By Caoimhe Killeen
Traveller students at NUI Galway have taken part in a Access Centre documentary entitled Travellers in Higher Education – Building a Sense of Belonging to share their experiences in Third-Level education and to encourage other members of the Travelling community to enrol in Third-Level.
The documentary was filmed and edited by Dawid Piotr Szlaga of Wild Island Pictures and was partly funded by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in support of Traveller Pride Week.
It was released on the NUI Galway Access Centre official Youtube Channel during a series of events to mark Traveller Ethnicity Day, and featured interviews with students as they reflected on their experiences and achieving their goals.
Currently, only 1% of Travellers have a Third-Level education with a Government report from 2019 stating that there are only 61 Travellers in higher education.
Jason Sherlock, a final year BA Arts and Economics student stated that he felt that he had to hide his identity in secondary school. “I was kind of hiding my identity through secondary school”, he said.
“I felt it was the only way for me to get through it. I wasn’t sure would people be comfortable with me if I said who I was, my identity.”
Anna Keane, an early school leaver, always felt like education was for another people and felt daunted as she started her studies at NUI Galway.
“It was kind of that imposter syndrome. Do I belong here? Am I able to do this? I don’t feel I am a role model, but if I am that’s a nice thing to feel. I just hope our stories inspire anybody out there watching” stated Keane.
Anne Marie Ward, who is currently in her second year of her BA in Youth, Community and Family Studies, stated some of the education the Travellers have was something you could not buy at University.
“We got other education that you could not buy at University. Our parents instilled in us the ability to see other people for being themselves and to not be judgemental.”
Anne Marie who also volunteers with Gliondar Community Group in Athenry also praised the Access Centre for all the support that they offer to the Travelling Community.
“I still avail of the supports that they offer in the Access Centre, like their weekly online mentorship where they check to see how you’re getting on and it’s not just about the education side of things, it’s all about your mental wellbeing which is very important especially in these times that we’re living in. The peer mentoring services and the support is just so important to the Travelling community”, she added.
Last year, Owen Ward became the first Traveller to sit on a University governing authority in Ireland when he won a seat on Údarás na hOllscoile, NUI Galway’s governing authority.
“Traveller students in Third-Level are pioneers. We don’t have to give up our cultural identity for academic achievement. It is an asset. Younger students need to see the value in that and use it,” Mr Ward stated.
“Understanding and providing for the particular needs of Travellers as they seek to access and progress in Higher Education is critical to ensuring that the Traveller community can fulfil their potential through education especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“However, I believe that within a national context, a whole education approach is important for enabling participation by Travellers in higher education. That is why we need a National Traveller Education Plan.”
“NUI Galway has a proven track record of widening participation of Travellers in higher education”, stated Councillor Imelda Byrne, head of the Access Centre at NUI Galway.
“In 2018, there were 61 Travellers in higher education with approximately 20 of them studying at NUI Galway.
“In the same year, the Mincéirs Whiden society, the first Traveller student society was established, and NUI Galway is the only University to include Travellers for the University of Sanctuary scholarships.”