Leighton Gray is completing their Master’s degree in Gender Studies at UCD and is currently running for the position of Campaigns and Engagement officer in the upcoming Student Union election.
In their own words, Gray describes the role of Campaigns and Engagement officer as, “in its very basics, it is political campaigns and engaging with students, particularly with the focus on class reps.” They chose to run for this position to bring radical change to UCD and according to their manifesto, ‘break the formula’ of how the Student Union functions. When discussing the improvements that have to be done in the Student Union, Gray comments, “there needs to be an overhaul of how the SU is run.” They continue this point by elaborating, “I think not that the SU should be less professional, but it should recognize its mistakes and be open to criticism, because I think a lot of people turn away when the SU won’t admit its faults and letting more people in to the planning process.”
With their experience as the LGBTQ campaign coordinator for the SU, as well as their involvement as auditor in UCD for Choice in the year of the Repeal the 8th referendum, Leighton Gray is a well-established leader in UCD. They share, “I have a lot of experience in a lot of communicative jobs. The biggest one that is almost identical to this role would be having been auditor for UCD for Choice. It was absolutely vital that we kept in touch with everyone who’s interested, so that we could have regular meetings, regular protests, regular events that were usually well attended.” One of Gray’s biggest concerns if elected as C&E officer, is trying to draw in more students into all of the different campaigns around UCD. Gray expresses this concern about campaigns by saying that “I think the only issue really with campaigns is that there’s not a continuous update or action that could be done with it. The Great Donate is absolutely fabulous, but to have it twice a year and nothing in between, sometimes from the Union seems a bit like a waste.” The C&E candidate then adds how they intend on improving this in the future, “I think my main focus is continuity. Constantly having small things, even if it is online, just to make sure that whoever is interested in one thing, it keeps going.”
Gray is looking to increase ‘student agency and engagement’ when coordinating these campaigns. They discuss that there needs to be an ‘open door policy’ to make the students of UCD ‘feel more involved’ in the projects happening around campus. Gray highlights the three most important campaigns in UCD, which include the rent crisis, climate change and mental health. As a previous participant in the mental health services in UCD, Gray states, that by “knowing what the faults are inside out, I think it is probably what’s going to help the most.” One of the main issues that this candidate discusses, relating to this topic is that UCD needs to add more available services for their students. They share, “there needs to be more counsellors, there needs to be counsellors that are of colour and LGBTQ+ and not just a part time psychiatrist. I think that the end goal would be that we wouldn’t have to use it (external mental health services), that we would have enough resources in UCD.”
Another project that Gray finds important is the climate crisis. This is a movement “inspired by Greta Thunberg” and her Friday’s for Climate campaign that would involve UCD students partaking in a sit in ‘once a month’ in protest of climate change. However, Gray also wants to have “more knowledge of what UCD is doing in terms of its relationships with fossil fuel companies and to be able to challenge that.” Gray refers to this concept in their manifesto as a ‘system change, not climate change’ and intends on interacting with students ‘through social media, to share info on how to be more sustainable.’
In addition, Leighton Gray also comments on how the current SU are running protests relating to the rent crisis saying that they and “a lot of students are very frustrated with the lack of radical action and the compliance of rules” and confirms with this notion by saying, “ I don’t really think I’d call it radical.” Gray looks to bring more initiative to the role of C&E officer by sharing, “I’m not afraid to get in trouble with UCD, which is what I think we need right now, rather than playing it safe.” They then elaborate on their plans of what they are going to do next year. “I think, sometimes having protests earlier will show management that we’re trying to make a point and we’re not afraid to break the rules and push their buttons. Sometimes that might be the only way to get them to listen. I think that just talking when obviously someone is not listening, doesn’t make sense.”
Leighton Gray’s momentum for change is admirable and has strong ideas conceptually on how to initiate it. Their manifesto seems to lack examples and is light on details on the specifics of their campaign program. However, Gray counters this argument by stating “I didn’t think it was wise to promise very, very specific things if I don’t know I can deliver them, which is why I felt it was better to put the ideas that I had down and allow for it to be more adaptable.” All in all, Leighton Gray is a big picture person who wishes to switch up the system by acting first and talking second, if elected to be the Campaigns and Engagement officer for the Student Union.