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'I was called n-word - Ireland the most racist place I've ever lived in'

  • Ex-pupil at €30,000-a-year Dublin school tells of trauma

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Former pupil Seyilogo Braithwaite says she has no regrets about coming forward over racism at St Columba’s College as it has forced the school to acknowledge the issue

Former pupil Seyilogo Braithwaite says she has no regrets about coming forward over racism at St Columba’s College as it has forced the school to acknowledge the issue

Former pupil Seyilogo Braithwaite says she has no regrets about coming forward over racism at St Columba’s College as it has forced the school to acknowledge the issue

A young Nigerian woman who spoke out about alleged racial abuse at her former south Dublin school said she experienced more discrimination in Ireland than in any other country.

Seyilogo Braithwaite (20) came forward with allegations of racial discrimination at St Columba's College after being spurred on by the international Black Lives Matter movement.

She has now inspired other black former pupils at the school to speak about their experiences.

The allegations have prompted an inquiry at the fee-paying school, which described them as a "wake-up call".

Ms Braithwaite attended St Columba's College from 2015 to 2017.

She said she endured being called the "n-word" and other racist slurs.

Hair

Ms Braithwaite said she reported many incidents at the time, but said there needs to be a culture change at the school.

St Columba's has around 300 students, and many are from abroad.

"I was constantly called the n-word, over and over again," Ms Braithwaite said.

There were also incidents where she was targeted because of her natural hair.

She said that often after she reported incidents, the perpetrator would be given a "warning" but they would to do it again.

Ms Braithwaite said she was "ostracised" for making the reports, and alleged there were instances where she heard staff pass racist comments.

In one case, a presentation following a class trip to Zambia had suggested disease was rampant in Africa.

Ms Braithwaite, now based in Malaysia, has lived in four countries over the course of her life.

"My experience at the college definitely changed my opinion of Ireland," she said.

"It made me very wary of making friends with white people when I left the college and went to university.

"That's not to say all white people are racist or anything like that.

"But the experience definitely gave me a bad impression, so I tried to stick with making friends with minority or black people instead, because they could understand having similar experiences.

"I've lived in four countries, and Ireland is the one where I felt the most racism.

"It really is the most racist country I've lived in."

She added that her experience at St Columba's had an impact on her mental health.

She first made the claims against her former school on social media.

Since then, she has been inundated with messages from other former students who have also decided to come forward.

Eventually, she wrote directly to the school.

In her email, she said: "Ireland has a race problem and it's crystal clear that its most prestigious school is not exempt from that problem."

She also included a document with the stories from other students that had been sent to her.

"I didn't want to go on the media, I didn't want to make this a huge story, but now that it's forcing them to acknowledge that there is a problem at that school, I do not regret coming forward one bit," she told the Herald.

Ms Braithwaite said there are many black former students who also want to see changes, and added that none of them ever saw a member of staff who was a person of colour.

Courage

Boarders at St Columba's pay fees of almost €30,000 a year.

Day students pay between €8,600 and €11,500 at the Church of Ireland school.

In a statement to RTE, the school said Ms Braithwaite had "bravely shared with us her experiences of racism while attending the school", which had prompted other students to share theirs.

"We can only imagine how difficult it was for the young people involved to write down those experiences," it said.

"We thank them for having the courage to bring these matters to our attention."

The school said it was taking the allegations very seriously.

Principal Mark Boobbyer said they had been a "wake-up call", and the school "would not shy away from making any changes".

Herald