Ryerson racism probe seeks to coddle students

University isn’t about making you feel good. It’s about confronting challenges.

Ryerson University, in all her racist glory, graced the front page of the Toronto Star Monday.

I know; I couldn’t believe it either. I didn’t know purgatorial images were allowed on the front page.

Well, nevermind. The real story is that a university-commissioned probe into campus racism identified serious issues at the school. Its 107-page report recommended specific and swift action to tackle the problems.

So, what were the issues? Well, some were of legitimate concern. The Task Force on Anti-Racism at Ryerson cited a few specific examples of harassment and vandalism, which, I agree, should be dealt with harshly and swiftly.  But most of it? Hyperbole and pandering, I’m sorry to say. Obviously a task force committed to sniffing out racism will find something. They don’t want to be deemed useless, after all.

I’ve spent nearly four years at Ryerson and have personally found it to be one of the most multicultural, inclusive, and culturally sensitive institutions I’ve ever encountered. Sure, maybe that’s my complacency/privilege/ignorance speaking, but from what I’ve observed, the campus is fairly harmonious (which says a lot, considering it’s a university). Globe writer Marcus Gee shares my view. “Ryerson University is one of the most diverse and welcoming universities in the country, if not the world,” he writes. Gee continues:

Under president Sheldon Levy, Ryerson has bent over backward to celebrate and encourage diversity. The university already has active programs on employment equity, a special office to serve aboriginal students and a prayer space for Muslim worshippers. At the university’s Ted Rogers School of Management, five of the 11 faculty hired in 2008 were visible minorities, just short of its target of six. Other faculties are striving to bring up their numbers, too.

The Toronto Star ignored these details in its article. Here are the more… umm… poignant excerpts:

Some observant Muslim students complained teachers often use jokes about sex that can make them uncomfortable.

One professor who was teaching students how to modulate their voices for radio told the class to pretend they were having sex and to imagine the voice they heard when they experience “pleasure.” Other students joined in and began making “very weird noises,” leaving some students very uncomfortable.

This line’s a gem:

Others longed for teachers who look like them, especially aboriginal and black students.

And straight from students’ mouths:

“Professors don’t address issues of inappropriate language.”

“I think a lot of Jewish students don’t run for student leadership positions because of the hostile environment and so they don’t have to vote for anti-Israel resolutions.”

Hmm. So what? We should be hiring professors for their looks, not their qualifications? (I wonder if the Force will advocate on behalf of the few men in my program, who swim in a sea of aspiring women-journalist, for more professors who “look like them.”) And what of the inappropriate language? Sexual innuendos? Hurt feelings? I thought we were out of middle school.

University is not supposed to make you feel comfortable. Sorry. Stay at home if you want to be coddled. University is one of those unique places where individuals are encouraged to express their beliefs and challenge their assumptions. And yes, some will often be offended. Personally, I celebrate it. What better opportunity to explore your own preconceptions than face that which irks you? And if you don’t like it: avoid it, challenge it, but don’t stifle it. If university can’t be a sanctuary for free speech, what can be?

Compulsory anti-racism courses for staff and students, as recommended by the racism report, won’t fix anything. You can’t force out ideology with a couple obligatory lectures.  And telling profs to babysit or keep it PG is a dangerous step in the wrong direction. Oddly enough, I’ll think we’ll end up homogenizing if we keep catering to the multiplicity of hurt feelings. The real world isn’t sterilized, why should university be?

Related: A prof’s view of the Ryerson racism report




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Ryerson racism probe seeks to coddle students

  1. Ryerson is a reflection of the society at large with talk of inclusiveness while policies of discrimination and racism is practised. This type of racism is most prevalent in the economic fibre of the society where equal opportunities are missing.
    What is amazing about the society is that productivity is not encouraged or rewarded, If a society is truly free and fair then there would not be this relentless effort to promote minorities or create programmes to facilitate minorities, that in itself is admitting that there is a racial problem. If persons were evaluated based on the merit of their credentials and capabilities then the talk of inclusiveness would not exist. Subtle discrimination, and racism is just that Racism

  2. Assad, I simply must disagree. Ryerson takes extraordinary measures to ensure employment equity. They are not a reflection of society, they are leaders in promoting inclusiveness. Yes, this means they must confront their issues and expose their weaknesses. Congratulations are in order for the successes that Ryerson has accomplished. Hopefully other universities (York in particular) will follow.

  3. Lol people are so sensitive. Its not highschool anymore, its university. Grow up and get used to crude language.
    In the words of russel peters
    Be a man

  4. So I am catching your drift until you start attacking the idea of diversity in faculty.

    As a well travelled international student I can tell you for a fact that as far as diversity in faculty is concerned, Canada fails woefully. Yes, even the racist USA is not half as bad. Indeed, a lot of the barriers are invisible and I am not about to get off on how Canada’s tenure system is the emblem of institutionalised racisim or how your education system gets off of telling young black men, Univeristy is not for them, because I won’t stop.

    And I should, because I have some four more grade A papers to work hard on and I cannot waste this time I have because you most likely have it easier anyways(especially seeing as it will be light years before Macleans hires a colored/international student columnist to write here)

    Nevertheless, I will say this much; the earlier Canada gets off its faux diversity high horse, the better its lot in the storm that is coming.

    And believe me, that storm WILL come.

  5. DID YOU KNOW THAT BACK IN /93 JUDY REBICK WAS DEPOSED AS HEAD OF THE NATIONAL ACTION COMMITEE ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN BECAUSE SHE WAS WHITE AND WAS THEREFORE UNQUALIFIED TO REPRESENT WOMEN OF COLOUR. THERE WERE EVEN SHOVING MATCHES BETWEEN JUDY AND S.THOBANI CAUGHT ON CAMERA. INTERESTING TO SEE TWO MOUTHY, BELLIGERENT INDIVIDUALS SHOVING BACK AT EACH OTHER. FED-UP

  6. Mr. Aboyeji, how do you know that you have it harder than Robyn? Maybe you’re just not special and you need to work hard like the rest of us. But keep grinding that axe. It’ll be nice and sharp for when the storm comes! All unpriviledged students are told at some point that university isn’t for them, whether they are a minority or not.

  7. This blog is so refreshing. God I love you Robyn.

  8. “This blog is so refreshing. God I love you Robyn.” – get a life loser. This blog is anything but refreshing, just a reflection of the status quo.

  9. Maybe I do work hard like the rest of you, probably even harder, but I never get spoilt left, right and center with funding because I neither am nor look Canadian.

    Desides, all those tenure positions don’t go to foriegn professors when there are protectionist Canadian profs sitting aorund the table whose idea of academic quality is that it must be born and bred in Canada.

    Nuff said, like I said before. Serious legal studies papers that are not about rehashed 60′s culture debates must be written. They especially require exceptional empirical work which means more hours. Back to work…

    I’ll prbably return here to find more folly

  10. E Aboyeji: I’m interested to hear why you think the tenure system is racist. How is Canada’s tenure system worse than even the “racist USA”? By the way, my cousin in Boston would take great offence to that comment. She always says “People are racist, not countries. If you think entire countries are racist, then you need to examine your own prejudices.

    Why aren’t you getting funding? I understand that Canadian universities receive tuition subsidies (almost 40% of your degree is paid for by the government), and international students don’t qualify for all the subsidies. In my opinion, that is fair. Canadian taxes paid for by Canadians should support Canadian students. Can you not get a student loan because of racism? What is your “funding” problem?

    I also challenge your assumption that Canadian professors are protectionist. Look at the faculty profiles of schools across Canada. The majority have an advanced degree from outside of Canada. Canada certainly has work to do to ensure racial equity, but I think you’ve had a bad experience at your institution, and perhaps that has skewed your opinion.

  11. Gary,

    Let me in good faith attempt responses to your inquiries.

    I don’t have a funding problem. In truth, I am very well funded (although not by the Canadian government). However, as an international student, I see a lot of other very talented international students move down south because of funding issues. It pains me that Canada has to lose these talented international students simply because of its shortsightedness. Let’s even ignore the fact that many of these students are students from for developing countries for whom being here means everything as there is little option in their own country.

    I have a lot more to say especially about the racism part but I’ll pass and address your more specific inquiries.

    “Why aren’t you getting funding? I understand that Canadian universities receive tuition subsidies (almost 40% of your degree is paid for by the government), and international students don’t qualify for all the subsidies.”

    The truth is in fact the reverse. With reductions in govt spending on higher education in Canada and absurd tuition regulation (“freezes”?) that cover some and leave out others, international students have begun slowly doing the subsidizing for the government. Next year, I will be paying in fees as much as I would pay in a middle level American University despite the fact that there is no possibility of getting (not some) but ANY funding at all. At least Americans have financial aid and free credits. Let’s not even get on the issue of declining quality because of over enrollment, the fact that I have to wade through dozens of Canadian students who can’t even spell, and my classes are sardine stacked with people who don’t get the very basics of their own discipline. It is nothing short of frustrating.

    “I also challenge your assumption that Canadian professors are protectionist. Look at the faculty profiles of schools across Canada. The majority have an advanced degree from outside of Canada.”

    Yea..right?

    Maybe they don’t mean this line (which I only see in Canadian faculty recruitment ads by the way):

    All candidates are encouraged to apply, however priority will be given to only permanent residents and Canadian citizens.

    By the way, I can’t think of too many bad experiences teenage undergrad students could have. Maybe except a couple of hardly deserved A grades because the T.A couldn’t properly engage the idea I was attempting to discuss (and yes, in case you were wondering, I am a D-bag!)

    PS: Besides, I would love to be a prof in Canada, if only so I can improve things…

  12. Ok. Guys, no need to worry too much about all your argument. The key thing is as an international student, your sole purpose in this country is to study and graduate from school. I am speaking as a Nigerian who finished an undergraduate degree in one of the canadian universities. My experience is that you may not be happy about the whole tuition/ scholarship disparity, it is the laws of the country that govern how all those are interpreted. I bet a foreign student attending nigerian universities will have to abide by Nigerian laws.

    The bottomline is: Do what you have to do in school, get a good degree and the rest will be history. And by the way, If you end up becoming a permanent resident, you can have your tution back as tax credits. PERIOD.

  13. I absolutely agree with the last statement of the author of the above report, why expect universities to be any more steril than other institutions. However, there can be a measureable response to racism, rewarding the victim with advancement opportunities in their chosen proffesion. Ultimately, what racism does is set the victim back in advancement with years, so the only measurable response against racism is advancement.

  14. E Aboyeji: I believe you are very confused, or possibly have incorrect information. Do you not realize how much money the government has spent on reducing your tuition costs? Your tuition is highly subsidized by both federal and provincial governments, and comparatively, both domestic and international students are getting one hell of a great deal. Just two undergraduate semesters at the University of Texas (one full year) in the business program costs over $35,000 for an international student (source: http://www.utexas.edu/business/accounting/pubs/tf_flat_summer.pdf)! There are comparable numbers for Boston College, University of Florida and UCLA. My tuition at York over the last 3 years has been just under $17,000!!! If I were an international student, that number would be just over $40,000 for THREE YEARS OF EDUCATION!!! International students in Canada spend $1 for every $3 their counterparts in the States spend. Do the math yourself. Which one is the better deal? Obviously, Canada is. I guess those international students leaving to study down south aren’t in math or accountancy programs. In fact, I would go as far to say that international students would be stupid to pass up an opportunity to study in Canada because the rates are so low compared to the quality of education. But hold on, you’re going to say! American schools give bursaries to incoming international students! And you’re right, they do! They can total on average around $2,000 with the maximum being $5000 (at U of Texas, but other schools are similar). Even with the bursary, the costs of education are extravagantly more expensive in the United States. Additionally, I can not find any evidence at any of the aforementioned schools that suggest there are “free credits”. I assume that this is your error. Simply put, if you are an international student, don’t fall victim to the American schools paying you upfront cash bursaries, as Mr. Aboyeji suggests. It’s not worth it. International students, stay here!

    I understand that you’re involved in student politics, and that the whole “drop fees” thing is probably your rallying cry, but do some simple math beforehand before you. You’re coming off as another blow-hard student politician that caters to the extremists while marginalizing the mainstream. I would, however, like to congratulate you for fighting against proposed tuition increases. Years of Ontario PC rule has started to slowly erode our post-secondary education system in an attempt to bring tuition in line with the American system. And McGuinty, who once declared himself to be the education focused premier, has done nothing to stop it.

    Now on to the “racist” tenure selection process, which it seems you skimmed over. Let’s just take a quick look at the researcher profiles on the University of Waterloo’s website, found here: http://arts.uwaterloo.ca/arts/gradres/researcher_profiles.html. What do you notice? Even most of the white male professors have degrees from outside of Canada. Just saying…

    And I’m not sure where you came up with the claim that permanent residents and Canadian citizens are given priority. This is simply not true. As you are probably not aware of, the Ontario (and Federal) Human Rights Code prevents discrimination in the workplace based on 15 grounds, including colour, ancestry, place of origin, ethnic origin, citizenship and race. Read it for yourself here: http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_90h19_e.htm. Tenure selection processes are governed by these laws and federal laws. The government audits institutions that receive subsidies regularly, and would cease funding them if they were found in to be constantly in contravention to any human rights legislation. I know for a fact that York undergoes rigorous employment equity audits on a yearly basis. Canadian Universities are leaders in employment equity and diversity- no question. There are still problems (see Trinity Western University, First Nations University), but the system functions pretty damn well, especially when compared to the awful affirmative action programs in the United States that do very little to help minorities. And what does the university gain from allowing a racist tenure selection process? Research drives the university’s cash flow, and broad perspectives make for better research. So again, I challenge your statement that Canadian tenure systems are protectionist. They’re clearly not! Maybe those TAs that couldn’t engage your ideas just thought you didn’t provide enough evidence to support your claims.

  15. Incorrect information? I laugh! Let’s address your concerns again one after the other.

    First, I am not and will never be in favor of the drop fees campaign since it glosses over a myriad of quality issues and is a frankly stupid campaign that is seriously lacking in policy depth.

    Neither am I as involved in student government as you think. In truth, I only just ran for a student senator seat at my school, the University of Waterloo. The results are yet to be announced. And while I do have a hobby of exploring University policy documents in my free time, I only go as far as commenting on my findings in the campus newspaper. I am not student union material.

    Now although, your link to the University of Texas (and why in Hell’s Kitchen would anyone want to be a Longhorn! Ugh! Try a competing private school next time!) led me to nowhere, I will take you at your word while pointing out two important points.

    1. At the University of Waterloo, I pay more for three terms. How? Well, I pay 30,000 for two terms.(source: http://www.findoutmore.uwaterloo.ca/financing/expenses.php) I can’t work in Canada full time so I will probably do summer and then I have to fork out another 10,000 for the Summer. Calculators out? Yea, you guessed right. That IS 40,000=1 year. I am not saying it is less than what I would pay at UT Austin, I am just saying, it is not as strikingly cheap as you imagine. So maybe your business at York is not everywhere and I seriously doubt it is even Shulich at York. (Find arrogant snort here)

    2. The fact that I pay my fees per course credit is such a boner. A few smart Canadian schools that can actually compete on the global stage have shifted to the much fairer flat fee system. Now I don’t want to waste my time explaining to you the differences between the two but basically the flat fee system allows me to do more in less time and reap the benefits which means amazing savings for serious students (especially as far as summer fees when most international students stay in school are concerned).

    Now, on to student support. Now every fool knows that Public Universities in the states don’t have much in student support (or rankings for that matter) but how about you compare the typical American school’s private school’s $35,000 package to the miserly $500 I did not even receive from Waterloo, despite the fact that I blew their own Canadian requirements out of the water (the requirments being a 90 average in my 4U’s from an Ontario prep school). Well whatever. Money is not quite my problem anyway.

    Ans as for the “better deal”? You may have misunderstand my bitch, but frankly, its not like I have a big dick with tuition fees. Quality costs fucking dollars. Lots of ‘em. What I have a problem with is declining quality and I can’t say Canada has impressed me as far quality is concerned. This is because your government is shirking and that really sucks! Especially for me!(Besides, I should also concede that those really fucked CFS inspired camapaigns like drop fees and freeze tuition have something to do with it as well). I mean, I would have laughed if 4 years back someone had told me Canada’s foremost University has a student faculty ratio of 37 students to 1 prof!. But that’s what your “mainstream” has done to PSE in your country! Y’all need to realise quality matters (I’ll borrow from OCUFA) and it costs a shit load of dollars your deficit laden governments cannot pay and neither should I! So back to the original question. Is canada the better deal? I suggest a NO while y’all should do some soul-searching.

    But then why am I here. Because only Canadian Universities can take risks. Capisch. Yes. I know, Canada is a risk averse country with bla bla..Its all bull shit. This is the only country I know in North America that can set up a Faculty of Mathematics, or make whole programs madatorily co-op. And that’s a good thing. But still, risk without the adequate grounding of proper resources is mere recklessness and that’s where PSE in Canada is quickly headed is someone does not get their act together and start asking the right questions…

    (End of rant except you push it in your response)!

    Now back to our debate about diversity in Canadian faculty (because that is my original beef), its funny how you took the only black prof at my school who is black (and Canadian) and blow him up to be representative of diversity (even in my University). Just so you know, my University has itself admitted it has very discriminatory hiring practices it is working to change (any wonder we have on 23% of our faculty women?). And as for your statement about Canadian University being leaders in employment equity and diversity. LOL! So the sudden rise of Employment Equity and Race Relations Committees in the senates of several Canadian Universities, from Mc Gill (source : http://www.diversityintheworkplace.ca/newsletters/jan_09/diversity_online_article4_jan09.html) to the one in question here (Ryerson! Who knows?, you might have forgotten!) is simply a reaction of thumb. Aye?
    Clearly Canadian Universities have nothing better to do. Please stop the sycophancy. Even Canadian University Administrations acknowledge their equity problems and are working to solve them (although those efforts will not be helped along by the Robyn’s of this world who think all is well that ends white).Besides “Canadian experience” as a buzz word for exclusion is something you might want research a little more especially in this context.

    Lastly, having degrees from outside of Canada does not equal having the global experience to properly cover Universities increasingly globalised subject matter. Simply because you have a Doctorate degree from University of Botswana does not mean you know the slightest thing about African Politics and it is not your fault. Afterall, you are Canadian. You could have misunderstood the whole thing. For example, this term I am taking an AFRICAN politics course with a prof (white Canadian ofcourse)who thinks Mugabe lacks popular support in his own country and land distribution is really a Mugabe motivated land grab. Ofcourse, any half baked African political science student knows that the relationship between Mugabe and his people is more complicated. Or the other day I went to a class on Nigeria, my country and the prof still thought our capital was Lagos? Canada has to learn to find the expertise in certain subject areas where it is at (Hint: NOT CANADA). Besides, it won’t hurt to see people my own color at the University. You relate to them better (proven fact!). The system might function well for you, but it does not function well for me, or other Canadians who want a more globalised education.

    By the way, for all your human rights talk, I gladly invite you to sue the University of Waterloo for this ad : http://www.science.uwaterloo.ca/pdf/Opt-clinical.pdf
    and mind you this is just a lecturer position. (I wonder what must be on in those in-camera tenure committee meetings filled with white Canadian faculty). Also if you had followed you own news more closely, you would have realised that your Supreme Court has ruled countless times that your damn human rights laws don’t apply to people like me (for obvious reasons). Do you know how much shit would blow if the reverse was the case. For one, there would be no difference between your fees and mine. And I would be able to sit on my Universities Board of Governor’s.

    Gary, my brother from another mother, Canada is another country for me mister. Our experiences here are fundamentally different.

    By the way, I just realised my TA joke didn’t register. I had meant the TAs gave me full marks I did not deserve for a brilliant argument with significant loop holes (like yours).

    How?

    They had not kept up with the current material.

    Sound Familiar?

  16. WOW I want to go to a university it sounds like it might just be the place for me.All this talk about who has funding and who does not.

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