By: Moleen Makumborenga
The first thing I notice in lower year courses is an utter disdain of the diversity on campus. I do not know if my experiences were exclusive to my proximity to lower-year students or if they are an objective characteristic of the McMaster environment. I am convinced that it is the latter.
Earlier this term in a tutorial for an introductory course, our teaching assistant mentioned that the professor was kindly asking that students minimize moving and speaking during lectures. A Caucasian male in the class retorted, “Well, to our defence, she’s quiet and she’s foreign.” I was confused because I was unsure how he made the connection between the students being distractive and the professor being foreign.
How did this guy even know the professor was foreign? Was it her skin colour? And if so, are all Canadians White? Perhaps it was her accent, which again does not allow you to make the conclusion that she is foreign since it is entirely plausible can speak two languages. I also wondered why he thought the professor did not deserve common courtesy because she was “foreign”. His reasoning was null and void so I ignored the statement in its entirety.
In another incident, several Caucasian students took pictures of students of colour during a lecture and proceeded to make racial caricatures of the images. The professor in the class handled the incident in an outstanding manner, and at the time I was able to compartmentalize the incident as an outlier.
Later on, in December, someone put a post on Facebook page Spotted at Mac about a conversation she had overheard amongst fellow students saying how uncomfortable they are, “… with all the [people of different] colours on campus.” We can discredit the post because for all we know it could have been a troll in Siberia, but we cannot discredit the comments that ensued. A friend of mine and I had a conversation about the post and she said that she had spoken to a fellow Caucasian student who concurred that he was not entirely sure if “… the diversity thing works.”
I do not think any of the individuals, male, female, orange or gay, are racist except for the ones who did the caricatures. This is not what this piece is about. I still think that people at McMaster are inherently good and I think we all try hard to accommodate each other. But these incidences are a symptom that our diversity programs do not bother to adjust for. Members of the communities targeted attend plenty of diversity events, but are they the only ones who need to know about these things?
I do not know if my experiences were exclusive to my proximity to lower year students or if they are an objective characteristic of the McMaster environment. I am convinced that it is the latter.
Diversity programs at McMaster are successful at providing safe spaces for minority groups, but are failing to reach the masses about privilege.
I can never forget about being Black, but the privilege of being White allows you to take certain social interactions for granted. As a Black person, when I hear someone say they are freaked out by people of different races, they are effectively saying that I am taking up space that I should not be allowed in.
McMaster needs to take a page from the University of Manitoba, which has made it mandatory for every student to take at least one class on Aboriginal studies as a requirement for graduation. That university knows that if you never teach people with privilege about their privilege, it is less likely they will know how to extend courtesy to minority groups.
I think a little bit of that is about racial prejudice, but it is also about people not knowing how to politely navigate social circles with minorities. Even though people from minority groups are not obligated to make people of privilege feel comfortable about their presence, adjusting one’s privilege is not common sense. I have had to teach my White friends what is appropriate and what is not, and I think we need to come up with resources where the school can effectively do that on a large scale.