Confronting the ‘other’ on campus

The Journal begins a three-part diversity series today by examining the University’s ethnic data. Is there a ‘culture of whiteness’ at Queen’s? If there is, what does that mean?

All students who are not Canadian citizens, landed immigrants or permanent residents of Canada are obligated to identify their citizenship when they register at the University. Countries indicated are these students’ choices.
All students who are not Canadian citizens, landed immigrants or permanent residents of Canada are obligated to identify their citizenship when they register at the University. Countries indicated are these students’ choices.
Graphic by B. Shiva Mayer and Katrina Ludlow

Who we are • Where we’re from • Why we’re here


Kimberly Huggins experienced culture shock when she came to Queen’s.

Born in Trinidad and raised in the Cayman Islands, the ArtSci ’07 student and the African Caribbean
Student’s Association (ACSA) president, said she wanted to come to Queen’s because it was something different.

It wasn’t what she expected, however.

“When I came to Kingston, I had never seen so many white people in my life,” she said. “When you
look at Queen’s [brochures] and calendars, they always have a good mix of nationalities, but it doesn’t
reflect the diversity at Queen’s. It was false advertising, really.”

Huggins, who identifies as a West Indian from the Caribbean, first learned about ACSA at their
culture show at the end of her first year.

“My friends in residence heard about a culture show. When I … heard accents and sayings [from
different cultures], I felt right at home. I felt like I belonged,” she said. “It was nice to meet people of
different backgrounds.”

From conversations with black students at Queen’s, Huggins said most black people in Canada live in
the city and prefer to stay in more diverse areas.

“Queen’s is known for its culture of whiteness, so it wouldn’t be a place where they feel comfortable,”
she said.

Huggins said she thinks Kingston plays a big role in attracting certain types of students to the University because the society reflects the university.

“Compared to U of T and York which are so much more diverse and situated in the heart of the city, people of colour stand out so much [here].”

Huggins said issues such as racism come up in ACSA’s discussions.

“We talk about how there’s still racism on campus and how some people still experience it,” she said. “We talk about false advertising at Queen’s. We’re almost tired of the faculty and principal talking
about diversity, because we feel like nothing is being done.”

Diversity isn’t about colour, Huggins added.

“It’s about having an open mind and having a worldly experience,” she said. “My heritage alone—I’m
part Trinidadian. I have a Guyanese and Venezuelan background. I consider myself diverse … It’s not
just about my skin.”

Meanwhile, Sarasa Johnson has lived all over the world.

Born in India, the ArtSci ’10 student has lived in Canada, Ghana, the Philippines, Trinidad and Hungary. Her mother and brother now reside in Zimbabwe.

“When I came to Queen’s, I didn’t expect too much of an international community,” she said.

“What I was surprised [about] was how many ethnic clubs there are.”

Johnson lives on the international floor at Victoria Hall and said it has helped the transition as an
international student.

“I don’t see it as a ‘white school.’ I find this more diverse in that sense … especially because people
are so proud of their background,” she said, adding that the University offers a lot for people from
different ethnicities.

Shanghe Navaratnam, ArtSci ’07, also experienced culture shock in first year.

Born and raised in Toronto, Navaratnam said it took her some time to get used to the culture
of Queen’s.

“It’s very different from how I grew up … The way people dressed was different, the way
people talked was different. It’s not that it was bad, it was just different,” she said.

Being at Queen’s can also be culturally isolating, Navaratnam said.

“I was really naïve and thought that because Kingston was so close to Toronto, that it would be
similar to Toronto,” she said. “I had a culture shock when I came here to see that it wasn’t anything
like Toronto.”

Navaratnam, who identifies as South Asian, said there’s a culture of whiteness at the University.

“I can only speak to my own experiences, but at the end of the day, I’ve never had a professor that
looks like me, ever. It’s hard to get used to being in a class being the only one who looks racialized
or isn’t white,” she said. “My experiences from classes and the things that I’ve done … I don’t see myself reflected in my professors or my classmates.”

Navaratnam added that she had never experienced outright racism until she came to Queen’s.

“[In first year], they’d ask me where I’m from and I’d always say, ‘Toronto,’ and quite often I’d get
the probing of, ‘Well where are you from, really?’ I can’t say I haven’t had that in Toronto, but I’ve had
that more often [here].”

Navaratnam said she remembers having to identify as a visible minority on university applications
and only recently discovered that Queen’s doesn’t admit students based on any equity policy.

“For a long time, I thought I was here on equity. I thought I got in because I was brown,” she said.

Born in North York and raised in Pickering, Jason Collins, ArtSci ’08, also knows how it feels to be a
visible minority.

“I was a minority as a white guy,” he said of his time attending a Pickering high school. “It was a
role reversal [coming to Queen’s] because there aren’t as many visible minorities [here].”

Collins said one of his biggest obstacles at Queen’s was overcoming stereotypes as a
white person.

“A lot of people had a stereotype of what a white guy from the suburbs thought,” he said. “People
always assume the majority of white kids here are uppity rich kids. There are very few outlets
for cultural understanding; you’re typecast … as the white person. “It’s so pumped into your
head that ‘white people are bad.’ It’s a different period of time—stop playing the blame game,” Collins said.

“Far too many people define their existence on cultural differences. Let’s get together and celebrate
differences in culture instead of letting definitions limit us.” Collins added that he thinks
a lot of initiatives that try to promote diversity can also promote segregation.

“A lot of initiatives are too centered on certain groups … as opposed to focusing on an initiative
to bring cultures together,” he said. “Instead of focusing on things that make us different … [we should] acknowledge differences but also
acknowledge what makes us the same.”

Arriving straight from Pakistan to Queen’s, Zahra Sheriff, ArtSci ’07, said her expectations for the
University were different from students coming from Canada. “Coming from Pakistan, I was
expecting that Western norms would be more prevalent. I just assumed this was how it was going
to be,” she said, adding that she found a larger Muslim community at Queen’s than she expected.
Before coming to Queen’s, Sheriff said words like ethnicity and race didn’t matter.

“When I came here, that was when I figured out I was a minority. I became a minority,” she said.
Although Sheriff said she thinks Queen’s offers opportunities to talk about issues surrounding diversity,
she hopes to see an improvement.

“I find Queen’s to be reactive but it has the potential to be proactive. When an issue comes up, they’ll try and deal with it,” she said. She said it was a good thing that a forum was held after a student wore blackface and dressed up as “Miss Ethiopia” for Halloween last year, but there were no repercussions.
Sheriff said she also hopes residence dons will receive more training on cultural sensitivity.

“It’s just alcohol, alcohol alcohol, that’s all I heard about in first year. There’s not really much
on how to deal with students not from Canada. The dons were there to reach out but there’s only so
much they can do if they haven’t experienced it.”

* * *

Every year, applicants to Queen’s have a choice on their application to identify if they consider themselves a visible minority, an aboriginal person or a student with a disability.

For each of these categories, they are given the opportunity to specify a category within that definition.
University Registrar Jo-Anne Brady said the census’ purpose is twofold: to get a “snapshot” of
who is applying to and coming to the University, and also to collect data to monitor, over a period of
time, how that changes.

All the information the census collects remains anonymous, with student numbers only being used
to track whether a student is still at the University.

The University has been collecting this data from undergraduates since 2003, from the School of Graduate Studies and Research since 2004, the School of Medicine in 2006 and will start to collect data from the Schools of Law and Education next year.

In 2005, 56 per cent of applicants to first-year undergraduate programs responded to the census.
Brady said this response rate is high enough for valid data to be gleaned from the results.

“It assumes the characteristics of those responding are the same as those who didn’t respond—the
same as any other census,” she said. “Any time you have a response rate of more than 50 per cent,
that’s enormous.”

The census uses the same definitions as Statistics Canada in order to be able to compare Queen’s statistics with countrywide ones. There are problems with these created categories, however.

“We wish Statistics Canada could get on their pony and fix their categories … They have the
worst language,” Brady said. “[But] if we can’t say, ‘Well, what does the population of Canada look like?’ we wouldn’t be able to compare it to anything.
“No matter what list or what categories you have, you’re going to get frustrated and it’s
understandably frustrating.”

Brady said that although the University uses these numbers to estimate how many visible minority
students there are at Queen’s, students who don’t check a box identifying themselves as a minority
aren’t necessarily white.

Irène Bujara, Human Rights Office director, said students who choose not to respond to the
census—either by not returning it or by leaving boxes blank—may do so for a number of reasons.

“Some people say, ‘I’m not a visible minority in this world, so why am I a visible minority
here?’” she said. “Which is why, with any statistics or numerical representation of anything, a lot
of care has to be taken not to draw conclusions.”

Bujara said the census’ definitions might not ring true with a black student in Africa who doesn’t consider him or herself a visible minority, or with a Caucasian person in a country where he or
she is in the minority.

* * *

Audrey Kobayashi sits on the Senate Educational Equity Committee and is a geography and
women’s studies professor. She also said the ethnic climate at Queen’s is very problematic.

“I’m not sure that it’s getting worse, but there’s a certain backlash,” she said. “It starts in
residence and is very subtle.”

Sometimes first-year students of colour are “othered” and this experience carries onto the rest of
their time at Queen’s, she said.

“I have yet to meet any student from a racialized minority who hasn’t experienced being othered
in some way,” she said, adding that there is a culture of whiteness at Queen’s, but it also exists at
other universities.

“Part of it means who is acceptable and who isn’t. People are treated as though the white
body is the standard,” she said.

“There is a vast assumption that there’s a normative Canadian way of doing things. People who don’t
fit with that norm are other, exotic or inferior.”

Kobayashi said the University needs broad-based training in anti-racism at all levels.

“No student should graduate from Queen’s without anti-racist and equity training. No staff or
faculty should be hired without some training,” she said. “You have to insert the concept of inclusion
and anti-racism into everything the University does, not just some things.”

Diversification of faculty is happening slowly, she said.

“It’s not just about body counts; it’s about what people teach. It’s a whole way of approaching the
concept of education. As long as we reproduce [the same kind of] faculty, we also reproduce the
curriculum,” she said.

Within the social sciences and humanities, Kobayashi said we need to ask if the curriculum reflects the
experience of all people. “We need to account for a variety of ways of learning, issues of comfort and inclusion, and ask questions about ways in which Western science and knowledge have been constructed,” she said.

Along with anti-racist training, Kobayashi said the University needs to address the training and
practices of Frosh Week as well as the level of support provided for racialized students in residence.

“We have to have standards of inclusion in all University activities,” she said. “They’re all done to some
extent but we can also improve, and we are.”

Principal Karen Hitchcock said she doesn’t accept the designation of Queen’s as having a culture
of whiteness.

“I think it’s too pat a phrase to say a culture of whiteness. It’s a good sound bite, but … it, itself,
is a stereotype,” she said. “What Queen’s has is areas where we can still grow and learn from
one another.”

Hitchcock said ethnic diversity is critical to the educational environment.

“With regard to the climate of acceptance, I think like every institution and every part of society,
Queen’s needs to be very mindful that we are accepting, that we become well-enough educated that
we don’t … inadvertently causeproblems through ignorance, through lack of experience, through
lack of contact with people from other backgrounds,” she said. “Certainly we have much
to learn here at Queen’s, all of us do—faculty, staff, students. That’s why it’s so important that
we are a diverse and inclusive community,” she said. “But it’s not unique to Queen’s, it’s not
unique to educational institutions: it’s societal.”

Jason Laker, associate dean and dean of student affairs, said he has no higher priority than dealing with issues of diversity and engagement at the University.

“I think there’s a desire to talk about issues but I think there is not yet a large capacity to talk about it,” he said. “My impression is there’s a willingness to talk about it, but there’s still a lot of fear.”

Laker said he and his staff have been working on the issue from several angles.

“First, I think marginalized populations need a safe place where they can come together and really
think quickly or in relation to each other about what it means to be of that particular population.
“They need to be able to do that without having judgment or the scrutiny of the majority.”

Second, Laker said there needs to be a safe place for groups to have their intra-group conflict, as well as a safe place to discuss pressures or conflicts coming from within one’s own ethnic group.

The third step is to provide a venue for the majority population to talk about their identity, he said.

“The majority population have to have a safe place to talk about their fear, their guilt, their confusion
and to have some facilitation that’s not diminishing to people of colour,” he said.

“White people are socialized in the same society as people of colour are but their experience of race and ethnicity is often invisible. It’s just that they’re not aware of it.”

The fourth step is facilitation across cultures. “Now that each of us have learned some language to talk about it, cross-cultural engagement can happen when everyone is prepared to do it. It needs to be inconvenient or ideally impossible for people to not have to deal with each other, but until that time we still have a lot to do on cross-cultural engagement.”

Laker said the University has been making efforts to make improvements.

“My office has been working with several members of [Queen’s Coalition for Racial and Ethnic
Diversity] … on specific programs such as the inclusive space program, faculty-mentoring program,
peer-mentoring program and a social forum that will talk about academic racism,” he said.

The University’s cross-cultural advisor at Health, Counselling and Disability Services will also be
spending 40 per cent of her time in residence to do training and development with residence staff.

Laker said his office has also organized for Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie
Wiesel to deliver a talk at Stauffer Library on Nov. 22.

“Something we’re doing is arranging for groups that represent all numbers of cultures and issues
of social justice … to offer them the ability to display in the library before and after the event,”
he said.

A group called Beyond Diversity Resource Centre, specializing in training and development around
issues of diversity, was also brought in to train over 200 student leaders and residence staff earlier this year.

Laker said resources such as the International Centre, Aboriginal Centre, Ban Righ Centre and
Career Services are also available for students. The Career Services will host a Minority and Aboriginal
Recruitment Fair this year.

“As the student affairs office, I see it as our role to help offer a framework that allows us to
inventory the efforts that are happening to see where there are gaps,” he said. “I see it as our
responsibility to create venues.”

With files from Anna Mehler Paperny and Lisa Jemison

The Applicant Equity Census Results was found at

The International Nov. 1 Headcount by Citizenship was found at

The Journal’s series will continue next Friday with a look at gender on campus.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.