·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   · 

Volume 90, Issue 82

Thursday, February 20, 1997



Race-ing towards multiculturalism

©Geoff Robins/Gazette
I'LL BE BY YOUR SIDE FOREVER MORE CUZ THAT'S WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR. First-year students: Akua Acheampong in kinesiology, Sherriann Ho in social science and Ritu Kapur in science, show that friendship sees no colour.

By Gillian Judkins
Gazette Writer

Hispanic, Japanese, black, white, native and Asian – different races. Race – it may only be a small word but it encompasses a rainbow of cultures and religions and as an issue, it can be quite controversial. Within Canadian society there are millions of people from all different kinds of cultural backgrounds. Given that so many cultures exist within our mosaic, there is always an opportunity to meet and become close friends with people of various backgrounds.

In our lifetime, how many of our close companions will be of a different race than ourselves and should race be a factor in a friendship? On campus, how common is it in the University Community Centre's CentreSpot to sit down beside another student – especially one of another race – and begin a conversation?

Julie Young-Marcellin, president of the Black Students' Association, feels friendship between people of different races is quite possible. "My mother is white and she's my best friend in the whole world," she says. "Our life experiences are different but because we love each other I can bring her to some sort of understanding."

Young-Marcellin believes that as a black woman a person of another race could have the "ability to empathize with my reality." However, she also points out that regardless of race "we all have different experiences that affect who we are. You can't fully understand someone until you've walked in their shoes."

Leroy Hibbert, outreach co-ordinator at the London Multicultural Youth Association, agrees, but points out he is not confident if "two people of the same race can do it, you will never know where the other is coming from." No matter what a person's background, each person is an individual.

"Race should be a factor that is dealt with sensitively, that's how you become friends," Hibbert says.

"Ideally, I don't think race should matter but realistically it does," Jimmy Kang, VP-internal of the Korean Students' Association, explains. Kang gives the example, of CentreSpot, "where most different ethnic groups tend to eat together."

Mary Williamson, co-ordinator of London's Cross-Cultural Learner Centre, believes race is only one of many factors which make us different. "Every individual is different and it doesn't matter what the difference is," she says. "We have to respect those differences. As long as you are comfortable with diversity, there shouldn't be any need to stick to one likeness."

Williamson points out that gender, age and sexual orientation "are irrelevant if people are comfortable with differences. A friend is a friend because they care about you and you share the same values."

Though race may only be a small factor in friendship, can two people of different races ever truly understand where the other is coming from in a cultural context? Candisa Chin Pen, secretary for the Caribbean Students' Organization, feels that "it depends on how much the other person is educated on it, but in terms of me saying how a black student feels – I can't."

Most people seem to agree that it is quite possible for people of different races to forge close friendships, yet most individuals are drawn towards the companionship and security of their own race. Could it be that most people feel more comfortable among people of the same cultural background?

Young-Marcellin feels this is true "to a certain degree.

"I would think studies would show people gravitate towards the same people, people of like mind," she says, pointing out this does not solely occur in relation to race, but also for people of the same income bracket or sex. "Students of similar races can easily discuss issues related to their life instead of having to discuss all the background."

"I find people from the Caribbean tend to socialize better because they can better understand social situations affecting Caribbeans," Chin Pen explains. She adds that most people feel more comfortable interacting within their own race.

Kang stresses that by not having a diverse group of friends, "you narrow your vision. It's better to have different people with different knowledge and experience."

Granted that feeling comfortable in a relationship is important but that does not necessarily mean ethnic groups should socialize solely with themselves. The fact that there is such diversity in cultures in and around London and Western's campus could be an opportunity to learn about not just other cultures, but to meet other people and make new friends. Hibbert feels it is important to "experience people from all walks of life, to become a more open-minded individual."

How do students feel about the place their own ethnic group has within the community on campus? Is there a distinct place for them or do they feel set outside of it? Kang comments that at KSA events, this question rarely arises but he does say, "You can see the segregation. People see Western as a white majority."

"I think a lot of black students feel alienated from the entire political process at Western," Young-Marcellin says, adding that the majority of the University Students' Council is white and male. "Students want nothing to do with the USC, which I feel is unfortunate." She believes that when it comes to opportunity "we're led to believe Canada is multicultural – it's just not the thing it seems to be."

Dane Clarke, president of the Caribbean Students' Organization, feels the students he comes in contact with, "feel they belong to the community because we do a lot of events with other groups around campus. Everyone is invited to all our functions whether it be a dance, show or speaker."

To Contact The Features Department: gazfeat@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1997