Ex-student sues college and alleges xenophobia

By Kate Palmer

A Trinity ex-student from Serbia has initiated legal proceedings against the College and a High Court judge after being suspended from the University on mental health grounds, and has said that he was the subject of racist abuse while in Trinity.

Aleksandar Zejak, a postgraduate student in the School of Mathematics, was expelled in June 2009 in what he describes as a case of “vast psychiatric libel” and “xenophobic bullying and harassment.” Among the defendants in the case is Junior Dean Emma Stokes, whom Zejak accuses of not following statutory procedures by requiring the Serbian national to undergo a psychiatric assessment before being suspended.

Issued in January this year, Zejak’s court case is filed against the Board of the College, Dean of Graduate Studies Carol O’Sullivan, Junior Dean Emma Stokes, Fellow Emeritus Dermot McAleese and Mrs. Justice Harding Clarke of the High Court.

Zejak was suspended from College after the Junior Dean raised concerns about the health and safety of himself and members of the College community. In a letter to the PhD student prior to his expulsion, Stokes expressed a concern about the “number and nature of the complaints” she had received about Zejak’s behaviour, and stated: “I have reason to believe that you may have problems with your mental health.” By suggesting Zejak make an appointment with an external psychiatrist, Zejak claims Stokes was in contravention of College Statutes. Currently, the existing Statutes do not provide for a medical or psychiatric assessment of a student before being suspended by the Junior Dean.

Zejak denies he has any problems with his mental health, and describes the accusations as “libel and slander which was directed against my person.” He tells Trinity News he has been tested by an Irish psychologist and specialist in psychometrics, and three internationally recognised tests have proven his mental well-being. “I offered to provide my results on these tests at every point of the process but none of the people involved [in the case] showed any interest,” says Zejak, who claims he was forced to leave the country after College refused to reinstate him.

In a case he describes as “familiar of the history of Stalinism, Fascism and Apartheid,” Zejak has included Pro-Chancellor Dermot McAleese and Mrs. Justice Clarke in the action. It is understood that they confirmed the decision of the Junior Dean in their capacity as Visitors under the College statutes. Zejak points out that he is a member of the International Financial Architecture Group, chaired by McAleese, “where no one appears to view me as ‘mentally ill’ or as a ‘danger to myself or others.’” Zejak expressed discontent that both the Director of the College Health Services David McGrath and Director of the Student Counselling Service Deirdre Flynn had not met him prior to giving their agreement to Stokes for his suspension.

Zejak says the proceedings against him are “a pattern of xenophobic bullying and harassment orchestrated against my person within the School of Mathematics.” He claims his expulsion took place in violation of Irish law, and the “principles of natural and constitutional justice.” Zejak is now forbidden from entering the grounds of Trinity College, and his international scholarship has been taken away.

Zejak describes the proceedings made against him as “an attempt to commit psychiatric abuse.”  He claims that prior to his expulsion, he made a formal complaint against “inappropriate and xenophobic behaviour” in an email from a fellow PhD student. Zejak claims the complaint was not processed, and forwarded to the Junior Dean. During his suspension, Zejak was denied access to his office. The locks were changed and the former student says he has still not been able to access his belongings in Room 204 of the Lloyd Building.

Whilst studying in Dublin, Zejak was the victim of a racially-motivated physical assault. Involving himself and his academic supervisor, who is a Romanian national, the attack was perpetrated by a number of men with “thick North Dublin accents”. Zejak informs Trinity News his emergency call during the attack did not receive a response. The incident, in which the two academics were told to “get out of my country, you don’t have rights in my country,” has yet to be resolved.

Zejak condemns “the existence of attempts by certain members of College to push the College towards the creation of an atmosphere of repression and of a climate of fear.”

“Those persons view students, and especially foreign students, as mere sources of money, whose rights they feel entitled to ignore, disrespect and violate at will.”