blmThe United States has been witness to an outbreak of student protests across college campuses over the charged issue of race relations. Student activism is not a recent phenomenon in the US; protests, boycotts, and student movements have been part of student life for decades. This particular string of anti-racism protests seems to have stemmed from the popular Black Lives Matter movement. Looking at the passionate mobilisation of US students it raises the question of why exactly the Irish student body is so apathetic

The Irish university campuses have been relatively quiet for the past number of years, despite the fact they have been hit with rising registration fees, accommodation shortages, cuts to funding, and sliding rankings. It would be wrong to try and equate an increase of the university registration fee with systemic racism, but universities and colleges on both sides of the Atlantic are being faced with their own difficulties. It is clear to see there is a big difference in the mentality and action of students in Belfield, Dublin and New Haven, Connecticut.

The recession, and ensuing austerity that hit Ireland, has had a serious effect on students and universities. The so called ‘Free Fees’ have increased year on year; 3rd level funding has been cut along with student grants; and we are facing an out of control accommodation crisis in the capital. For the most part, excluding a large protest in 2010, Irish students have not mobilized in a way similar to our US counterparts, or even our neighbours in the EU. Many would blame the ‘Irish psyche’ for this; a history of oppression and the domination of the Catholic Church have meant that we do not always air our grievances – we have somewhat adopted the British stiff upper lip mentality. Others would argue that the way our university system is designed hinders student activism on campus, for example college is a much more community binding experience in the US. Your choice between the Huskies or the Bears defines you much more than choosing between UCD and NUIG. Most people live on campus in the US, and most would not travel home on the weekend, which is common practice in the Emerald Isle. The fact that students may have a stronger community bond to their college is definitely a factor that helps explain the difference of action between the two student bodies.

It would be unfair to suggest that Irish students are lazier or less involved than their American counterparts, they just engage differently. The student vote was seen as the driving factor in the passing of the marriage referendum and students are involved in the current Repeal the 8th Campaign, so it is clear that Irish students play their part. The comparison between the student lobby’s powers and influence will be seen in the presidential election in the US and the General Election in Ireland. We must look at how these different types of student bodies engage in the political process, and ultimately if this engagement works in their favour or has any effect at all.

By Ruth Slamon

One thought on “US Race Relations Campus Protests Shows Up Lack of Irish Student Mobilisation”

  1. I commend the writer for discussing this topic, but I believe you are mistaken on some points: UCD actually has a rich protest movement history. Part of the problem is that many people are not aware of it: https://ucdhiddenhistory.wordpress.com/category/radical-history/ . The point in this article regarding the Irish being post-colonial/post-catholic empire and therefore having taken on a “British stiff upper lip” is really going to offend people, because it’s untrue in our history if you look at Irish student movements in the 60s-90s but also for other, obvious reasons. Yes, SUs and students used to be more mobilised and interested in mobilisation.

    But to imply that the US has been active all this time and the Irish haven’t is wrong. I was on a US college campus in the 1990s and there was no activism. Activism has been dormant in the US system for 20-30 years until just recently. But things have gotten so bad for US Millenials (fees, debt, job prospects, worker’s rights, systemic racism, social supports), that they are now seeing no other option than to protest/get active. I am also disappointed not to see a mention of the victorious NCAD Student Action campaign from last year mentioned. This was a terrific campaign including protests, occupying, petitions, letters, and national news coverage which resulted in real change at NCAD. Part of the problem, however, is national news coverage. The author probably didn’t know about NCAD because it received some but little national coverage. The author has also not referenced all of the work going on at UK Universities: People & Planet Edinburgh, Occupy LSE – Free University of London, Free Education MCR, The Free University of Sheffield, and all the work being done by SUs at these universities because these UK student movements haven’t received much national press attention. Conversely, in the US, the movements are getting high media attention.

    A better argument in this article might be that things have not gotten so bad here because the welfare state (as relates to social supports, workers rights, affordable education, etc.) hasn’t been so dismantled (this is also an argument made in relation to the Right2Water campaign, it took us 5-7 years from the 2008 crash to really get a protest movement mobilised on a massive scale to achieve change). However, the 1% are now succeeding in dismantling the welfare state supports in Ireland (ie. the talk about moving to university loans) that it is starting to become a big problem. I hope students will start to see what’s going on in the US/UK/NCAD and the Right2WaterIreland and get active.

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