Isn't University about Young Minds? It's Hardly What the Founders of Trinity, UCD and the Royal College of Surgeons Had in Mind When They Set Up Their Seats of Learning: Female Students Parading in Bikinis before 1,000- Strong, [Euro]20-a-Head Crowd. So Is This What Our Next Generation of Elite Women Aspires To?
Byline: Tom Sykes
IT IS a proud and lofty provost's welcome which outlines the educational mission of Trinity College, Dublin - boasting of the 'great minds that have passed through over the ages' including Swift and Beckett. In Trinity, we place great emphasis on the connection between teaching and research,' writes Trinity provost John Hegarty in an open online letter to students, alumni and visitors. 'It is our intention that students learn to be active and independent explorers of knowledge also. In this way, students will develop the skills of questioning, problem solving and of communication.
On Thursday night in a Dublin nightclub, however, it was hard to see just how these qualities were being embodied by the young woman wearing a sash emblazoned with the legend 'Miss TCD'. Just a over a century after restrictions were lifted on women's enrolment at Trinity, undergraduate Ailish Smyth was showing off her own particular skills in a very small leopard-print bikini and a pair of towerby ing pink stiletto heels.
Even for a county inured to the sight of young women selling corporate wares by posing in swimwear on Grafton Street, there was something grating about the fact that the contestants in this beauty pageant were supposed to be representing our centres of learning and knowledge.
And any pretence that the young ladies present were being judged on their intellectual or academic merits was probably quashed when they turned out for the 'sportswear' portion of the competition, after the 'nightclubbing' segment of the show. Nobody came out dressed as a GAA player, a rugby star or a golfer. Instead, each of the 32 girls competing for the title of Miss University dressed for 'swimming'... or 'water polo'.
Among them was the eventual winner, 19-year-old Holly Carpenter, aka Miss NCAD. Tall, dark-haired, charismatic and boasting striking cheekbones, the Raheny girl featured in the national media during the week after the Irish Mail on Sunday revealed that the aspiring model was the granddaughter of Terry Keane.
Ironically, only last week she had insisted that in her life as an aspiring model, that she would not take on certain types of photocall work. 'I won't be doing any bikini-on-Grafton-Street work,' she sniffed.
Bikini-in-nightclub work, however, is clearly a different matter. To be fair, Holly was showcasing a bikini she had designed herself at NCAD, and could therefore say she was just showing off her coursework. She considered the Mail on Sunday's question of whether beauty pageants were old fashioned and patronising for the young women of today. Under a heavy layer of flawless make-up, she bristled at the suggestion.
'No. I mean, we are all at college; we are all the career women of the future,' she said. 'It's not our whole life. It's a bit of fun.' When asked about the ramifications and rationale surrounding the pageant, the range of answers showed their determination - though sometimes their logic must have made their tutors shudder.
'Beauty pageants are getting much more contemporary,' said Miss University of Limerick Alanagh Hunt. The 18-year-old Pamela Anderson lookalike is in her first year of a four-year degree in psychology and sociology. 'It's not just about how pretty you are. It's about everything about you.' In some cases, though, it remained hard to see what the bikinis said about the girls wearing them.
Chelsea Garcia, for example, was representing the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland: one of the most venerable medical teaching establishments in the world, it last year elected its first female president. Miss RCSI's outfit, however, was the furthest thing from a lab coat and stethoscope possible. She wore a red bikini, a cowboy hat, bangle bracelets and platform sandals. And while she may be delighted to show off her figure now, it is hard not to wonder how such a display - recorded forever on the internet - will help her progression through the male-dominated world of surgery. …