If it’s been said once, it’s been said a hundred times: these elections are pivotal for Trinity’s Graduate Students’ Union (GSU). Fee hikes for postgraduate students, an ever-dwindling pool of funding and an almost insurmountable amount of casework for its two full-time officers have made positions on the GSU both daunting and hotly contested. But while this year’s two candidates for Vice President are acutely aware of these challenges, they are equally eager to bring forward their own solutions.
Dr Gogoal Falia, a GP and MBA student, feels cut out for the role of Vice President. In an interview with The University Times, he described the position as one that “is suited for somebody who is more inclined towards the academic and the welfare aspect”. He feels his time as GP has made him a perfect candidate for the job: “I’m filled with patience. If you ask me, I’m a great listener.” Ultimately, though, his decision to run grew out of a longing to give back to the college community: “As an international student, as a postgraduate student I thought, ‘how can I contribute more to the students’ union?’”
Are we this naive to think that these things don’t happen in Trinity?
Falia intends to run on a platform which includes addressing the issue of sexual harassment on campus and improving treatment of international students. The former issue, he claims, is “something which always flies under the radar”. “Are we this naive to think that these things don’t happen in Trinity”? he asks, referring to the fact that sexual harassment issues are better documented abroad.
As an international student, ensuring that conditions are made more amenable to students arriving from abroad is an issue close to Falia’s heart. Describing accommodation procedures as “a mess if you ask me”, he recalls that his first few weeks in Trinity were “a nightmare”.
Meanwhile, as a former ambassador for the Dublin City University (DCU) Access Programme, Jamie Farrell intends to place an emphasis on the issues of community and integration. Speaking to The University Times, he argued that “that’s one of the most important roles the GSU has – creating that sense of community”. He described his academic career as one in which “I’ve cared about people and cared about welfare” and feels capable of the role of Vice President because of his commitment and passion: “I don’t see this as a job”, he says decisively, “I see this more as a vocation”.
The sense of tradition and continuity within the union is important to Farrell. “If we want the GSU to actually stay an influential body within college life, we can’t derail it, it has to be a steady progression of building on the success of the past.” This emphasis on gradual changes means that he “wouldn’t implement any groundbreaking changes” if elected Vice President, instead focussing on making the existing union operate to the best of its ability. He also wants to increase the recognisability of the union which, until recently, “may have had a seat at the table, but they weren’t really known”.
While continuity is the main focus for Farrell, he still aims to push for the establishment of a full-time secretarial role in the GSU. While he accepts this may be a long term goal for the union, he claims that he “would still love to be part of laying the groundwork for what could one day be a mechanism or a person who could help keep the institutional memory alive”.
The main thing I’ve learned from attending GSU events and being involved as I have been is that it is a team effort
Both candidates are prepared to tackle the major issues facing GSU as well. Falia feels that postgraduate students “are often considered as cash cows”, adding that he thinks the GSU should be “more vocal” in trying to combat fee increases. Discussing the fees issue, Farrell described himself as “a very strong advocate for education equality” and fears that postgraduate education could become “almost property of the elite” if nothing is done to fight fee increases.
On the issue of funding, Farrell argued that while finance falls under the remit of the President, “the main thing I’ve learned from attending GSU events and being involved as I have been is that it is a team effort”. Both candidates agree that the current emphasis on sponsorship can be expanded, so that GSU stops being “as heavily dependent on the university as we currently are”, as Falia put it. The candidates also recognised the importance of ethical sponsorship, and Falia argued that “what comes first is student welfare and that’s what I’m much more focused on”, but ultimately, “you cannot perform welfare without wealth”.
It’s likely to be a close run race for vice president, with both candidates offering broadly similar approaches to the key problems that will dominate discourse for their time in office. With each candidate boasting significant experience and strong manifesto points, this will be a race worth watching.