Make room for students of colour

As a community, we must do more to ensure all Gaels feel comfortable

Doblej argues that more must be done for Queen’s to provide a truly inclusive environment for all students.
Doblej argues that more must be done for Queen’s to provide a truly inclusive environment for all students.

As Kofi Annan said, “Education is, quite simply, peace-building by another name.” But what happens when this isn’t the case for people of colour? What happens when the endeavour for a higher education is “whitewashed” and surrounded by a culture of whiteness?

As it stands, the reality of Queen’s forces Gaels of colour to contend with an intrusive white identity. This is our home, but many of us don’t feel comfortable enough to walk around in our bare skin.

If we look at other fine universities, such as Oxford, Yale and Missouri, we can see these schools are facing realities of racism, classism and other forms of oppression. 

Some students at Queen’s have similar struggles, but as we’ve seen time and time again, our forms of oppression are more discreet, making them harder to find but equally troublesome. 

This isn’t the first time Queen’s has been called out for perpetuating a culture of whiteness, nor will it be the last. 

In April 2004, the Henry Report, which surveyed Queen’s faculty who are visible minorities and Aboriginal, was published for Queen’s Senate — one of the University’s three governing bodies. 

The report stated that “white privilege and power continue to be reflected in the Eurocentric curricula, traditional pedagogical approaches, hiring, promotion and tenure practices, and opportunities for research” at Queen’s.

My hope is that Queen’s will create space for Gaels of Colour, so that, as the report said, “an equitable social environment, [where] white people … learn to share their space with rather than control and exclude others from it.” 

Recently, Queen’s got another insight into this perpetuated white culture with the publishing of “A brown face in a white place” in The Journal. 

In her article, Queen’s student Vishmayaa Jeyamoorthy outlined her struggle to get counselling on issues dealing with racism. The University thought it appropriate to send her to the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre, then to the International Centre, and then to the Chaplain. 

However, there’s an issue with this: she isn’t Aboriginal, international or religious. 

Vishmayaa is dealing with issues of racism; this shouldn’t hard to accommodate and address.   

As it stands now, in order for her to comfortably access these resources the University sent her to, she can either assimilate into the dominant white culture, or, alternatively, change her identity to include either Aboriginal, international or religious. But these aren’t legitimate options.  

The right answer includes the University providing suitable resources for those of colour who answer: “I am from here — Canada” when asked “But, where are you FROM?” 

This article brings to the forefront that the culture of whiteness is still clinging on to the campus and to the Queen’s identity itself.

If a student has reason, on the grounds of diversity, to call out the University administration, then something is unjust. If people are silent in the face of injustice, well, then injustice wins.

Strategies to address the “diversity issue” can be found here in our own province. 

In 2012, Ontario released its first ever youth strategy — Stepping Up — out of the Ontario Youth Action Plan. It states that “we need to respect and foster the diversity of Ontario’s youth. We can do this by ensuring the way we provide services is barrier-free, inclusive, and culturally responsive.”   

Two of the plan’s outcomes that are especially important include:

Outcome 13: “Ontario youth experience social inclusion and value diversity…”

Outcome 14: “Ontario youth feel safe at home, at school, online and in their communities.” 

Students at one of the best Canadian universities should be able to read the outcomes and say “Queen’s shows this exceptionally”. However, between condemning reports and personal accounts, it’s clear Queen’s is neither a home nor school where all people of colour can truly feel welcome. 

That’s a cause for concern. We, the broader Queen’s community, ought to ensure that all Gaels have space to be themselves, to feel at home and welcome.

I understand that this topic can be challenging, if not offensive, to some. However, as an educational institution, we must learn to ask the tough, complex questions that many students dare not ask, and support those who do, like Vishmayaa.  

I echo Senator Lynne Hanson’s words during the Nov. 3 Queen’s Senate meeting, in which she challenged Queen’s to adopt affirmative action hiring criteria and implement anti-racism training to ensure that hired residence dons and counsellors reflect the diversity of the student body. 

But, I also request the provision of mental health resources geared toward communities of colour and student input in faculty hiring and training procedures. 

This may seem like a far-fetched idea, but if universities like Yale, who face a similar culture of whiteness, can make it work, why can’t Queen’s? 

We should remember that Queen’s belongs to all of us. We are all both stakeholders and students. We all deserve the right to enjoy our home, without worry, without threats and without intimidation. 

Every student deserves for Queen’s to make space for them. Hopefully this will happen before students of colour transfer out. 

Darian Doblej is a second-year Political Studies major and Indigenous Studies minor. He’s a Public Appointee advising the Ontario Premier and Cabinet, the President of the Class of 2018 ASUS Year Society, and the recipient of the 2016 Ontario Lincoln M. Alexander award gifted by the Lieutenant Governor.

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