On Wednesday, June 24th, UCDSU held a panel discussion with black student activists to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement, and how it functions in Ireland and at third level institutions.
The panel was chaired by Campaigns and Engagement Officer, Leighton Gray, who was joined by activists from UCD and Maynooth University to discuss the complex issues of racism and anti-blackness, and how they manifest in Ireland. The event was partially held in response to the outpouring of support from UCD students for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
The panelists were auditor of the L&H Samuel Ajetunmobi, member of the moderation committee for the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union Eboni Burke, former president of Maynooth Students’ Union Leon Diop, and Paula Martinez, an activist and Masters student at UCD.
Ajetunmobi spoke of Ireland’s history of racism, mentioning the treatment of black and mixed-race children in the Mother and Baby homes, and the lack of medical belief in black pain, which has been shown to lead to higher rates of misdiagnosis and malpractice. Burke also spoke on how the movement had helped open their eyes to the amount of racism that is tolerated in Irish society, saying: “There’s a lot of minimisation of the black struggle.”
The discussion addressed the issues of Direct Provision, anti-blackness on campus, and showing solidarity with the movement in the US. Diop spoke about the importance of ending co-living, the need for autonomy and respect, and the need for adequate healthcare, mental healthcare, and access to quality nutrition in order for a new system to work. Panelists supported an end to UCD’s relationship with Aramark over Aramark’s running of multiple Direct Provision centres. Boycotts of the restaurant building and sit-ins were both mentioned as ways to put pressure on the university to address the issue and to put pressure on Aramark to move out by cutting into their profit margins. Diop argued that UCD’s relationship with Aramark is due in part to the underfunding of third-level institutions, which encourages universities to ignore moral issues in place of taking a more lucrative deal.
The panel discussed the importance of education Also. Martinez argued that a student’s time at university is the prime time to educate people on racism, xenophobia and anti-blackness. However, Martinez warned; “It shouldn’t just come from students trying,” and outlined the hypocrisy of UCD promoting itself as a diverse university and campus while doing nothing to promote or share different cultures.
The final segment of the panel discussion dealt with what white allies can do to help the situation, which Diop began by saying “The first thing is to be listened to, and to be understood”. Burke also spoke on the need for white allies to look at the work they are doing and examine whether it’s only a performative gesture. Martinez stressed the importance of recognising that racism is a complicated systemic issue that affects politics, economics, and almost every aspect of society.
Gray spoke very positively about creating a working group within UCD to address anti-blackness on campus, and also mentioned the possibility of creating an anonymous reporting tool for racist incidences on campus, similar to what has been set up before for incidences of sexual harassment and assault.