Approximately fifty students attended the Task Force on Campus Racism hearing at the University of Torontos Bahen Centre on March 5. The goal of the Task Force, which was launched by the Canadian Federation of Students, is to give students the opportunity to share experiences, concerns and successes regarding the issue of racism, and to develop strategies to challenge racism.
Only one week after the Task Force began, their primary spokesperson Hildah Otieno received a raciallymotivated death threat by mail. There is no way that threats and insults are going to intimidate students out of confronting racism. We won’t back down, Otieno stated in a Canadian Newswire press release.
At the end of the hearing tour, the Task Force plans to submit a report with recommendations for various institutional and governmental agencies on how to fight racism. We are collecting stories or anecdotes from students. We will analyse them for trends and themes and put particular emphasis on what works and what doesnt work when responding to racism, said Joel Duff, organizer of the hearings.
The hearing at U of T attracted a diverse group of students from various ethnic and racial groups. The talks werent just about individual experiences but about systematic exclusion and systematic racism, explained Duff, noting that issues came up about texts and curriculum. Students expressed concerns that course materials and content often fail to reflect the knowledge of the entire world, and are largely limited to the views of white, male scholars. Students dont feel represented in what they are learning at U of T, added Duff.
Another topic of discussion was admission requirements to university. It was suggested that these should consider life experiences as well, rather than just grades to determine merit. Duff explained that due to economic and racial inequalities — and the subsequent pressure on high school students facing adversity — universities may be denying opportunities to candidates who could be very successful, but underperformed in the high school system. If we only look at grades, we wont be able to break the cycle of racism at the high school level, he argued.
Racism isnt going to be eliminated overnight, Duff stressed. But we can challenge it. In doing so, victims and the community will feel empowered and will be strengthened [against racism].
Made up of nine members, the Task Force has been travelling to universities within Ontario, including Queens, Ottawa and Toronto. The Task Force on Campus Racism plans to visit UTM by the end of the school year, although no date has been confirmed at this time.