Thousands marched to the US Embassy in Dublin on Monday, 1st of June, to protest the death of George Floyd and to support the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality in the US. The protests in the US have sparked a world-wide movement calling for an end to racism. The protest that day was not only in solidarity with protestors in the US but also against the racial discrimination and abuse faced by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) in Ireland.
The Irish Times reports that the protest was attended by a predominantly young population, ranging from the ages of 16 to 30. Many expressed anger and frustration at the lack of integrating opportunities presented to POC in Ireland and condemned the Irish system of Direct Provision as institutionalised racism.
Dr. Kieran Allen, who is an academic in UCD and an Associate Professor in the School of Sociology, attended the protest and commented that the atmosphere was overall a “positive one” and the protest resembled the repeal movement, which was also led by young voices. Dr. Allen remarked on how moved the people at the protest were and that from the speeches he got the impression that “they were educated on the wider problem of racism, not just in America, but worldwide.”
When asked his views on racism in Ireland, Dr. Allen identified the two main ways racism manifests in Ireland. Firstly, the institutionalised form of racism in the system of Direct Provision and secondly, racial-profiling by the Gardaí experienced by many black people which is not investigated enough. He noted that UCD, like many universities, views racism as stemming from ignorance which can be bettered with education but fails to acknowledge institutionalised racism. He said that it “wouldn’t do any harm if the UCD president or authorities condemned the police brutality in the US” and that the racial profile of academic staff in UCD reflects the inequalities in our society.
Dr. Ebun Joseph, who established Ireland’s first Black Studies module at UCD, spoke to The College Tribune regarding racism in Irish society. She noted that “countries in the western world are built on the bedrock of racism” and therefore “the systems in place guarantee that a group of people will always be at the bottom which ends up being migrants.” She emphasised that because such people start at the bottom, “they have to jump through more hoops to reach an equal place in society”. When asked whether UCD lives up to its ‘global university’ image, Dr. Joseph very honestly told the Tribune that it doesn’t, “UCD as an institution does not do enough”.
In particular criticism from Dr. Joseph was the lack of black lecturers who avail full-time lecturer spots and tend to only be given guest-lecturer roles in UCD. Dr. Joseph, who herself completed her PhD in Social Justice in the School of Social Sciences in UCD, commented that “it’s good enough for them to take our money to educate us but we are then not good enough for them to employ us.” Dr. Joseph said she struggled to establish Black Studies as a module and “the fact that we don’t have an African Studies module says something. It says we don’t value you and it’s not important enough.” Dr. Joseph believes UCD needs to establish an Anti-Racism and Race Studies programme and make it compulsory for first-year students to take because “we cannot expect them to be anti-racist and unlearn racism if we do not teach them how to”.
From the protests, change has been sparked. There are conversations happening. Dr. Joseph observed that young people are striving to learn and to educate themselves. Moving on from the protests to the future, “every student should make it their responsibility to learn and unlearn racism, the more you know, the more power you have. You can decide if you want to be anti-racist or complicit in racism”. She advised that one of the most important things is to “make friends with people from everywhere. Include them – and not in a way that they still feel like they are on the outside looking in.” Dr Joseph concluded that “white people have to deal with racism. They created white supremacy, black people didn’t. Racism is everyone’s problem” and “if you don’t stand up for something, you’ll fall for anything”.
Several UCD students who attended the protests on Monday and spoke to The College Tribune expressed disappointment with the lack of a specific programme to report racist aggressions to in the University. A number of students believe there should be a specific system in place which allows them to efficiently report racism on campus quickly and efficiently. Colleen Conlon, a Stage 1 student, noted that “UCD’s location means that it is going to take on a lot of white, upper-middle-class students and it leads to it being a predominantly white university.” Because of this, students believe UCD should be making an extra effort to tackle racial discrimination and inequality. Another UCD student criticised the Students’ Union for being late to respond to the death of George Floyd. One student noted that their friends who have faced racial microaggressions in the university “don’t even consider reporting them because they don’t believe anything will come of it.”
Dennis Egunnike, a Stage 2 student, attended the protest on Monday told The College Tribune that the atmosphere was “nothing short of uplifting” and there was a lot of “frustration and anger in the air. […] From growing up in Ireland, especially during my secondary school years I had to endure a large amount of racial abuse, both covert and overt to which I built a thick skin to the point where I thought it was normal when it indeed isn’t”, Dennis commented. When asked if UCD does enough to promote inclusivity and diversity, Dennis said “Quite frankly, no,” and that there is a “gap in the bridge to make inclusivity and interracial socialising easier to students” as “a lot of the people on campus of the same race stick with their race.” A way to tackle this is that UCD should introduce a “confidential campus hotline for black people and POC to speak/report racial discrimination […] as they often go unreported.” Dennis believes that black students and POC often suffer mental health problems as a result of feeling like they cannot speak up about their abuse.
The College Tribune also spoke to Rosaleen AlJohmani, another UCD student who attended the protest and is outspoken on issues of race, commented that UCD “are not proactively shutting down racism and prejudice when it needs to be.” Rosaleen noted that “you’ll have graduated and seen no result” when submitting a claim under UCD’s Dignity and Respect Policy and this “allows racism to manifest to a greater extent within our communities and universities.” Something that has been expressed universally by UCD students is that “if the University wants to continue to use their ‘diversity’ and ‘multicultural’ students as a selling point for recruitment, and promotion, they should have that same energy towards protecting, defending and helping those same students when it matters.”
UCD President Andrew Deeks was also asked to comment but referred The College Tribune to the University’s official statement titled “UCD commitment to Addressing Racism and Discrimination” on Friday the 5th of June. The short statement said that “recent events in the US have shocked members of our University community […] These events highlight the common experience of racism across different societies and an unwillingness to accept ongoing racial violence, racial harassment and inequality.” UCD will “continue to work to address discrimination to eradicate it through education, research and wider social engagement.” The statement emphasised that “we are not complacent and the University recognises the challenges it faces.” This statement was not publicised to the extent that students who spoke to The College Tribune were aware of it.
Students have expressed many different ways UCD could commit to tackling racial discrimination through establishing racism-hotlines, ending their contract with Aramark who support the system of direct provision in Ireland, supporting research and policies on Hate Crime legislation and being more vocal against such issues as an institution.
In 1999, Vincent Brown, who founded The College Tribune, published an article on ways the media has debased in The Irish Times. He criticised the view that “it is not just that white lives matter more than black lives, it is that black lives don’t matter at all.” This statement draws parallels, 20 years later to today, where Black Lives Matter has indeed become a worldwide movement.
Mahnoor Choudhry – Assistant News Editor