A first-year student approached me recently to tell me about an incident that she went through at the UTM library. She was standing in the elevator with her friend and a few other students on her way to the fourth floor. Her and two other girls were wearing a hijab, and all of a sudden another girl made a very stunning comment. She said, “All Muslims are terrorists and they only thing they know how to do is kill people.” The girls wearing hijabs were so stunned that they did not know how to reply to this racist and stereotypical comment. A friend of the girl who made the comment said “Shhh,” and the girl was quick to reply with, “I live in Canada. It’s a free country; I can say whatever I want.” Again, no one said anything to this, and everyone exited the elevator and went on with their day.
This incident stunned me and also upset me for a number of reasons. First and foremost, comments like this should never be made, as they are hurtful and unfair. Students should not make racist comments such as these ones, and should take the time to learn about others before they create stereotypes such as these ones.
Another thing that upset me about this incident was that no one stood up and made a comment or explained to the girl that her comment was extremely inappropriate. It would have been best for someone to address the issue right away and explain to her that her comment was unacceptable. It is extremely important to address comments such as these ones as soon as they happen, in order to ensure that the student making the comment learns from her mistake and does not repeat it in the future.
Yes, we live in Canada, and yes, it is a free country, but that does not mean that racist comments are okay. Racist comments such as the one that was made in the library are considered hate crimes in our country and are taken very seriously. There is a limit to freedom of expression; when we infringe on the freedoms of others and harm them in any way, the line must be drawn, and people must be aware that this is not allowed.
Our goal as a student body should be to bring people from different backgrounds together so as to challenge myths and stereotypes, and build understanding between one another. Please make sure that you speak out against injustice if it occurs; we must hold the belief that we may all be different, but also all equal.
I encourage you all to close your eyes to how people look on the outside and let yourself learn one new thing about your peers that you never may have guessed had you not taken the time to get to know them on the inside rather than the outside. We are all a part of an amazing community and it is important that any kind of stereotype is not enforced on our campus.
Encourage yourselves to discover that each person is unique, and that you share so much with one another, despite things such as your race, religion, culture, or sexual orientation. Each and every one of us has the right to be treated with respect and, in turn, each and every one of us has the responsibility to treat others with respect.
Every single one of us has an amazing amount of power, and there is so much that we can do. Do not let outer appearances get in the way; try as hard as you can to overlook the way a person looks on the outside, because what really matters is the inside. We’re like oysters: plain on the outside, just regular old oysters, but crack us open and you find a precious and beautiful pearl.
Please remember that our campus is very diverse, and it is essential that we embrace our individuality. Equity issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, and culture continue to exist on campus and I would like to work with you to ensure that every student has their voice heard.
Our job is to improve the status of women and minorities on our campus, in our community, and on an international level, as well. Please, when you hear stereotypical and hateful, ignorant comments such as the one made in the library recently, be sure to stand up and speak out against it. Take the time to learn about different religions and to get to know your peers, and don’t let false stereotypes be a barrier to your education. Ignorance is not bliss. It only generates hate and creates a negative environment on our campus.
UTMSU VP Equity