After last year’s abysmal turnout of just 68 people for the Graduate Education Officer by-election, there is pressure on UCDSU to ensure a larger amount of votes to be cast this year. The fact that it is being held alongside the other sabbatical elections means there should be more than 68 people voting, although it is unclear just how many there will be.
This year, there is only one candidate in this race, Las Vegas native Anabel Castañeda, a Media & International Conflict MA student. Rather unusually, she is running despite only recently learning that the role of Graduate Education Officer existed.
In any other race, a candidate who only just learned about the existence of the role and who cannot name UCD’s President would not stand a chance. The fact that Castañeda is running unopposed tells a sorry story of students’ engagement with the role and raises serious questions over the viability of the Graduate Education Officer as a full-time position within the Union.
For all her good intentions, Castañeda simply doesn’t know enough about UCD itself to engender any confidence in her ability to fulfill the role next year. It would not be surprising to see next year’s SU to review the position, perhaps reinstating the now defunct Campaigns and Communications Officer.
Castañeda has some noble ideas for the position, although her manifesto is very vague about how she hopes to achieve them. It is clear that she cares about helping students out, but it does not feel as if she has a plan to achieve her goals.
One can’t help but feel that next year’s Graduate Education Officer will need to really justify the continuation of the position, and it is hard to see Castañeda being that larger-than-life personality that the role so desperately needs to avoid a situation whereby the two Education roles are merged back together to form the Education Officer once more.
Graduate students, in particular, tend to be quite apathetic about the SU. The Union needs to do something to engage them, or else there is no point in even having a Graduate Education Officer.
Based on last year’s turnout, where Dylan Gray was elected with just 42 votes, it would not take much of an effort for a decent RON campaign to be victorious. Students may feel that voting RON would demonstrate that they are willing to engage with the Union, but only when the Union provides services that they actually want. Many feel that the Graduate Education Officer is an unnecessary role, or at least it is as a full-time, fully paid position.
As a candidate, Castañeda seems like a nice approachable person. Her manifesto, however, feels rather bare. She talks of increasing transparency in the Union, but seems unclear of exactly how to do so. There are times when reading it that it feels as if she has simply pasted her name into a standardised template.
Furthermore, her lack of knowledge of the University, and the Union itself, is a major red flag. She suggests that there be a central location on campus for students to buy and sell second hand books, which is a service already run by the SU Book Shop.
Perhaps her naivety will allow her to come into the job knowing what parts of the Union are well advertised and which parts are not. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have an outsider come in and approach things from a different angle; they can often see errors that others cannot. That said, it does not feel like Castañeda is seeking to change all that much.
In a year when a strong leader is needed to legitimize the position, it seems that the Graduate Education Officer race will be nothing more than an afterthought, with only a RON campaign daring to make it in any way interesting or relevant.