Racism well and alive in Ontario Universities and Colleges

One could say, colleges and universities are one of the many places that showcase Canada’s multiculturalism and diversity. If you think our colleges and universities are the last place where we should worry about racism, you might be wrong. The Canadian Federation Task force report on Campus Racism released a report this March, compiling cases of racism in different Ontario Colleges and Universities. After 17 hearings on 14 campuses, the report concluded that racism is well and alive in Ontario colleges and universities with various forms, both overt and covert.

“For a presentation on a person’s experience of being deported, a student painted his face black and spoke with fake Jamaican accent and kept saying ‘yo yo yo’. The instructor granted a good mark for the presentation.”  University of Windsor

“This class sits all Indians on this side, all white people on that side. So, from day one it was like this … you’ve got an angry bunch of people over here and people over here who don’t know what the hell is going on.” This environment brought out the existing tensions between people in the class” Laurentian University

A Palestinian student described her experience in a class where the professor brought up the conflict in the Middle East. The student felt the need to speak up after the professor presented the issue in a way that distressed her: “I spoke up as a Palestinian … because I felt in a sense attacked because of the things that were being said.” When the student expressed her views in the class, the professor silenced the student by “shushing” her. University of Toronto

These are some of the cases that the task force collected from students’ experience on racism in the classroom. The report also looks at racism incidents on campus life, hiring, curriculum, policy and governance. Even multicultural events that are organized to celebrate students’ various cultural background made some students uncomfortable by ‘further entrenching stereotypes and only tokenistically representing ‘cultures.’ When students get organized to represent themselves, they were also faced with confrontation. For example, at Ryerson University the East African Students’ club bulletin board was set on fire.

While students’ newspapers mainly excluded issues of racialized groups, some of them that tried to do so were met with hostility. A paper that dealt with Tamil people’s struggle in Sir Lanka was destroyed in York University. For that matter, the Task Force itself was confronted by racist attacks through hate mails and slurs that wish death for black people.

The report further explores institutional racism in hiring and curriculum. ‘A student from Queen’s University talked about being in a women’s literature class and reading nothing written by women of colour’, reported the Task Force. In regards to hiring, racialized people are mostly marginalized and even when they manage to be hired, they ‘encounter problems with regard to promotions and gaining tenure because few of them are in tenure stream positions and those that are must meet the traditional criteria of assessment.’

In each instance, the task force gives recommendations in how to tackle both individual and institutionalized racism. However, sadly enough the Task Force’s effort is less likely to bring about change.

For example, in CBC’s article about the task force’s findings, the comments posted demonstrate that such dialogues on racism are not welcomed.  One reader called the CFS a ‘far left organization’. The other comments depict fear of whites becoming a minority in the process.

“How about the fact that we are now a minority in this country and still cannot get the privileges others get.”, wrote a reader. ‘So “minority” students can give presentations on how “the white man” has “oppressed” their people but a white student cannot give a presentation on deportation?’ posted another reader.

Yohana Otite

Yohana Otite is the co-founder of BornBlack and writers on issues that revolve around the intersection of race, gender and class. Yohana also manages the Hamilton DiverseCity onBoard program at Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion.

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