Volume 92, Issue 80

Thursday, February 18, 1999


Looking towards the future

Experiencing ignorance: a student tells of his time at Western

Looking towards the future

By Natalie Henry
Gazette Staff

The forest city's uniform greenery is no longer. It has been flowered with a diverse spectrum of people, families and organizations who want to educate the population about the importance of diversity and the celebration of Black History Month.

London is growing and reaping a more diverse population in a smaller area and for some organizations this sows the seeds of change. The London Multicultural Youth Association has been in existence for 11 years and Leroy Hibbert Jr. has been the outreach coordinator for the last three. "[As outreach coordinator] I go to schools and community organizations and talk about racism, multiculturalism in London and outside of London as well," he says.

London's cultural and ethnic growth has spurred the need for programs and organizations to better meet the needs of visible minorities, including how to respond to racism and conflict encountered in the classroom, cafeteria, banks and even at home. "It's difficult for black students because they must juggle their culture," Hibbert explains.

Some find it shocking racism still exists in a society where being open-minded and adaptable are considered admirable traits. However, Hibbert says culture shock is evident in complaints made by students and it is also present in the hurt which is seen on the faces of those who remain quiet.

"There's a whole of bunch – can't keep tally of the numbers and those are just the students that are telling. A lot of students don't approach me and don't feel that it's a big problem," Hibbert points out. "They just go on with the Canadian way of life and keep to themselves as if nothing is wrong. There is no strong support system for them in various avenues – these students feel as if nothing can be done."

Fiona Hart, equity officer at Western, reaffirms the existence of discrimination in London and on campus. "In general, there are two forms of discrimination – systemic and individual. And discrimination does exist at both levels," she notes.

"Yet, people come forward for more individual discrimination or harassment. Students are afraid to question the rules. They make the assumption that if rules are there, they are there for a reason. Systemic is more naturalized and normalized to some extent and, therefore, is harder to identify."

Some have compared London to Toronto in terms of dedication to multiculturalism. "In Toronto there is more diversity. And it appears to be more embodied in everything," says Mike Atkinson, a psychology professor at Western. "London does welcome diversity, yet compared to a city like Toronto or York [University] it might be more embraced, since the city is larger and more ethnic groups are represented. This is not the case in London – whether it is unwelcoming is hard to say.

"The problems that first-year students experience are generic, a number of difficulties in terms of adjusting – living on your own and learning what professors expect of you," he further explains. "I can imagine that ethnic first-year students might experience other difficulties. For example, no clearly identifiable ethnic groups and more pressure. Yet, in terms of racism I haven't specifically seen any."

Hibbert disagrees, citing racism as an ongoing problem.

"A lot of students are coming to us about difficulties involving racism," he says. "Such as jokes in schools, in the bathrooms and outside school – written on streets and buildings. This is not good at all. Not a lot of people know about this – because of what I'm doing I feel it more."

Hibbert says he feels it is important to start change with the leaders of the educational community – teachers. "For teachers it's hard to change," he explains. "Students are still developing, yet teachers are set in their ways. They're programmed like computers – it's difficult to delete certain things.

"Teachers have a certain attitude like they know better since they're older and in a position of leadership and authority. Students are a lot easier to change and are coming to us about teachers. It could also be college and university professors. I have heard and experienced it myself," Hibbert adds.

When educators are accused of contributing to discrimination, it raises concern there is a lack of representation of black educators in the administration, school board or city council. "Without the existence of ethnic groups, the important issues and agenda cannot be pushed," Atkinson stresses.

"We try and recruit underrepresented groups," Paul Davenport, Western's president, explains. "Over time, as more minorities earn their PhDs, we will see the faculty and administration diversify more. Western has a strategic plan to foster and promote diversity and I am committed to this plan."

Pete Hill, University Students' Council VP-campus issues, is also committed to implementing anti-discriminatory strategies and policies. "The USC has become more proactive and forward-looking in dealing with race issues before they escalate, instead of a reactive approach." He cites the harassment and discrimination policy and creation of the VP-campus issues position as just two examples.

In addition to administrative changes made by the USC, on campus clubs and organizations also create initiatives to educate students. "On campus, the Black Students' Association helped by having opening ceremonies on the first day of Black History Month," explains Nadir Peters, a second-year psychology student. She adds there is also SOUL, an event featuring black art, talent and tradition which anyone can attend.

"There are a lot more good programs in place," Hart explains. "For example, the residence system has a program named the Hit and Run Theatre Group and it covers issues such as racism, sexism and homophobia.

"It's important to keep fine tuning and continue to have programs on campus. Education goes a long way towards helping these issues– it's conscious-raising. And anyone is welcome."

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Copyright The Gazette 1999