As one of Canada’s top undergraduate universities, Trent University prides itself in its inclusive and diverse community of students, faculty and staff that it has been able to build. According to their mission statement, Trent strives towards the continuing embrace of tolerance, integrity, respect, recognition and self-improvement. With a few exceptions, the University has sought to develop transformative ways of ensuring a safe environment for all students, staff and faculty, regardless of identity, gender expression, race, religion or sexuality. As its website notes, the signing of Dimensions: Equity, diversity and inclusion Canada, the introduction of the Centre for Human rights, Equity and Accessibility and its vision to “lead conversations and initiatives related to human rights” proves their constant effort to create venues towards a more egalitarian, ethical and accessible campus. Another example is the Community and Race Relations Committee (CRRC) who in 2012 conducted Anti-racism workshops in an effort to spark a productive discussion among students, faculty and administration to reflect upon problems, solutions and feasible recommendations for further policy administration. These efforts give credence that Trent has mobilized several endeavours in an effort to ensure its students and staff enjoy a space where we can ultimately express ourselves freely without fear of being discriminated against.
Nonetheless, discrimination is not an uncommon word to us, being a persistent threat throughout the years. Despite the many attempts to make this campus more equal and inclusive, incidents of this matter still prevail. The Make Trent Safe campaign, mobilized in 2016, sought to fight any form of racist and/or sexist acts occurring inside the boundaries of the campus. This effort was urged by students and was given after several BIPOC members of Trent University reported experiencing increasing acts of prejudice following the U.S presidential election, according to The Peterborough Examiner’s article Study finds first-year Trent students encounter racial, sexist discrimination on campus in 2017. The campaign Make Trent Safe marks an issue that still lingers. Despite its successful protest across the Symons campus, racist remarks and discriminatory microaggressions are still experienced today. The continual occurrence of these incidents within and outside our campus proves that there is still work to be done in terms of underlying racism and discrimination attitudes still held by many. It is worthy of note however, that the unification of students in mobilizing events such as this, provides a glimpse into the inclusivity and diversity that we have built, and so eagerly want to continue to embrace and expand.
In Peterborough, many international students, as well as folks of the Black, Muslim and Indigenous community residents, experience some form of discriminatory incident, as expressed by several of my fellow peers. In Trent, more specifically, students have spoken of the prevailing issue of racist/xenophobic remarks and attitudes - whether these have come from a fellow student, security or staff - especially now, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The exacerbation of racial discrimination and xenophobic stances arising from pandemics have been visible in several cases throughout history. As exemplified by the stigmatization revolving Ebola outbreak in 2014 or the SARS outbreak in 2003, it is evident that the hatred arising from epidemics are fuelled by misconceptions, discriminatory stereotypes and misinformed assumptions that were usually built around minority groups in a response to confront fear by responding with hate.
With anxiety and distress that fear of the unknown sparks on us, we as humans rely on mechanisms to deal with these. For many, these involve the erroneous act of blaming and “othering”. In the early stages of the pandemic, these attitudes were visible through the racist remarks especially, but not limited to, East Asian communities as one of the primary targets of stigmatization.
Equally important is the fact that the pandemic has been a catalyst for the exposure of long-established underlying structural inequalities uncovered by unequal access to medical facilities, the disproportionate access to testing, and elevated rates of exposure affecting minorities. To break out of such a pattern of behaviour, exploitative and oppressive relations, the world has risen against racism and towards justice, as demonstrated by marches and public demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
With this taken into account, and to show their support towards this movement and the overall global uprising against racism, Trent University has mobilized yet another committee - with dedication and awareness of past and present experiences of discriminatory acts against the community - called the Anti-Racism Task Force. This is not only a step towards our right to embrace who we are as individuals, but it is also a stepping stone towards a more unified and welcoming community that personifies the values we, as members of a global society and more specifically, as Trent students, identify with.
The Anti-Racism Task Force claims to have been built in the effort to ensure and celebrate a campus free of discrimination, where all of its members (students, faculty and staff) are treated with dignity and respect. Composed by a diverse set of members of the University, the force provides a platform where dialogue is sought in order to deliver new recommendations and plans to achieve a safer environment for everyone. These will be stipulated through a critical assessment of the issues that currently lie in our community. The force abides by the principles of equity, tolerance, diversity and inclusion, and is committed to propose realistic solutions that will be sent to the President and Vice-president as well as the board of Governors, in hopes that these proposals are granted a quicker route to the upper administration and thus, be implemented efficiently and shortly after being proposed.
With great optimism and determination on behalf of its members, the force has already taken its first steps towards their commitment to extinguish a culture of racism and dogmatism by having their first Anti-O meeting this past Thursday October 15. Danielle Adderley, a member of the Anti-Racism Force and Trent Central Student Association, when asked about her thoughts on the possibility of this organization’s future impact in comparison to previous efforts given to fight racism, stated:
“It’s so important to make sure upper administration is hearing the voices of the students, and mobilizing is one way to ensure you can’t be ignored. This way, of striking a committee, is different, but it can still result in real change. Because we have a “seat at the table,” with the administration, it leads me to believe that change can come around much quicker.”
In support to the organization, the Subcommittee of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) has been formed as an integral part of the commitment to the agreement between Trent University and Trent University’s Faculty Association (TUFA). Relating to faculty, the subcommittee will be addressing key priorities that comprise Appendix W in the TUFA Collective Agreement, as expressed in the email sent to all members of Trent University by Dr. Michael Kahn, Provost and Vice President Academic.
Because both organizations cover issues of racism pertinent to faculty and the university, these establishments will sometimes cooperate through the distribution of data sets and resources.
With this, the Trent Anti-Racism Task Force and the EDI sub-committee are committed abide by the principles of equity, tolerance, diversity and inclusion, and are responsible to propose realistic solutions that will be sent to the President and Vice-president as well as the board of Governors, in hopes to achieve a meaningful contribution towards the abolition of racism and discrimination in our community.
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