College has issued a statement expressing “solidarity with all our Black students, staff and alumni” only hours after the publication of an email from Trinity College Dublin’s Students’ Union (TCDSU) to Provost Patrick Prendergast calling for College to respond to the murder of George Floyd.
The email from the union to Prendergast, which was signed by TCDSU President Laura Beston and shared on social media on Friday morning, stated that the union “condemn[ed]” the then- lack of response from both the provost and College and called for College leadership to listen to black students’ experiences and commit to actions to tackle racism on campus.
Among the union’s recommendations was compulsory anti-racism training for staff and a racism reporting tool on campus.
In an email to staff and students circulated on Friday afternoon, signed by Prendergast and Clodagh Brook, Associate Vice Provost for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, College outlined its intention to launch a new Equality Office in autumn with a focus on inclusion and the provision of supports.
Additionally, College has promised to implement a new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategy which “will tackle structural issues on race and ethnicity”.
“The injustice revealed in the US this week renews our own institutional commitment to address questions of race and ethnicity in this University,” College stated. “We know that more needs to be done to ensure the College is inclusive.”
“Collectively and individually, we also much hold each other accountable for racist talk. We are all responsible for making racism unacceptable in Trinity.”
In the union’s email to Prendergast, Beston offered extensive criticism of the College’s record on handling racism on campus. She outlined that this was “not the first time” she has had to communicate with the provost to show support for students “during a time of crisis”. Beston also claimed that this is “not the first time” College has chosen to remain silent rather than “offer your students comfort and support at this difficult time”.
In the email, Beston said that she has witnessed the “reality of racism” on campus for students, and she has been “horrified” by these incidents. “Many students have come forward to us expressing their pain and sadness at this time and relaying on us, the many horrific experiences they have been subjected to as a result of racism.”
Beston continued that she found it “incredibly embarrassing” that Trinity had not addressed the plight of racism in the previous days, particularly given College’s efforts to become a university of sanctuary and its “One Trinity” policy outlined in the Strategic Plan 2020-2025.
The call for action from the union follows the murder of George Floyd last week in the US and the following protests that took place in all fifty states and globally.
Trinity students were among some of those who protested in solidarity with the US protests on Sunday. Demonstrators marched from the city centre to the US embassy in Ballsbridge, where a minute’s silence was observed.
Speaking to Trinity News on Friday morning, Beston stated: “I think the letter is pretty self explanatory. We are very disappointed that basically 10 days after the news has broken there has been no communication to students or show of support.”
“Times of crisis are times for self reflection and we believe Trinity has a lot of reflecting to do in relation to the ways racism manifests itself on campus and in how they will actually tackle this,” she added.
In the 2018/2019 academic year, 1,101 students from the US were enrolled in Trinity, representing 34% of Trinity students from outside the EU.
In the email circulated this morning, Beston explains how she was recently “disappointed” with the provost’s “lack of leadership” when he would not show support for Indian and Australian students who were dealing with crises at home in January. Beston claimed that the provost “simply refused to do anything”.
Beston mentioned her efforts to set up anti-racism workshops for both college staff and students. She claimed that every staff member she spoke to claimed they would “solve racism through societal change”. She wrote that her workshops were clearly “too much effort” for College to support and that they must have “veered too far off our white, holy grail of academia”.
She continued: “The racism doesn’t confine itself and just like you support all aspects of college life, Provost, so too does racism find its way into the seminar, lecture, social life and work of the black student.”
The email, which spans almost three pages, references the experience of two black students who submitted an “airtight” proposal to the Equality Fund that would support more black students coming to Trinity and would involve going to schools and encouraging black students to think of coming to Trinity. Beston explains how this program was “turned down” and told to work with the Trinity Access Programme (TAP). She says that this was “some assumption” by College that “all black students were lower income”.
Beston then called for action from the provost, stating: “Speaking to some students they have asked that you specifically contact your students or reach out to them, but to share a message condemning racism in Ireland and on this campus.”
“There are so many stories coming to light over the last week and many of these are from your students, and these students feel as though you should be using your substantial platform to share their voices,” she continued.