Our Student Of The Week Has Achieved Something Unprecedented Amongst Irish Travellers

Our Student Of The Week Has Achieved Something Unprecedented Amongst Irish Travellers

Kathleen Lawrence is a woman who has come through a lot to get where she is now. Kathleen, who is a part of the Travelling Community, recently graduated from Maynooth University with a degree in Law & Sociology.

She has gone from leaving school at 15 to becoming the first Traveller to be chosen for the prestigious Washington Ireland Program, an initiative that develops emerging leaders and influencers.

We spoke to Kathleen about her long journey to third level education, her college experience, as well as advice for people in a similar situation to hers.

What encouraged you to pursue third level education?

I left school at 15 with no qualifications, over the years I built up a couple of certificates in basic literacy along with some other basic courses. In my late twenties, I started working for Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre which is an NGO. I started working there in October of 2013 and was only there a couple of months when I was encouraged to pursue third level education. It had never occurred to me before that third level was even an option for me.

Did you suffer any discrimination in college because of your background and if so, how did you deal with it?


For the most part, I actually had a very good experience in college however, there was a fair amount of ‘subtle’ or indirect discrimination. I dealt with this head on and addressed stereotypes about Travellers. After a while, though it can get exhausting being the involuntary spokesperson for an entire community. I did cut ties with a couple of people due to discrimination I experienced but, I also made some lovely friends in university.

What was the hardest part of the college experience for you personally?

Personally, I found the isolation from the Traveller community quite hard I was now in a space where is surrounded mostly by settled people and at times I felt out of my comfort zone. I was trying to make sure that I held onto my culture while also pursuing an education. I also found the academic writing very difficult at first but, I received a lot of support and help to build up my skills in that area. My grammar is not perfect but it is a lot better than what it was.

What would you say to young Travellers who might wish to follow in your footsteps?

No individual story is the same everybody is different and while I don't think that college is for everybody I do think that everybody should have equal access to college. I would encourage young Travellers to pursue whatever dream they have and not allow discrimination or anything else to hold them back. However, I do know from experience that is easier said than done especially with cuts to education funding in recent years. Travellers have a lot of barriers in front of them and need to be supported to follow their dreams. I will say one thing though, if you manage to fight your way through the barriers and obstacles in your path you will find that college is worth the effort.

What does the future hold for you?

To be honest I don't know for sure what the future holds. One thing is for certain, the future now holds more opportunities for me now that I have a degree.

See Also: 7 Money Saving Tips For Students That Will Save You Thousands

Eoin Lyons

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