The Student’s Union is facing an engagement issue. The disconnect between UCD students and their student representatives has resulted in student apathy, poor voter turnout, and in 2021, a vote of no-confidence driven by the Instagram account ‘UCDConfessions’ which resulted in a by-election. Since then, UCDSU vowed to improve its engagement levels to little effect. Admittedly, before I started writing for the College Tribune, I knew next to nothing about the Students’ Union (SU) and the work that they do. Even now, after three years of reporting on student politics, I am still uncertain about what they do on a daily basis.

Here is what I do know: there are six sabbatical officers and six editions of the College Tribune published in an academic year. SU Elections are held in April and require students to vote for the candidate they believe to be the best fit for each role. However, very few students actually know what each sabbatical officer does.

In an attempt to remedy this, the College Tribune will run an SU Series in which I follow a Sabbatical Officer for the day to get a better understanding of their role. Each print edition of the Tribune will feature an interview with a different Sabbatical Officer. I hope that by the end of the spring trimester students will have a better understanding of the Students Union and will be more confident when voting in April.

The story below follows Miranda Bauer, the UCDSU Campaigns and Engagement Officer, on an average day on campus.

Commuter Breakfasts

Early on Tuesday morning, I met Miranda at Café Bravo in the student centre it was 8:15 am and we were surrounded by students sleepily munching on cereal and cradling their cups of tea and coffee. Miranda arrives on campus early on Tuesday mornings with Neo, the UCDSU Ents Officer, to prepare and host the ‘commuter breakfast’. This initiative was set up this year in response to the issues surrounding student accommodation and public transport. Miranda explains that while the SU are always campaigning for accessible rental accommodation close to campus and for more frequent bus routes to Belfield, there is only so much that they can do. These weekly breakfasts are a way for the SU to help students who need to get up earlier than they should to attend their morning lectures.

This initiative, like most SU projects, was first conceived in September, however, it only became available to students in January. Miranda explains that there are a lot of hoops to jump through before an idea becomes a reality. All of the food provided at the breakfast is sponsored by various companies, this morning the sponsor was Kellogg’s cereal and Fyffes bananas. Earlier in the semester, the sponsor was Nomadic Oats. The tea, coffee and milk are then supplied by the SU shops. Miranda recalls how long it took to organise the project, to email sponsors, liaise with the SU shops, reserve the space in the student centre, design a promotional plan etc. “this is something that students don’t realise” she said, “how long everything takes to happen”.

Miranda Bauer is a UCD Modern Languages graduate, earning her Bachelor of Arts degree last year. Born and raised in Argentina, she proudly states that she is the first Latin American Sabbatical Officer at UCD. She first joined the SU in her third year as the Social Sciences College Officer. During this time, she worked to ensure that there would be separate union representatives for Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences students moving forward as the roles were intertwined. She said that this introduction to the SU was “overwhelming” as she “didn’t know what she was doing”. However, despite these feelings, Miranda was approached by Paola Martinez, the then Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator, to succeed her the following year.

The SU Campaign Forum

The Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator is a member of the Campaigns forum. The Campaigns forum is a team that is made up of nine people and is chaired by the Campaigns and Engagement Sabbatical Officer. The nine campaign coordinator positions represent Gender Equality, the Environment, Mature Students, the LGBTQ+ community, Disability Rights, International Students, Diversity & Inclusion, Student Residences, and Mental Health. The team gathers for forum meetings every three weeks and each coordinator meets privately with the Campaigns and Engagement Officer at least twice in the semester.

Miranda was encouraged in her fourth year by the then Welfare Officer, Míde Nic Fhionnlaoich, to run for Campaigns and Engagement Officer. When asked if being a member of the forum helped her this year Miranda initially said “no”. However, she added that while managing a team didn’t come naturally to her, she did work to put in place formal training for forum members and guides on how to run events, she hopes that this will prevent future students from feeling the same sense of overwhelm that she did.

The commuter breakfast began to settle down at 9:45 am, the official hours are 8 am to 11 am, but in reality, it is while stocks last. Miranda explains that the SU do their best to “accommodate as many people as they can” but that the highest demand is earlier in the morning. Miranda uses this quiet period to get her own breakfast, running to the nearby SU Shop for a pastry. “I do this nearly every day” she smiles sheepishly “I love them”. She picks up a croissant from the shelf but is quick to tell me that the pecan pastry is actually her favourite. We stroll back to the SU Offices where the Sabbatical Officer makes tea and then checks her emails.

The Campaign and Engagement Officer is different to many of the other Sabbatical roles as it involves little to no casework. This is something that Miranda said was difficult in the beginning as “everyone else had work to do before term started”. Regardless of this, Miranda can still expect at least thirty emails in her inbox each day as she is involved in several university groups and boards. The spring semester is the busiest time for the Campaigns and Engagement Officer as nominations open and SU elections are around the corner. It is Miranda’s job to promote the elections and ensure that there is a candidate for each role and that they have the tools to campaign effectively.

I step out of the SU offices at 10:15 as Miranda has a meeting with a potential candidate. Afterwards, I ask about the upcoming elections. Nominations close on the 8th of March and each candidate, whether for a College Officer or Sabbatical Officer position, needs 150 signatures to qualify. I ask Miranda if there is still pressure to improve the engagement with the union. “Engagement was low, but it is getting better. COVID drew engagement down because if you lose visibility, you lose everything. We would like it to get better.” According to Miranda, there were roughly 160 class reps elected in 2021, then 180 in 2022, and this year there are 230. That is a significant increase, however, there are 384 positions in total and lots of students are not being represented.

The rest of the morning is spent in lecture calls, Miranda says that although they can be uncomfortable, they are the most effective way to get people to sign up for elections. Then, it is back to the office for more emails before the Pride march at 1 pm. The march is part of the UCDSU Rainbow Week, a project shared by the Campaigns forum and the Ents Officer to celebrate UCD’s LGBTQ+ community. Miranda works a lot with Neo, the Ents Officer, when asked how their roles differ, she said that the Ent’s Officer, is “responsible for bringing fun to campus”, whereas her role focuses on “societal issues and wellbeing-oriented events”.

There are a lot of whispers on campus about who will run for SU President next year, during the day a number of people approach Miranda to ask if she will put herself forward. I can understand why, like the role of Education Officer, the role of Campaigns and Engagement Officer requires a level of organisation that students would expect from a President. However, Miranda says that she is still not certain if she will run. When asked about the type of candidate she would like to see replace her as Campaigns and Engagement Officer, Miranda concluded, “someone willing to put in the work, someone open-minded, and someone who wants to make student life better.”

Emma Hanrahan – Co-Editor