Letter to the editor: Diversity at Queen's — A Contrarian's Experience

Re: A brown face in a white place

After reading Vishmayaa Jeyamoorthy’s article in the Oct. 16th issue of The Queen’s Journal, I felt I should share my rather different experience as “A brown face in a white place” (the title of Jeyamoorthy’s article), albeit as a faculty member at Queen's.

I have been employed at Queen’s now for fifteen years, and I don’t know if I have been thick-skinned or not as perceptive or just lucky, but I cannot seem to recall a single instance where a student or a colleague has treated me differently on the grounds of my colour. Sure, I do get asked a lot where I am from, but that’s mostly because people want to know more about the country I came from. Perhaps that question is easier for me, a naturalized Canadian, to accept as compared to someone like Jeyamoorthy or my son, who were born here. Oftentimes, however, it is easy to overly interpret what maybe just an innocuous curiosity on the part of interlocutor.

Sure, Queen's is largely “a white place”, but since my time here, I have seen a remarkable increase in diversity on campus. I have colleagues from China, Denmark, Slovakia, Turkey, Germany, Australia, and that’s just in one department. Sure, they may not contribute too much to the diversity in colour, but they do bring a huge variety of cultural, social and linguistic diversity to the campus. The proportion of international undergraduate and (especially) graduate students have also been steadily increasing. While Jeyamoorthy seems shocked by the fact that she “was one of three people of colour in [her] 15-person Frosh group”, it seems a very Toronto-centric view of the rest of Canada, as the latest data show immigrants form roughly 20% of the Canadian population — which remarkably, would be 3 in 15.

Kingston too is largely a “white town”, but there are many vibrant immigrant communities here such as the Chinese, Indian, Pakistani and Portuguese Associations to name only a few. The sight of about 100-200 people of all colours and cultural backgrounds trying to learn the steps to a Bollywood number in front of the City Hall at the grand finale of the Multicultural Arts Festival on Sept. 6th would warm the heart of any Canadian — blue, green, red or orange. The biggest evidence of growing cultural diversity in K-town perhaps lies in the increasingly well-stocked international food aisles in the local grocery stores, because those stores certainly are not doing so under any compulsion.

I have to admit that my experience as “a brown face” faculty member at Queen's could be rather different than a student’s, but I have found the experience of learning from other “non-browns” and sometimes having to explain, defend and question one’s own culture rather enriching. After all, isn’t that what a university experience is supposed to be?      

Sumon Majumdar,
Associate Professor, Department of Economics,
Queen
s University

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