Classrooms are contentious places for Ryerson’s diverse students and faculty. (Ryersonian files)

“We always feel unsafe in our lives, in our classrooms, dealing with students in our office hours,” said Camille Hernandez-Ramdwar. The professor was a panellist at Tuesday’s Inhabiting Critical Spaces event, held as part of Ryerson’s Social Justice Week.

The focus of the four panellists, who authored the 2013 report, “Teaching and Learning from the Margins,” was on the limitations in academic classrooms faced by diverse students and faculty. Hernandez-Ramdwar, a panellist and sociology professor, said that the issue remains relevant in light of recent acts of sexism and racism that affected Toronto’s university campuses.

“This particular semester, to come to work and have to deal with multiple threats to our beings, particularly those of us who are female, who are feminist, who are racialized — we just had whammy after whammy,” she said, referring to the threats against women at University of Toronto and the posters for a white students’ union that papered several university campuses. The professor went on to explain that a few times, based on how students have interacted with her in class or during office hours, she has wondered whether to worry about them bringing a gun to school

The report’s research continues to draw interest, said panellist and sociology professor Amina Jamal — evident in the packed room where close to every chair was filled — especially as the recommendations of the report have not been undertaken by the administration. According to the researchers, it was a struggle to even get funding for the project.

During their presentation, the panellists highlighted significant statements from those interviewed for the project. The researchers’ concerns about making the classroom a meaningful learning experience were mirrored by students and faculty who participated in the project from across the university’s departments. The missing discussion on racism in Canada and many professors’ lack of awareness of their own white privilege, alongside the ongoing racism experienced by faculty and students were just some of the problems raised in the report.

And the topic clearly resonated with some audience members. As the question-and-answer period began, many attendees brought up their own experiences with discrimination or discomfort in the classroom when issues affecting diverse groups were brought up by professors or students. 

Some made suggestions on how to implement the findings in the classroom, revealing the urgency of addressing marginalization.

“We didn’t know how big this would get,” said Melanie Knight, one of the report’s authors. “Now we see the desire from the community … to know more, to understand more, to partake, to be able to talk about these issues.”

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