Sunday 24 September 2017

Trinity student president vows to fight college austerity

Lynn Ruane pictured with her daughters Jordanne (14) and Jaelynne (8). Photo: Arthur Carron
Lynn Ruane pictured with her daughters Jordanne (14) and Jaelynne (8). Photo: Arthur Carron
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Every morning when she walks across the historic cobbles of Trinity College, in the footsteps of Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett, Lynn Ruane takes a moment to savour her surroundings.

"I definitely take it in. I love it, and I bring my children with me sometimes. I want them to be exposed to it and not feel the intimidation," she said.

"I want them to know that they can do this too."

She had initially felt that her "class and lack of education" was a barrier - but soon realised "these were my own limitations in my own head and nobody else's".

The single mother from Killinarden in Tallaght, Dublin dropped out of school without completing her Leaving Cert when she became pregnant at the age of 15.

She was "seven or eight months pregnant" when sitting the Junior Cert and "wouldn't have had the greatest experience in secondary school in the first place", she admitted.

But fast forward 15 years later and Lynn (30) has become a shining light for equality and triumph over adversity after being elected President of Trinity College Dublin Students' Union.

It is an illustrious office once held by Senator Ivana Bacik, broadcaster Joe Duffy and Senator Averil Power. Lynn revealed that she also intends to make an impact during her tenure.

Though her position doesn't begin until July 1, she is already "in planning mode".

"I want the college to be much more of a community student unit, because students have become very passive over the years. I want to try and change that and I think the fact that they voted me in means they want somebody to change that for them too," she added.

Trinity is not immune to the austerity and recent cuts have made things extremely difficult for less well off students, she said. These include a planned €250 fee for repeat exams - which Lynn fears may force poorer students to drop out of college as well as cause "huge mental health issues".

She also said the college hardship fund was inadequate for the needs of students.

Lynn is postponing the final year of her own studies - a degree in philosophy, political science, economics and sociology - to take up the office of SU President and hopes to eventually have a career in advocacy. Asked if politics might hold any interest, she laughed.

"I found the campaign for President of the SU hard - I'm not sure I could handle a six-month campaign in politics," she said.

Her daughter, Jordanne (14) is now almost the age at which Lynn became pregnant and she says she often looks at her and marvels.

"It's crazy to look back, because I couldn't imagine her having to come up against all the barriers that I had to. It's hard to believe, when I look at her, the position I was in at her age," she said.

She also has another daughter, Jaelynn (8), and says that she would not have been able to manage without her own mother, explaining that she moved back in with her parents when she went back to college.

Her road back to education began almost immediately after Jordanne's birth, when she took up a alternative education system pilot programme for young mothers in Jobstown. When she was 17, she went on to do a course in addiction studies in Tallaght IT - against the wishes of the coordinator, who felt she was too young.

By the age of 21, she was working for the Canal task force to develop a service for young drug users.

"When austerity hit, it unnerved me how quick things got pulled out of communities, so I felt I needed to get a better education to fight it," said Lynn.

From fighting cuts in a disadvantaged area, she is now fighting cuts in the hallowed halls of Trinity College. And it's not so different after all.

Irish Independent

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