Jul 18, 2020

Discrimination and Apathy: Students Describe Culture of Racism on Campuses

Across Irish campuses, black students face incidents of racism – sometimes at the hands of staff – which are not dealt with.

Tolani Adeleye, Demilade Adeniran, Melanie Fidel and Cormac Watson
Sinéad Baker for The University Times

On placement, Trinity student nurse Florence Nwaje has had to learn to ignore patients telling her that her skin looks like “dirt”.

College, she told The University Times, does not provide students with the necessary training for dealing with racism while on placement.

“It’s not right”, she said. “I think lectures need to be held on how to deal with racism on the ward, and how our fellow white nurses can assist us.”


“I’ve been told that my skin looks like dirt once or twice. Unfortunately, you just have to ignore it, because you haven’t been taught by the college on how to deal with racist comments like this.”

Furthermore, she said, her preceptors – who instruct student nurses on placement – “have usually been harder on me than my fellow students”, and there were incidents when she would report an issue with a patient to a nurse and would be “undermined by the nurses”.

Racism on Ireland’s campuses

In a series of interviews with The University Times student after student outlined incidents of racism and discrimination or shortcomings in dealing with racism on the part of staff members in Irish universities.

Black students in medical courses said they often felt outnumbered and unwelcome while on placements, and did not feel equipped by College to deal with racist incidents.

Nwajei said that “being a student nurse is hard, but being a black student nurse is even harder”.

“As a black student nurse, and most times the only black person on the ward, you tend to feel very isolated and alone”, she said.

“Although you have fellow students, most don’t really want to talk to you: they mainly speak to each other and I’m speaking from experience. Most times you are always separated from your friends, which makes the experience of placement even more isolating.”

Christiana Diyaolu, another Trinity student nurse, said that she was once told that she should “be careful of this patient, because he doesn’t really like people of your colour”.

“In my earlier years, I have been quiet on racial issues that have troubled me. However, looking on to the future I will be vocal about any racist encounter, no matter how ‘small’ it may be. My voice will be heard”, Diyaolu added.

Students also reported experiences of microagressions and discrimination from staff and security in their universities.

In an email statement to The University Times Clodagh Brook, Trinity’s associate vice-provost for equality, diversity and inclusion, said that in response to instances in which students felt “victimised” during placements in clinical settings, College had set up a working group to “explore issues faced by Health Sciences students in particular and to develop a policy to be implemented at Faculty level”.

“Among the tasks will be to identify and implement appropriate measures to support students on placement who experience racism, and to publish or amend guidelines and policy for staff supervising in clinical settings”, Brook said.

“We will work with student input to stamp out racism where it exists, to protect our students while recognising diversity and to encourage full participation in all Faculty of Health Sciences’ activities.”

Last year, Kudakwashe Nengiwa was forced to leave Trinity after the College’s Academic Registry failed to register him as a student because they lost documents proving that he was an Irish resident.

“When it came to registering, Trinity’s Academic Registry made things extremely difficult for most of the immigrant – mainly African – students”, Nengiwa told The University Times.

Despite living in Ireland for five years, Nengiwa was forced to provide documents proving he was an Irish resident – documents the registry lost.

“I was in AR almost everyday during the first two weeks of school, and there was always one issue or another with my documents – even though I had handed all of them in multiple times.”

Nengiwa’s friends also tried to go to Academic Registry on his behalf, but were turned away. Nengiwa continued to email. But Academic Registry did not register Nengiwa before the deadline and ultimately he had to drop out.

Brook told The University Times: “While we are proud of how welcoming, inclusive and diverse Trinity is, we are deeply sorry when any student or staff member encounters racism and we recognise much more needs to be done now to tackle the roots of racism and to bring about structural change.”

Trinity intends on creating a race and ethnicity working group, Brook said, which will look at issues brought to them by the college community and from this make “to ensure not only that racism is eradicated wherever it appears, but also that students from all ethnic minorities are supported in progressing in their learning and that staff are supported positively in their careers”.

Speaking with The University Times, Emmanuel Denuga, a student at Technological University Dublin (TUD), said that during one of his classes his lecturer “was explaining something and I didn’t understand and I kept asking questions in order to get it”.

“So he proceeded to explain it by using bananas and KFC as the examples and had all the other students laughing their heads off.”

Many students also spoke of problems they had with on-campus security.

Trinity student Joy Osakioya, for example, said that being asked for her student card on campus by security a disproportionate number of times was “not the experience that I envisioned” before coming to College.

Craig Chiko said that in Dublin City University (DCU) on-campus security were “always asking whether or not I attend the uni and for proof of ID”.

In an email statement to The University Times DCU’s Chief Operating Officer Declan Raftery said that the university “has not received any reports of racism and we are clear in condemning any form of discrimination including racism”.

“Dublin City University is committed to equality and social justice”, he added. “We are an open and inclusive University that welcomes students from all races, religions or sexual orientation with 120 nationalities represented on campus. We cherish diversity and actively embrace inclusion.”

Maynooth University student Michael Oyetunde told The University Times that while he and his friends were in a computer lab, security entered and “asked all the black people to show their student cards or leave the lab”, without asking to check the identification cards of white students in the lab.

Maynooth University did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Denuga also spoke about staff members in TUD trying to separate black students who were gathered in groups “by changing the sitting arrangements, closing certain areas at certain times so people would be forced to leave”.

Denuga added that “caretakers and security shouldn’t be watching black kids like criminals and separating them. Lecturers shouldn’t treat anyone differently either”.

In an email statement to The University Times, TUD Communications Manager Lisa Saputo said that “TU Dublin takes very seriously any allegations of exclusion or unequal treatment of any student or any member of staff. The University’s Dignity and Respect policy provides avenues for any unjust behaviour to be reported and addressed.”

“We would strongly urge any member of our University community that has experienced discrimination to please come forward by contacting a staff member or TU Dublin Students’ Union.”

“TU Dublin has a diverse and inclusive student community, and the University is very aware of the role our students and staff can play in rejecting racism in all its forms”, she added.

Saputo also cited statements that TUD President Prof David FitzPatrick made recently in which he called for a zero-tolerance approach to racism, saying: “It is up to all of us across the TU Dublin community to educate ourselves on structural racism further. We must all take responsibility for raising our own awareness for ensuring that prejudice and inequality have no place in our University or in the Higher Education sector in Ireland”.

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