Head to Head: Should faculties integrate more with UCDSU for the benefit of students?

NO by Dylan O’Neill

The openness of this question will no doubt stir mixed feelings among the casual reader who glances at my decision to say “No”, but I want to make clear that I do not believe that faculties should be excluded from UCDSU. My “No” refers to the need for an attempt at more integration by students.

Take for example the School of Agricultural and Food Science. While the faculty of Agricultural and Food Science is primarily located in the Agricultural Sciences building, students within this course are not restricted to that building alone for their studies. As is the case with many other faculties in UCD, students have lectures, tutorials and even laboratory work in different buildings across campus. Furthermore, with the option of taking elective modules available for a considerable number of modules across UCD, there is ample opportunity for students to encounter and socialise with other faculties, including that of Agricultural and Food Science. Just as “no one man is an island”, it would be wrong to suggest students pursuing degrees, or even just elective modules in Agricultural and Food Science, are less integrated in the UCDSU than their peers in the School of Law, the School of Business, or even the School of Arts, Humanities and Social Science. There is no evidence to suggest that all Agricultural and Food Science students interact only with each other outside the SU, and the idea that in a college of almost 30,000 students you will only meet people who study the exact same course as you is ridiculous.

In terms of integrating more with other societies in UCD, the Little Mick Ag Society, while not having an office located in the societies corridor in the Student Centre, boasts a self-sustaining management and active membership. On par with other faculty-based societies, such as Scisoc or Medsoc, AgSoc have regularly hosted independent events that cater to both the educational and recreational side of college life, with their tabled discussion with industry leaders, and their organised trips to the Roscommon Mart. That is not to say that Ag Soc don’t host collaborative events with other societies; they have in the past held charity “Fight Nights” in conjunction with SciSoc and VetSoc to raise funds for Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin and Cystic Fibrosis Ireland. As for stand alone events, last year Ag Week raised €60,000 for the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust and the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association, which is no small feat for a single society. Where there are preconceived ideas of the society’s membership being predominantly Agricultural and Food Science students, suggesting it isolates itself; it is a faculty-based society, but that doesn’t forbid other students from joining if they share an interest in agricultural and rural affairs.

Where there appears to be a notable (and documented) marker of solitude among Agricultural and Food Science students is in the Student Union elections. When it comes to Ag students running for sabbatical officer positions, the school rallies behind its own. In the most recent executive elections, presidential candidate Micheal Geary secured 288 votes from his home constituency of Agricultural and Food Science, amounting to 80% of votes from that school. The previous year, presidential candidate Breifne O’Brien received 334 votes, equating to 83% of votes. Finally, Marcus O’Halloran was elected UCDSU President in 2015, and garnered 608 votes from Agricultural and Food Science alone, making up 94.7% of that faculty’s vote. This could easily be seen as an attempt by Ag students to integrate more into the Union by placing a representative in the highest available position, that of the President of UCDSU.

To sum up my point: Faculties should not feel the need to integrate more with UCD, because they are already integrated.

Yes by Melanie Kelly

Before I start this piece, I should establish that I am technically a “townie” writing about why I believe faculties like Ag and Food Science should integrate more with the SU, meaning I’m from an urban area of Ireland other than the capital (yes, they exist). You could argue that this just makes me a culchie with notions, which I’ll admit is a fair point. However, I prefer to think that it uniquely positions me to understand both Dubs and life beyond the Pale. The bridge between two worlds, you could say. So with this insight, I’m making the argument that Ags should integrate with UCDSU, not just for themselves, but for the good of the university – and possibly, Irish society – as a whole.

We all know that the School of Agricultural and Food Science has one of the most distinctive cultures in Belfield, which is an impressive feat given that they’re right in the middle of campus, rather than tucked out of the way in Richview. They have their own jokes, their own social areas, even their own economy where the price of coffee is a third of what you’d get anywhere else. But being a homogenous group makes it easier for outsiders to colour them with stereotypes.

Although the notorious “Ag 200” story was eventually revealed to have a less than credible sources, it did create an assumption that Ag students aren’t as socially progressive as the rest of UCD. Recently, more accurate stories like the Keeping It Country podcast scandal, have reinforced this perception. When you’ve never actually met an Ag student apart from seeing a few roar The Fields of Athenry on the bus into Coppers, it’s easy to leave these prejudices unchallenged.

In fairness to Michael Geary, his dignified presidential run did manage to tackle these stereotypes, earning him a sizeable chunk of first preference votes even outside his home constituency. Ags are also known for being great craic and not taking themselves too seriously, which is a side that the wider UCD population might get to know and love if they were only given the chance.

There are definitely faculties that could benefit from getting to know more students from outside the D4 bubble. Maybe they’d complain less about Dublin Bus if they appreciated that “public transport” means getting a lift off your neighbour in most parts of the country. Or perhaps, they’d be less inclined to spend obscene amounts of money on brunch if they knew how good a proper home-cooked full Irish could be. Learning that you have horrific levels of notions is the first step towards recovery.

Educating the Dubs about rural Irish culture might seem like a lot for the Ags to take on, and they might wonder what’s in it for them. First of all, as much as we love to make fun of them, the stereotypes about Dubs are just as unfair as those about Ags, so they’re often a lot more fun than we give them credit for. On a more serious note, maintaining the Dublin-country divide only serves to worsen the huge inequality that we see in Irish society. This refusal to mix is part of the reason why Dublin-centric politicians pump more and more funding into the capital, driving rent prices up in the process, while the rest of the country is still very much feeling the recession. Maybe if Leo Varadkar had gone to County Colours Night with a few Ag lads back in university, he’d have a bit more cop-on.

So to Ag students, I’d say that university is about going outside your comfort zone, not spending all your time with the same sort of people you’ve known your whole life. Getting to know some Dubs might broaden your mind, and give you a few stories of their notions to tell Mammy when you’re down for the weekend. Plus if I haven’t convinced you yet, I’ll add that international students go mad for a proper rural Irish accent. Just saying...

Rebuttal by Dylan O’Neill

The premise of your argument is based on the benefit of educating students about different cultures, and you believe that Agricultural and Food Science students have a duty to do so on “rural Irish culture”. I will admit that there are very distinct stereotypes between different groups within UCD and even between counties in Ireland, but your argument uses solely stereotypes and caricatures to suggest that each culture is independent of each other, with no crossover or integration at all. I would argue that the use of such caricatures would be detrimental to any attempt at integration; if we cannot look beyond our own preconceived ideas of other cultures, how can we expect a smaller community (i.e. The School of Agricultural and Food Science) to want to integrate into a larger community (i.e. UCD)?

Furthermore, your argument that students in this faculty should integrate more “with the rest of UCD, not just for themselves, but for the good of the university”, unfairly puts the onus on Agricultural and Food Science students to solve the issues of inequality within UCD. Yes, every student should feel included in their university, and while the Little Mick Ag Society has a responsibility to its members to create a respectful and inclusive society, it is unrealistic to say that the faculty has more responsibility than any other faculty to address these issues for the good of the university. It is, in fact, the Students’ Union who boasts that they are a “voice for the students” on a regular basis, that should hold the responsibility of providing spaces for people from different cultures to share their experiences and learn from one another.

Finally, as I have lost my Mayo accent entirely, I can’t argue with you on the reactions of international students, so fair point.

Rebuttal by Melanie Kelly

I think the “No” side paint a very lovely picture of harmony between all the faculties, but I can’t agree that Ags have fully integrated with the rest of Belfield. The fact that the Head-to-Head ask a question about Ags specifically and not any other group on campus is one clear indicator that they stand out as an entity of their own. Obviously there’s been no formal investigation into Ag’s involvement compared to other faculties, but there are other sources of evidence of this discrepancy.

First, the controversial Keeping It Country podcast drew flack specifically for its Ag-centric content which wouldn’t have had the same impact in Arts or Science. Aside from the instances of misogynistic comments, the podcast was popular for “naming and shaming” members of the department along with rumours, in-jokes and other details that could have only worked in a tight-knit community where everyone knows each other and would pick up on the references.

The “No” side refer to electives and lectures in other buildings as proof that Ag students integrate with other faculties. While this may be a case on an individual level, this does not prove that on the whole, Ag students mix well with their peers, especially as we’ve no way of knowing whether Ags take electives outside their schools or do so without a group from their classes.

The other side also notes that Ag Soc is technically open to non-Ag students, but events such as industry panel discussions and careers fairs are unlikely to attract students that do not intend to work in agricultural industries, only further increasing the divide. Similarly, Ag students are a rare find on the committees or general membership of “hobby” societies. Even in terms of sports clubs, it’s a common trend to see rural GAA players return to their home counties for practice rather than joining local teams.

The biggest indicator of the faculty divide is the SU election results. I would interpret the strong home-candidate votes among Ag as a sign that these students do not trust non-Ags to advocate for them or their interests, and therefore strongly feel the need to elect one of their own to presidency. Speaking to students involved in those campaigns, it was clear that Geary was written off as “an Ag lad”, where non-Ag students assumed he was incompetent or would not uphold liberal values based on his faculty. This, to me, is the strongest indicator that Ags have not integrated properly, and would stand to benefit from doing so.