Changing the culture


Although many students may not have witnessed or been subject to racism, that doesn’t mean a problem isn’t lurking, writes Dawn Lonergan

Racism in Ireland is an ever growing issue. Historically, the Irish have experienced racism at the hands of the British and Americans, and as such, we are reluctant to readily accept the flux of immigrants brought in by the Celtic Tiger. But in an institution such as UCD, a centre of academia with a strong level of social awareness and a population of highly educated individuals, is there still an undercurrent of xenophobia lurking below the surface?

While the general opinion is that racist attitudes reside with the older generation or the ignorant, this is simply not the case. Presently, there seems to be no place free of racism; public or private. People have preconceived ideas about those from other countries. We believe it to be natural to fear the unknown, however, it is when people begin to act on this fear that racism becomes a major issue.

Dr Patricia Kennedy, of the School of Applied Social Science in UCD, reported that 60% of foreign nationals have witnessed or been subject to attacks. Approximately 71% of these attacks were verbal, and around 42% consisted of racist gestures. Actual threats were not as common, at approximately 28%, and 23% reported being physically attacked.

Do these figures ring true in an institution of highly educated students? An anonymous 2nd year student explains. “I’m sure that racism is present on campus, but personally I don’t think that it’s racism, rather a social divide.”

UCD markets itself as a global university, and according to University data there are almost 5,000 international students, which makes up 20% of the overall student population. The creation of the International Lounge aims to foster a positive attitude towards foreign students, and the International Students Society was also formed to serve the needs of international students.

The Constitution of UCD Students’ Union also offers protections against racism. Article 4.1 of the UCDSU constitution states, “Every Union member is entitled to all the rights and freedoms as set out in this Article irrespective of race; colour; gender; age; religion; language; sexual orientation; gender identity; political or other opinion; nationality; ethnicity; socio-economic or other status; provided that in enjoying such rights, the rights of others are not infringed.”

In the past, UCD had an Anti-Racism Society, but this is no longer active. The society’s most noticeable act was a 2005 protest against a campus visit from Minister for Justice Michael McDowell. This protest, which occurred during a Gardaí football match, was based on the society’s belief that the Minister’s agenda was racist.

A serious racist attack on a UCD student occurred as recently as 2009, when the house that a foreign student was residing in during the academic term was firebombed and the family car destroyed. The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) condemned the attack, and praised the quick response of UCD in supporting the student.

After the attack occurred, the UCD College of Human Sciences organised a workshop entitled ‘Raising Awareness of Racism in Ireland.’ Unfortunately, the workshop was poorly subcribed, with only 14 people attending, seven of which were presenters. Whether this implies that UCD students believe racism is not an issue, or that they simply have no interest in it, is unclear.

An anonymous final year student believes the former to be true. “Racism is not an active concern in UCD. In my time here I have never witnessed or even heard talk of a racist attack, whether verbal or physical. If racism is occurring, it is isolated and not very publicised.”

In stark contrast to this view that UCD is free of racism is Trinity College Dublin (TCD), where racism became a live issue in 2011. Kurt Nikolaisen, organiser of the Love Music, Hate Racism event, was “disgusted” with the Ents team in Trinity after they refused to let the anti-racist event take place on the same day as a visit from BNP leader Nick Griffin, who is known for his far-right policies on race and immigration.

He accused the Students Union of “burying their head in the sand.” In defence, TCD Students’ Union (TCDSU) stated “The TCDSU Executive does … not condone or agree with the political views expressed by [Nick Griffin’s] organisation, or indeed any other political organisation.”

A more recent example of racism in action on a national scale would be the removal of two Romani children from their families in October. Many TDs are calling for Justice Minister Alan Shatter to launch an independent enquiry through the Children’s Ombudsman to determine whether the removal was an act of racial profiling.

Speaking in the Dáil, Aodhán Ó’Riordáin, TD described the event as an “unbelievably appalling scenario… [At the centre of] this whole circus has been a pure, raw, naked, poisonous racism.”

The section of the Childcare Act used to remove the children is only supposed to take effect where there is an immediate and serious risk to the child. If this was the case, however, authorities would not have left the other four children in the care of their parents. This obvious flaw in the removal of the two children has brought racism to the forefront of the public eye once again.