For RTA student and Racialized Student Collective coordinator Ashley Singh, finding a professor with whom she could identify with is rare.
Singh said she has only been taught by only one fellow Indo-Caribbean professor, and it was when she took a Caribbean studies course.
As a racialized student at Ryerson University, Singh said that she often sees her peers educating each other on their lived experiences, but when she enters a classroom, there’s a disconnect.
According to Singh, courses are often crafted from a Eurocentric lens that does not represent all students—especially students of colour.
“Seeing yourself reflected in the curriculum and what’s being taught in your faculty… that’s important as students who are here to learn and want to get mentorship,” she said.
Approximately 4,400 employees completed the self-identifying survey for the Ryerson University 2014 Diversity Self-ID report. The survey reflects that only 31 per cent of staff identify as visible minorities, in comparison to the 55 per cent of full-time students who also consider themselves to be racialized. Thus, the report reveals that the ratio of racialized students to employees is unequal.
Looking beyond the classroom and toward job prospects in media, Singh’s field of study, she said racialized individuals may not have the same privilege as others, as there aren’t as many opportunities for people of colour in the workforce.
“I am coming from a media program and its very much like a white boys’ club,” she said. “And you know the access is just not the same and there is not much being done to remove those barriers.”
“In order to compete you must align yourself with ‘whiteness’ as much as possible.”
Denise O’Neil Green, the university’s vice-president, equity, and community inclusion, said having the difficult conversation of white privilege is important, especially in regards to how it impacts the lives of young people.
To address some of these recurrent issues, Ryerson will be hosting White Privilege Conference Global – Toronto, running from May 9 to May 12. This will be the first time the originally American conference will be held in Toronto.
Before the school decided to host the white privilege conference, Green said the monthly Soup and Substance program has addressed, and will continue to touch on, the topics of privilege and oppression for the five years it has been running. According to Green, the conference is a continuation of the work she and her office has been doing with the program, but on a larger scale.
Although Green is hoping this conference will educate people on the issue of white privilege, Singh feels the conference may not be as effective as intended.
Racialized students have been asked to develop workshops and work at the conference as volunteers without pay. Singh says that this is “perpetuating the very thing that it is trying to address,”—a continued lack of opportunities and access for people of colour.
“You have people who are organizing [the conference], asking for free labour. That’s unacceptable when you are talking about white supremacy and white privilege,” said Shaquille Bulhi, a public administration student and Racialized Student Collective coordinator.
Bulhi’s said while the conference works toward defining the term of white privilege, it fails to find active solutions to the issue.
But for Green, it’s important to have the difficult conversation of white privilege and educate others on the meaning and effects of the term.
She said that there will be a focus on providing interactive and practical lessons that can be applied, rather than just presenting papers or research. Green emphasizes that the conference will give attendees the opportunity to dissect the topic of white privilege in an environment that offers multiple perspectives on it.
Both Bulhi and Singh believe that beyond the conference, there needs to be more done to tackle the issue throughout the entire system. Singh said that in order for change to happen, students, particularly racialized students, must be involved in the conversation. She adds that at the core, the Eurocentric lens that academia is built through must be addressed.
“Privileging racialised students’ voices in the conversation and really listening to what they need, and what they have to say, and how they are impacted. And putting those words and those concerns into actionable change,” Singh said.