Leighton Gray is running unopposed in the Student’s Union (SU) Elections to be the Campaigns and Engagement (C&E) Officer. The 21-year-old has been involved in the Students’ Union since their first year of college and is now doing a Master’s in Gender Studies. The position of C&E Officer is a broad one with responsibility for the SU’s local and national campaigns, class rep recruitment, student engagement with the SU and is also the contact with societies and other Students’ Unions. Gray is currently the LGBTQ+ Campaign Coordinator for the SU and was also the Auditor of UCD for Choice in the year of repeal. It is not just this experience that Gray points to for why students should elect them but also their “willingness to change things up.” We have interviewed Gray and all other SU Election candidates, grilling them on their manifesto promises which can be found on social platforms online.
A striking feature of Gray’s manifesto for the election is the lack of specific promises it makes. The manifesto broadly outlines the issues that need to be campaigned on but does not go into great detail. Regarding promises, however, Gray said that “candidates do that every year, and every year they don’t do them.”
First on the list of campaigns in the manifesto is the rent crisis. Gray strikes a realistic tone when discussing the recent increase in rents on campus saying “it’s hard to know,” when asked about the possibility of them being overturned, but vowed that the protests so far “need to continue on as much as we can.” Some students may be disappointed to not hear a more optimistic tone from a potential Sabbatical Officer, but Gray is confident the university will “try their hardest to do it anyway.”
On trans rights, they are very honest about the failings within the university, describing the services as “awful, but the main concern is the transphobia.” Gray is critical of the SU’s failure to “get into” the issue and spoke about the “tokenism” they experienced within the organisation.
For Gray, their priorities lie with mental health services. For them, it is not necessarily about more funding, but the ability for “the student population to air their grievances to the university what specifically is wrong with it.” In their manifesto, they state that “action is needed by putting pressure on the university through protest.” However, in conversation, Gray acknowledges that it is not just down to protests and petitions but also “publicity of what’s gone wrong.”
While much of Gray’s manifesto is packed with their experience of campaigning and the campaigns that need to be focused on, the constitutional role of Campaigns and Engagement officer is largely the engagement aspect, something which is said to have been largely neglected by the SU in the past. Gray says that those heavily involved in the SU are a small minority of “SU hacks” (which they include themselves in) but Gray does not believe engagement can be “relying on Instagram and Facebook,” but rather “seeing people’s faces.” This may pose a change in strategy for the SU which has heavily focused on online communication with students in recent years. Also, as part of the engagement role, the Officer is tasked with trying to “maintain relationships with other Students’ Unions.” In their time working in the SU, Gray notices that “the UCDSU really stands alone a lot of the time.” However, they were unable to say why. UCDSU is not a member of the Union of Students Ireland (USI), which act as a national collective of third level Students’ Unions.
There are some notable absences from Gray’s manifesto, like the “Anti-Casualisation” of labour movement and the “Fix Our Education” campaign. Some students might be disappointed to see these important issues not feature, but Gray said they have been “learning more and more” and they stressed the need for such campaigns “to go on and on.”
By reading their manifesto, Gray’s experience of campaigns and campaigning is striking as is their previous involvement with the SU. However, Gray is not shy to criticise the SU when they feel it is warranted. In fact, after their first year in UCD, having been a Class Rep, they “vowed not to be part of the Union again,” although this vow didn’t last too long. Gray believes that the SU as a whole needs to be more open to criticism and not to “take such criticism personally.” Gray is certainly not one to hold back in this manner. In the past, Gray has spoken about the need for protests before talking with UCD authorities and said that they are “not afraid to get into trouble with UCD.” This may worry students about the association between UCD and the SU, given the benefits to students of a good relationship. However, Gray describes it as “a very unequal relationship” and when talking about UCD Estates, “there are things they don’t want you to do, things they don’t want you to say and protests they don’t want you to have.” The tone is striking but is this be the representation UCD students are crying out for from their beloved Students’ Union?
Conor Paterson – Politics Editor