing

The sole candidates for both the position of editor of The University Times, and the communications & marketing officer were quizzed together. Opening by pointing out that these candidates are not in competition with one another for either role, they were quick to move to questioning both candidates on what they felt was the biggest diversity issue in college at the moment, which for Harty was ethnic minorities.

The next question centred around the fact that many students don’t use social media as their primary source of information, and that the communications & marketing Officer uses largely many of these platforms to communicate with students. Agreeing, Harty pointed out that many mature students don’t use Facebook as much as other students and to combat this would use infographic screens, which she has spoken about with Estates and Facilities already, who are in agreement that they could be used by the union. She would also work to make the emails more graphic heavy and by extension more engaging.

Next for Harty was on whether or not she felt that the union’s branding portrayed accurately the diversity within the college. Harty feels that they do a good job of advertising campaigns, such as Éigse na Tríonóide and Rainbow Week, and would work with the Welfare Officer to publicise campaign weeks more.

Harty would also like to see more video content, especially graphic heavy videoes that would communicate information efficiently and rapidly.

Entertainments

The second-last candidate to take to the stage was unopposed candidate for entertainments officer, Jonah Craig, who, when asked to introduce himself to the crowd, did so and follows by joking “ and I am awesome”.

The first question directed towards Craig was similar to the first question for all candidates, as he was asked what he saw as the biggest diversity issue in Trinity right now. Craig did not answer the question, as such, but rather stated his belief that Trinity Ents has become much more inclusive this year. He noted that great efforts had been made, and said that these would be continued through his manifesto point of workshops, which he sees as “a great way to be inclusive and to bring people into the union”.

Clancy next put to Craig that Ents can often be criticised as somewhat of an “in-crowd” and enquired how he could tackle that. Craig didn’t exactly make clear how he could make Trinity Ents more socially accessible but said he hoped to tackle accessibility through listing every facility available at an event at the bottom of its Facebook event page. Craig continued to say that he would “prioritise clubs” that facilitate accessibility, all but could not guarantee every single event will cater for wheelchair accessibility and gender neutral bathrooms because according to Craig “we would be going to the same venues all the time”. Craig did however state that “the city is slowly becoming more accessible” which he described as “great” and something that he could campaign to continue.

One topic that was unique compared to questions from the previous two hustings was the number of female artists performing at Trinity Ball this year. Craig replied by admitting it was “an interesting point” which he “would definitely take on board” and said he was “100 per cent open to looking into” a policy on increasing female representation in the Trinity Ball line-up with production company MCD.

Similarly to the media hustings run by Trinity News and The University Times last night, Craig was asked by Clancy how he could create a culture within Ents of running successful non-alcoholic events for people that don’t consume alcohol due to religious or other reasons. Craig, as he did last night, answered the question by falling back on his planned workshop classes while also listing his battle-of-the-bands style comedy festival: “It is events like that where we are trying to cater for everyone.”

The final three questions directed at Craig on the night asked whether he would build on Trinity Ents recent work with An Cumann Gaelach, whether he would host an event in the George with Q-Soc and what his policy on “county colours nights” was. Craig tackled all three questions on a similar tone stating that “if there is demand for a night I am so on board. If loads of people want something done I will try get it done”. Craig finished by stating that he wanted to work with societies to “broadcast” them to the student body, exclaiming before he retook his seat “hype is good!”.

Ivan Rahkmanin for The University Times

Editor

Following on from questioning of welfare candidates, Dominic McGrath took to the hot seat alongside Harty. The questioning began with both candidates being asked what was the greatest diversity issue in Trinity. McGrath, agreeing with Harty, cited ethnic minorities as the greatest issue in college, saying that he thought supporting minorities was extremely important, and that the paper could do this through covering more issues faced by minority students.

McGrath was then asked about how he expects to reach those students who don’t use social media, given that The University Times is an online-first publication. McGrath first spoke about The University Times’ weekly email newsletter which he said is well read, and he quipped was “entertaining”. He then spoke about the print editions of the paper, mentioning in particular that he had spoken to postgraduate students earlier in the day, while campaigning, who rarely accessed the paper online but who instead read the papers print edition. The point of print editions of the paper catering to the diversity amongst Trinity students, reminded, even though it wasn’t explicitly mentioned, a manifesto promise of presidential candidate Kevin Keane who proposed to the paper’s print budget in order to reduce waste.

Within his manifesto, McGrath promises to maintain and grow the papers focus on LGBTQ issues facing students and staff. On this McGrath said, “The University Times is a platform for all voices and we’ve done a great job in the past of airing LGBT issues”.

The question from Cumann Gaelach addressed the fact that, according to their research, only one per cent of news articles had been published by The University Times since August 2016 had been in Irish, and asking whether McGrath could make a commitment to more, even as high as five per cent. McGrath elicited laughter in his initial response saying – “I don’t speak Irish, I’m from the North, unfortunately” – before admitting that The University Times doesn’t have a huge amount of news content in Irish. McGrath defended the amount of Irish language content in other sections of the paper, however, saying that he didn’t know of any other paper with two editorials a week in Irish. He also spoke specifically about Irish writing in the Radius and features sections. McGrath then returned to the subject of news saying that “in news, which happens so fast, it’s difficult”, citing it as unfortunate, and stating that there should be more.

The final question facing McGrath tonight, continuing on the theme of diversity, focused on diversity amongst The University Times masthead staff. On being asked to consider how he would widen diversity amongst the masthead McGrath instead held that there is already diversity amongst the staff, pointing to the fact that the staff is female-heavy.

Speaking on the diversity of The University Times’s staff McGrath said he thought the paper had great diversity already, but did admit that being located in House Six isn’t good for disabled writers. However, McGrath promised “if someone was disabled, and a member of staff we’d look into moving”.

Correction: 22.12 February 16th, 2017
An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that Laura Grady identified as the sole candidate that has worked as an for ally LGBT students. Grady, in fact, did not say this.


Morgan Clarke, Ciarán Molloy, Brónagh Kennedy, Jake O’Donnell, Jamie Sugrue and Patrick Lavelle contributed reporting to this piece.

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