Posted on March 24, 2010

Action Urged Against Campus Racism

Louise Brown, Toronto Star, March 22, 2010

It was a dormitory fight rooted in religion, between a Muslim student rising early to cook breakfast during the fast of Ramadan–and a roommate furious at being wakened before sunrise day after day.

When tensions boiled over, the Muslim student threw the first punch–and got himself kicked out of the University of Toronto residence, says Sandy Hudson, the dormitory don at the time, who disagreed with the decision.

The sociology major cites it as an example of why a sweeping new report on campus racism in Ontario calls for sensitivity training for everyone from dons and professors to campus police.

Spearheaded by the Canadian Federation of Students in Ontario, the report chronicles tales of racism and a “culture of white privilege” gathered last year at hearings on 14 campuses, and calls for an array of changes, from overhauling curriculum that is too Eurocentric to “anti-oppression training” for students during orientation.

“With some sensitivity training to the broader issue, that incident might have been better handled,” says Hudson, now president of the University of Toronto’s Student Union and one of nine members of the task force whose 60-page report was released Monday.

Students reported acts of overt racism: a Queen’s University student said she was spit on and told to go back to Pakistan; a swastika was painted on a Guelph university washroom wall; the “N-word” was scrawled on the door of York University’s Black Student Alliance office.

But they also spoke of more subtle feelings of exclusion, something retired York University professor Frances Henry said shows student bodies are diversifying faster than universities have kept up.

“The bottom line is, students aren’t seeing themselves reflected in the faculty or the policies of universities, and there’s a tendency to deny that the hallowed halls of learning could harbour racism,” said Henry, a specialist in anti-racism and member of the task force.

She praised Ryerson University for a recent exhaustive report into the more subtle forms of racism some report experiencing at the booming downtown campus–and the university’s vow to tackle any kind of exclusion.

The University of Toronto also promotes inclusion in policies governing everything from room rentals to free speech, said Rob Steiner, vice-president of communications.

The report also calls for:

* Special consideration for applicants from under-represented groups, such as disabled people, members of visible minorities and low-income students.

* “Equity audits” to ensure diversity in hiring in every faculty. About 15 per cent of university teachers in Canada are from visible minorities; often they’re clustered in engineering, business and commerce.

* Mentoring programs for international students, such as Lakehead University’s International Buddy program.

* Encouraging students of more diverse backgrounds to write for campus newspapers.

* Dedicated funding for courses in equity studies, which are often at risk of cancellation for small enrolment.