Students petition Trinity to establish Black Studies module 

The proposed elective module would be the second of its kind in Ireland

A petition has been launched for Trinity to include a Black Studies module in its future electives programme following the ongoing debate on racial education in Ireland. The module would be the second of its kind in Ireland. 

The petition, which was written and launched by rising Junior Sophister students Jennifer Waters and Claire Stalhuth, states that the desire for a Black Studies module stems from a need for  “direct implementation [of racial education] in our classrooms with our students”, and that current Trinity engagement is “not enough”. 

“The fact that people are individually tasked with unlearning their racism and are educating themselves on white privilege is proof that our academic institutions have failed us,” the petition outlines.

The petition was launched on social media at 1am on Saturday and had collected twenty signatures by 10.30am. It comes after weeks of global marches and protests in the wake of the violent murder of George Floyd, a black Minnesotan man, at the hands of american law enforcement. 

On Friday, Trinity Provost Patrick Prendergast circulated a statement on race equality at Trinity which said that Trinity was committed to “ address[ing] questions of race and ethnicity in this University” with attention to “real structural change”. The statement pointed to the launch of a new Equality Office this autumn, as well as Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategy. 

Despite the availability of such courses in other countries such as the United States, the first and only Black Studies module in Ireland, “Black Studies and Critical Race Perspectives in Education”, was launched in University College Dublin (UCD) in 2018. The first Black Studies degree in Europe was first offered by the University of Birmingham in 2016. 

The petition’s demand for the Black Studies module as a Trinity elective is accompanied by stipulations that the module be eventually integrated into the standard Humanities and Social Sciences curricula, and be taught by a black professor. This is to prevent a “vacuum of whiteness” which would negate the original purpose of the module.

Unlike current modules which Trinity teaches (such as the 15 credit Political Science module “African Politics”), this module, as an elective, would be widely available to students across faculties and would “enrich the knowledge and experience of the whole student body outside of a previous historiography which dictates the study of Africa or Black people only in relation to their enslavement or subjugation”. Here, the hope is to avoid “the oppression perpetuated by such ignorance”, beginning with education. 

When launching the petition, Waters, a Junior Sophister History and Philosophy student), described the potential module as an opportunity to finally get exposed to an identity she relates to, and remembers the (limited) exposure she was given to black identity in her American History module as an instigator of her desire to see greater attention paid to black voices in Trinity: “The deepening of understanding due to a different, repressed perspective was beneficial to everyone, but was especially impactful to me because I was finally exposed to a history I could personally relate to and be proud of.” 

Waters also outlined her belief that there is institutional responsibility to aid students in racial education, since “individual education becomes much easier when an institution provides students with a starting point…the structured discourse with a black professor is the best way to achieve an academic as well as inter-relational growth”.

Trinity’s elective modules replaced the previous Broad Curriculum system in 2019, with 1,578 students opting to take one of 26 new elective modules during the first year of their implementation. Electives announced for the 2020/21 academic year encompass areas such as languages, patients’ experience of cancer, internet security and privacy, forced migration, and design thinking.

The electives are available to most Senior Fresh and Junior Sophister students with the exception of most health science students and students studying music education, social work and social policy, European studies, and Joint Honours combinations that include computer science or business studies. 

Madalyn Williams

Madalyn Williams is a Deputy News Editor for Trinity News.