Louise Brown, Toronto Star, February 8, 2010
A sweeping year-long probe into racism at Ryerson University has found a staggeringly diverse campus where some visible minority students say they feel harassed and excluded, where profs don’t always deal with offensive comments made in class and some non-white staff report a “chill” that shuts them out of the power loop.
The 107-page report, commissioned by the university after a string of racist incidents in 2008, calls for immediate anti-racism training for senior staff, sharper targets for hiring visible minorities, more courses on diversity and the collection of race-based statistics on staff and students so the university can track whether equity is improving.
While noting most students and staff call the booming downtown campus “a great place to learn and work,” the report, to be released Monday, cites a worrying lack of diversity in faculties such as communication and design, a need for more ESL support in programs such as nursing and business, and more black professors across the board.
Ryerson is the latest Ontario university to examine how it approaches its growing diversity; York University, the University of Western Ontario and Queen’s University have reviewed aspects of how they approach minority rights and cultural tension in recent years.
“Each and every one of us needs to take responsibility for the university becoming a truly inclusive environment,” declared the study by the task force of staff, students and community members that was co-chaired by Ryerson professor Grace-Edward Galabuzi and University of Toronto professor Eileen Antone, a member of the Oneida of the Thames First Nation.
Some of the incidents that prompted the appointment of the task force include the burning of an African students’ club bulletin board and death threats against a student leader for being a “race traitor.”
The report by the Task Force on Racism at Ryerson tells of students who say overt and subtle racism makes it difficult for them to fit in and at times makes the learning environment “toxic.”
“Fostering a racism-free and inclusive environment requires bold leadership, action and vigilance on the part of everyone in the Ryerson community, and there are key gaps the institution needs to address,” said the report, a copy of which was obtained by the Star.
“Many minority faculty believe there is a ‘chilly climate’ at Ryerson that includes stereotyping, double standards, isolation, exclusion and condescension. One member put it this way: ‘Many of us feel we are in a game that we don’t really know the rules of.'”
A five-month task force at York University last year also examined ways to diffuse racial and political tensions on that campus.
The Ryerson task force used face-to-face interviews, surveys and forums to uncover a campus where some Muslim students resent having to lift their face-coverings to enter the library, where Jewish students have reported eight incidents of anti-Semitic harassment in 18 months and native students say security guards have mistaken them for homeless trespassers.
Others longed for teachers who look like them, especially aboriginal and black students.
The report calls for a powerful new Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, with a vice-president or vice-provost at the helm, to give teeth to harassment investigations and spearhead new anti-racism curriculum.
The office should also organize a pilot “Census Day” where staff and students are asked to fill in questionnaires about their race, language and culture to allow Ryerson to begin tracking the demographics of student achievement and equal employment.
Some of the anecdotes are poignant.
Black students reported problems finding classmates willing to do group work with them, saying they sometimes feel shunned on the basis of stereotypes about not being hard-working or being “dumb.”
Some observant Muslim students complained teachers often use jokes about sex that can make them uncomfortable.
One professor who was teaching students how to modulate their voices for radio told the class to pretend they were having sex and to imagine the voice they heard when they experience “pleasure.” Other students joined in and began making “very weird noises,” leaving some students very uncomfortable.
Among the report’s recommendations:
* evaluate managers and department heads in part by how well they have fostered diversity;
* have the Learning and Teaching Office develop guidelines for dealing with unwanted classroom behaviour;
* develop a course on anti-racism, anti-colonialism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, sexism, homophobia and disability that is open to all students and could be considered as mandatory in future;
* have a special faculty-student subcommittee examine the curriculum and recommend the addition of non-Western themes and course offerings;
* set targets for hiring minorities and enforce them;
* assign struggling English-as-a-second-language students to mandatory ESL classes before merely giving them a “zero” for their lack of language skills.