‘I want bystanders to feel like they have the responsibility to speak up’: Queen’s students share experiences of discrimination

Students recall instances of verbal discrimination in the Kingston community

Tran said the incident on Aug. 28 wasn’t unique during her time in Kingston.
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Tanya Tran, PhD candidate in clinical psychology, sent a tweet on Aug. 28 describing her experience being confronted with anti-Chinese racism in downtown Kingston the previous day.

“I was walking outside on Princess Street when I was verbally harassed by a group of males,” Tran wrote in a statement to The Journal.

“I stopped to let the group pass by me so I could keep my social distance. As they walked by me, one said, ‘Wear a mask you f—ing Chinese c—t.’ Another group member joined in the harassment by saying pseudo-Chinese words (i.e. ‘Ching Chong’) which I assume was their way of making a mockery of my ethnicity’s language.”

Tran took to Twitter to share her experience and urge Kingstonians and visitors alike to engage in serious conversations about anti-Chinese discrimination, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“I will be adding this incident to a list of microaggressions, harassments, and discrimination that I experienced as a woman of colour while living in Kingston,” Tran said, noting the incident wasn’t unique during her time in the city.

Tran isn’t alone in having these kinds of discriminatory interactions in Kingston.

After she shared her story online, Haadia Mufti, CompSci ’22, and Gage Benyon, ArtSci ’19, spoke to The Journal about their experiences with Islamaphobia and homophobia.

Mufti’s experience, in particular, mirrored Tran’s.

“I was walking through downtown with my friend a year ago,” Mufti said. “A white man, maybe in his late 40s, walked towards us and said, ‘Assalmualaikum,’ which is an Islamic way of greeting someone.”

“I kept my head down and continued the conversation with my friend. The man then started yelling at me, saying ‘How dare you not respond to me?’ and ‘You think you are so much better than me.’”

“[He also said], ‘Go back to your country you b—, we don’t want you here.’”

Mufti said she didn’t respond to these remarks. She chose to walk away rather than put herself in more danger.

Tran and Mufti both said they felt “isolated” and “angry” after the incidents, especially because the racist remarks were made in a busy downtown area of Kingston.

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Benyon told The Journal he experienced verbal discrimination from other Queen’s students targeting his sexuality.

“Two years ago, while checking out at Loblaws, I called out to my same sex fiancée to get something for me, calling him babe,” Benyon wrote. “A group of four guys in Queen’s athletics gear looked over. One of them did a fake cough and said ‘f—g’ and the rest of them laughed and walked away.”

“This was the first time I’d experienced homophobia in Kingston, and it is something I’ll never forget.”

Mufti and Benyon both said they feel like the University deals with diversity and discrimination like “checkboxes” rather than a set of inclusive values promoted every day.

“I am sick of seeing Queen’s and the Kingston community say ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘We accept everyone’ only after a negative event has happened,” Benyon wrote. “There needs to be more accountability and proactive work.”

Though Tran publicly shared her experience on social media, she said she still doesn’t know who she could have reported the incident to and sought support from.

Now, she’s pushing for greater education in dealing with discriminatory incidents and racist behavior. 

“I want to feel like the odds are in my favour when I speak up against racism. I want bystanders to feel like they have the responsibility to speak up,” Tran wrote. “I remember learning in grade school about stranger danger and the power of consent, but I was not prepared to educate grown men on the street about changing their racist and misogynistic behavior.

“My bet is that bystanders on the day of the incident did not have that education too. Let’s make this education mandatory in schools now.”

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