Comment & Analysis
Nov 12, 2017

Mitchell O’Connor’s Gender Equality Talk, UCDSU Disassociation and Rainbow Week Move


While the Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, may have placed herself at the centre of a carefully orchestrated campaign in last Sunday’s newspapers, she displayed ignorance of how she might actually go about punishing third-level institutions for failing to promote women to their senior ranks. Since 2014, such institutions have agreed to performance compacts with the Higher Education Authority, and face financial penalties if they fail to meet agreed-upon targets. Given the increasing push for autonomy in the sector, this is likely the only way that such a threat could be realised.

The thought of another referendum in University College Dublin (UCD) – this time, to give students the choice to disassociate with University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU) – already has many people rolling their eyes. Not only is the campaign for “freedom of choice” hackneyed, it’s an idea that has found little truck with students in colleges elsewhere. An issue that rolls around almost every year, it’s always been defeated by a few simple arguments. The most compelling? Universities have long ago accepted that students’ unions are the representative bodies for students. Unfortunately for those who oppose students’ unions, familiar arguments aren’t too likely to change that.

Changing a campaign week might seem like a trivial move, but Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union’s (TCDSU) decision to move Rainbow Week to before Christmas should be commended. For some LGBT students, it might mean the difference between an isolated Christmas at home, and one spent supported by new friends from the Trinity community. No one should have to be reminded that, despite the success of marriage equality, LGBT students still face discrimination and difficulty. The union’s decision – innovative in its own way – might just make a small difference to the lives of many students.