UVic needs diversity on faculty

Op-eds Opinions

The UVic students quoted in the article study at the undergraduate level and have not disclosed their full names.

The Students of Colour Collective (SOCC) is a student-run advocacy group at the University of Victoria. SOCC has a mandate to make spaces for students of colour on campus, address racism and discrimination on and off campus, advocate for fair and equitable curricula, and share resources that address issues of race, gender, and colonization using community-based anti-racist frameworks. We organize events, provide support to students, promote local groups, and develop the SOCC anti-racist library (open to everyone). SOCC wants to draw attention to the importance of having diverse teaching faculty and call for all faculty members to be willing and able to bring anti-racism into the classroom

Why is it important to have diverse teaching faculty? Cage, an undergraduate student, said that, “[. . .] faculty of colour are able to make students think outside the box based on their experiences and cultural points of view.” Without diverse faculty with lived cultural difference, the depth of one’s experiential knowledge that provides insights into the subject material may be absent. Western pedagogy often fails to create a holistic context relative to the primary materials and those teaching it. A 1998 research report, “Voices of Change: Racism, Ethnocentrism, and Cultural Insensitivity at the University of Victoria”, publicized several actions as negatively impacting racialized and Indigenous students. These include presenting a largely Eurocentric curriculum, inability to deal faithfully with content about minority groups, refusal to deal with issues with perceived inappropriate and offensive content, silencing of discussion about racism, and differential treatment of minority students. These issues still persist.

While several academic departments have only one known faculty member of colour, other departments have more diverse faculty. This brings a wider range of experiences to the front of the class, but does not assure that all faculty members take up the burden of addressing colonial and racist understandings. This semester, a sociology professor repeatedly used examples categorizing races as simply “white” and “non-white.” This choice both centres whiteness as the named, and ignores the breadth of all those considered “non-white.” Daphne suggested that, “[. . .] if we must use bi-variate analysis, then use self-identified categories—for example Asian and Black—while discussing the importance that these are only two of many categories.”

Classrooms are powerful spaces. While we may come together into classrooms to share knowledge and experience, according to Proma Tagore, a former assistant professor at UVic, “[. . .] histories and realities are often absented or else ‘othered’—that is, presented from the perspective of the white hegemony . . . Colonialism and racism . . . deeply affect and mediate how experiences of learning and university education are structured . . .” Boma said, “I remember taking a history class where my professor framed colonization in South Africa as pleasant and cheerful. I was put in a situation where I had to constantly challenge this professor, or sit while my history is told in an inaccurate Eurocentric manner.” She added, “Throughout the semester, this professor taught material about apartheid and racism in a very joking manner, leading to other students in class joking about these topics as well. When I raised my concerns with him in class and during office hours, he brushed it off.”

Being highly visible can create feelings of isolation and vulnerability. “I hate when they talk about race and religion and they stare at you or try to avoid looking at me in the eye,” said Sara. Moments like this force our awareness of our position in the classroom. The solutions are more complicated than pushing students of colour to always speak up against classroom conditions of domination and othering.