On Thursday, in the inarguably inauspicious surroundings of the Mezz in Temple Bar, something altogether remarkable and unprecedented happened: Trinity students elected an all-female sabbatical officer team. (Though they take a sabbatical, the Editor of The University Times does not serve as an officer of the union.)
For the count’s returning officer, Alice MacPherson, it was undoubtedly hard to fathom. Just over a year ago, as Education Officer of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), she stood up to lament the paucity of women running in the 2018 elections, when just two put themselves forward as candidates.
Her speech to TCDSU council – which saw her inveigh against the structural inequalities that prevent women from putting themselves forward – was a rare moment of introspection for the union.
In the wake of Thursday’s result, it can be hard not to become intoxicated by feelings of hope and change. But what MacPherson said last year still applies: getting women to run is “more than a series of workshops”. It is a difficult task that requires a careful accretion. Attitudes and archetypes need to be shifted. Conversations, in the pages of this newspaper and elsewhere, need to be had. A whole lot of women – many of whom are already leading, shining lights – need to be mentored and encouraged.
Most of all, we need to recognise that now is not the time to rest on our laurels. Talented and capable leaders like Laura Beston don’t come out of nowhere. They also often do not decide to get involved in the union, for reasons that are not always entirely clear.
As this Editorial Board has pointed out several times, no-one decides to run for election overnight: it’s the committed first and second years of now – the ones who get guidance and encouragement – who end up becoming the candidates of years to come.
That said, we can be certain of one thing: these younger students will surely see next year’s all-female team and realise that they can lead too. As MacPherson said on Twitter on Friday: “FINALLY.”