Mar 26, 2020

Senior Hist Member Says She Was Subject to ‘Racist Remarks’ in Society

Gabrielle Fullam says she 'was frequently subject to demeaning racist remarks' and 'labelled with heavily coded racist terminology'.

Donal MacNamee, Emer Moreau and Cormac Watson
Róisín Power for The University Times

A senior committee member of the College Historical Society (the Hist) has launched a scathing attack on the society, accusing it of not taking “allegations of racism seriously” and arguing she was “frequently subject to demeaning racist remarks” this year.

Gabrielle Fullam today told The University Times she put her name forward for auditorship of the Hist – which is currently running elections for next year’s committee – in order to raise awareness of racism she experienced this year, and is not running for the position.

But Fullam, who this year served as events convenor of the Hist, wrote in her manifesto that the society’s committee “continued to perpetuate and ignore these issues this year”.


She officially pulled out of the race today, before a hustings that featured the two remaining candidates for auditor, Bríd O’Donnell and Benjamin McConkey.

Fullam criticised many aspects of this year’s Hist 250 commemoration, which celebrated the society’s 250th year with events including a visit from President Michael D Higgins.

In the manifesto, titled “This is Not a Manifesto”, Fullam criticised members of the Hist for being “proud” that it invited Nigel Farage – the controversial UK politician who has taken credit for Brexit – to speak in 2018.

Fullam wrote: “In both my personal and professional capacity at the Hist, I was frequently subject to demeaning racist remarks, forced to “verify” that people weren’t racist, at their own insistence, and told unprompted, that inviting the out and proud racist Nigel Farage was a positive thing for the society to have done.”

“I was frequently told this type of free speech was the most important function of the society, even as I became more and more afraid to speak”, she said. “If you think I am not talking to you, I am.”

She said this year’s lavish Hist 250 celebrations – which brought a slew of high-profile guests to Trinity to celebrate the society’s 250th year – ”whitewashed” the issues she experienced, “while committee continued to perpetuate and ignore these issues”.

“There were so many times where I approached the GMB feeling sick with anxiety, where I was singled out for my own experience, or where I was labelled with heavily coded racist terminology.”

Fullam also called for an end to the society’s black-tie dress code, which she says can make “members uncomfortable or unable to participate”.

“I’m writing this manifesto not to become auditor”, she wrote, “but because this is the best way to address the whole of the society right now, in this time of panic. The next committee has to start to fix this regardless of who is sitting in that big stupid chair next year”.

Speaking to The University Times today, Fullam said she thought “there have been times where things I have said have not been taken as seriously as I think they should have been, and I think the onus should not only be on the victim of things like that”.

She added: “I often felt like I was being labelled super radical or leftist or things like that. Maybe sometimes I felt like there was a lot of pressure on me to – on my individual interactions – to verify that people weren’t racist, maybe, after they had said something or things like that.”

On her criticism of members of the society for defending the visit of Farage, she said: “There are lots of people on the Hist committee who I don’t think would defend that decision, but obviously there have been people who have who have said it to me unprompted.”

“I think when you are a person of colour, you can be forced to verify that things were okay”, she said. “There’s a huge amount of pressure to be some sort of spokesperson at all times as well – it contributes to the emotional toll.”

In an email statement to The University Times, auditor of the Hist Luke Fehily wrote: “The Hist has strict laws against canvassing which expressly prohibit comment, not just by incumbent Officers but all enfranchised members and candidates, on on-going elections.”

“Therefore”, he added, “I am not at liberty to respond to your questions during the election period, which will only conclude with the close of polls”.

Fullam’s manifesto also included an “accessibility and inclusion pledge”, which she wants incoming Hist officers to commit to.

The pledge includes the introduction of unconscious bias training, establishing a working group on racism comprising people of colour, and ensuring that “no strict dress-codes (such as black tie) are in force, and therefore making members uncomfortable or unable to participate”.

“The Hist”, Fullam said, “is a fun society, filled with some very very good people, who I love. It is also plagued with racism. These are not mutually exclusive. A working group on racism is particularly important as next years committee may be, as it often is, all white, including the equity officer. This place can be better, and we can start it now”.

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