This week’s news that 172 classes had not nominated someone to be a Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) class representative is concerning on several levels. It is firstly an indication of what we should expect from the union this year, but it also raises concerns about the union’s ability to actually engage meaningfully with students, course by course, year by year.
It also suggests that those in the union’s upper echelons have forgotten that not everyone flocks to be involved in the union. Rather, it takes hard graft to make even a small percentage of the 17,000 students in Trinity take notice of what their union does, let alone get people to adopt the kind of diehard union mentality that it takes to rise up its ranks.
While it is not at all unusual to see many classes without representatives in advance of the union’s annual class representative training event, the scale of the problem this year – which sees whole disciplines unrepresented – is unprecedented. It is far from the “quite normal” scenario that Alice MacPherson, the union’s Education Officer, suggested it is.
And now it has become a “we’ll take anyone” situation, with TCDSU essentially offering more than a hundred spots on its foremost decision-making body on a first-come-first-served basis. This makes the union look desperate and disorganised. It is also not a good harbinger of the kind of council that this union needs – one with active and engaged students, eager to actually turn up and represent their peers.
Looking further down the line, it is also important to note that potential sabbatical officers do not magically appear from nowhere. They start off as committed class representatives.
And because of that, it is both a problem in the here and now and one that heralds future woes, considering it can take years to reverse just one year of poor engagement. It is thus time for the union to re-evaluate its current student engagement strategies. The National Student Engagement Programme, which TCDSU has so far refused to engage with, could just well be the solution.