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Putting the world to right

Last update - Thursday, May 7, 2009, 00:39 By Catherine Reilly

Catherine Reilly speaks to the students and staff at UCD’s School of Social Justice, a fertile breeding ground for tomorrow’s difference-makers

UCD student Lucy Hubbard admits that people often wonder what her studies are all about.
“When I tell people I’m doing equality studies they say ‘But what do you actually do?’” says Hubbard, from Lincolnshire in England. “When I explain to them, most think it’s quite interesting. But yeah, sometimes when you say equality studies, people say ‘feminism’ and all these type of things, you know, but I don’t mind because it’s something I’m interested in.”
Indeed, say ‘equality studies’ and you can almost hear Kevin Myers sharpening a pencil that could pass for a knife. For some, such areas of study are victimhood’s classrooms, where the world is put to rights – to no avail.
But venture into UCD’s School of Social Justice, in which the equality studies programme resides, and a less pampered picture emerges: it is one where mature students, social workers, government officials and civil rights campaigners analyse and discuss a more equal system on which to underpin societies, and where current problems remain. Because in case it’s evaded our radars, the current global structure –  credit collapses et al – hasn’t worked out too well.
John Baker, the New York-born head of school, feels that this is precisely why equality and social justice studies are even more important now than ever before – nationally and globally.
“Difficult times highlight some of the inequalities in Irish society and global inequalities,” he notes, “whereas in the boom people said ‘Who cares about inequality as long as everyone’s getting richer’.”
Baker believes Ireland has significant inequality issues, particularly in terms of uneven distribution of incomes, and gender and race discrimination. Such realities are coming into “sharper” focus now, he suggests.
Many of the 40 students taking masters degrees and graduate diplomas in equality studies can boast impressive backgrounds. And a number are immigrants. One is Adelita Monteiro from Sao Paulo State in Brazil. A psychology graduate in her homeland, she worked as a social worker in an impoverished rural community, and with street kids in Sao Paulo. At UCD, she is examining issues such as class culture and capitalism, and international human rights law.
One issue that Monteiro has spent more time considering is “the way our society works... That there’s a system that favours profits, making money and accumulating property and capital, and that it leaves a lot of people without anything.” A deep analysis of such issues has made her more inclined to challenge accepted structures, she says.
Loveness Mubisi from Zambia has taken leave from her country’s Ministry of Education to pursue equality studies in Dublin. She was a recipient of an ICOS scholarship, backed by the Irish Government. The theory she’s encountered has been especially fascinating “in terms of exposure to international human rights law, studying the different coven-ants.” She will return to Zambia in a few months “a better person in terms of analysis of ine-quality issues”.
Many of the students have high ambitions. Tina Jana-Molefe from South Africa would love to land a job at the United Nations, particularly in the area of anti-racism. “I come from a country which has had very vast inequalities under apartheid,” says the Trinity political science graduate, explaining her motivations in this regard. She emphasises the broadness of the equality studies course, in that it tackles everything from international law to feminist theory.
But preconceptions about the course have had notable consequences. Of the 40 students currently enrolled, just two are men. “We always have a great majority of women, and I can’t understand that,” admits Baker. “Because it’s not a course just about gender inequality, it’s about all kinds of inequalities.”
Another tricky issue is fees. Undertaking a full-time graduate diploma in equality studies will set you back €6,200 for EU students, while non-EU students pay double this amount – a similar situation applies in all public third level colleges in Ireland. According to Baker, there have been discussions within the school on how to “ease the burden” in this respect, but no agreement has been reached.
Nevertheless, the courses continue to attract interest from immigrants, EU and non-EU, and can also count students from Nigeria, Lithuania, Spain, Zimbabwe and Argentina among its current group. According to Baker, graduates fill both NGO and policy-making roles, in Ireland and abroad. Trade unionists, educators, private sector employees and some Equality Authority staff are among the alumni – putting the theory into practice.

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