BISC100 is silencing immigrant voices overseas

“You’re all immigrants now,” my first-year professor announced to an audience of mostly white, affluent first-years on exchange in Britain.

That was the start of BISC100/101, a course supposedly designed to increase sensitivity to other cultures that alienated me based on my own.

BISC100/101 was introduced to the Bader International Study Centre in 2014, my first year. Under the course title “Thinking Locally, Acting Globally,” BISC100/101 is mandatory for all first-year students and takes the place of other introductory courses for the history, drama and sociology programs.

The stated aim of the course is to inform students on broad topics like location, identity and international interaction.

In one lecture, my professor used the example of Indian immigrants to discuss cultural hybridity and the difficulties of adapting to a new country. He said that Indian immigrants don’t really have a home, and that their skin colour is a constant reminder of how they don’t belong.

As a child of an Indian immigrant, I felt voiceless and targeted as I looked around me to see students nodding in agreement to the idea that Canada wasn’t my father’s home.

For a course that claimed its goal was to break down racial barriers through well-rounded discussion, BISC100 could’ve been incredibly beneficial in predominantly-white student setting. It could further the exchange experience through enriching and well-informed discussion. Instead, it furthered already clear disparities in the student body.

Visibly-racialized students were often singled out with probing questions about their experiences while this cheapening of the immigrant experience to make it analogous to the students on campus was a recurring theme.

To me, calling temporary exchange students “immigrants” to Britain was an inappropriate joke for a professor to make — it made light of lived experiences that could easily isolate some students in the room.

The term “immigration” carries connotations of permanence and hardship that an eight-month student visa could never have.

By oversimplifying the discussion, BISC100 ended up isolating students who’d actually gone through immigrating, acculturating, and experienced discrimination — it trivialized important dialogues that could’ve been engaging for everyone.

Students deserve professors who actively encourage discussion open to all walks of life, and think critically about who they’re reaching with their words.

For me, BISC100 wasn’t truly the safe learning environment it claimed to be — nor for non-immigrant students who end up learning these closed dialogues.

Julia is one of The Journal’s Photo Editors. She’s a third-year history major.

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