New Canadian Media
Wednesday, 01 February 2017 13:00

Listening to our International Students

Commentary by Will Tao in Vancouver
 
Canada’s international students, particularly those in major metropolitan cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, have been subject to intense criticism over the last year.
 
The students – over 363,000 of them – have been blamed directly or indirectly for a range of social problems, such as overheated rental markets, unaffordable housing, burden on public services, cheating, and bizarrely, even driving pricey cars.
 
The bulk of these criticisms are based on anecdotal accounts, in the absence of any strong statistical evidence. These accounts come from professors who study and interview as part of their work, and anonymous, retired institutional administrators who can now share stories freely, without needing to validate their assertions.  
 
These accounts also come from journalists looking to report on the latest cross-cultural phenomenon. At the end of the day, while they may capture some of the reality and part of the story, they are ultimately one-sided.  
 
Outsider narrative
What bothers me, as the Canadian-born son of a 1980’s international student and as someone who is now married to an international student, is that this outsider narrative represents only one side of the story. In drawing many of our conclusions, we have not been good listeners of international students, the true insiders.
 
In reality, we have generally silenced their perspectives and ignored their challenges, and taken for granted our own privileges while laying blame and assigning motives.
For starters, it is worth noting that an overwhelming majority of international students are bona-fide, meaning they are genuine, immigration law-abiding students.
 
In 2014, Canadian Bureau of International Education counted 336,000 international students, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (as it was then called) estimated that 20,000 of them were considered “high risk”, that is, likely to violate immigration law.
 
This accounts for only about six per cent of all international students admitted into Canada.
 
Jumping hoops
Next, it is important to hear from international students themselves to learn about the challenges and barriers they face, and for often understandable reasons do not feel like sharing them publicly. In my own practice, I have found that there are three major barriers.

Firstly, Canada’s own immigration policies have made it difficult for international students. On the front end, the financial requirements are difficult to meet. International students need to show unreasonably high available funds just to be approved for study permits and seek extensions for their studies.  The prohibitive cost of international tuition forces many students to take a break from their studies or resort to extreme measures (like taking up jobs in violation of their study permits or taking out private loans) to keep with the payments.

Once a student is here, Canada currently has a restrictive requirement that students ‘actively-pursue studies.’ Educational institutions now have two-tiered policies, under which international students are subject to excessive monitoring and reporting requirements. Depending on the institution, international students have to take a certain number of courses and maintain a certain attendance rate, while domestic students do not. Students with family emergencies, mental health episodes, poor grades, or who simply want to explore a different area, are often hamstrung.
 
On the back end, once they are ready to graduate, these same international students have difficulty obtaining post-graduate work permits based on their study history. Without the work experience from these permits, the already difficult pathway to permanent residence is mostly closed.
 
Societal barriers
Secondly, there are major societal barriers against international students. I have worked with many international student advisors at universities and colleges who recount anecdotal stories of students breaking down as a result of mental health issues. Without family and often inadequate knowledge or language ability to seek professional help, these students are particularly vulnerable.
 
Institutions, I am told by these students, have not always done the best to accommodate their cultural differences or to eliminate discriminative practices or advise without implicit biases. These issues are almost never reported in the media.
 
Finally, there is an underbelly of inadequate (often unethical) third-party services being offered and provided to international students. Many of these purported advisors are untrained and unqualified educational consultants and agents. Inevitably, if not sooner rather than later, students advised by these individuals find themselves personally liable in situations akin to fraud or misrepresentation, for which there are severe criminal and immigration consequences.
 
Seat at the table
Regardless of the economic and political questions raised by student immigration, we must not forget that international students need to have a seat at the policy-making table. We have seen the example from down south about what happens when immigration law is mandated by public opinion, fear, and top-down orders.
 
If we continue down this path of blaming and not understanding, I foresee only increased fracturing within our already increasingly fragile mosaic.
 
Ultimately, international students can only become an important asset when we as a society stop viewing them solely as cash cows or visitors. We should be viewing as prospective future citizens.
 
Will Tao is a Canadian immigration lawyer based in Vancouver, B.C., with a practice primary focused on complex immigration applications and refusals on behalf of educational institutions and international students. Tao is a former New Canadian Media Board Member. He currently sits on the Canadian Bar Association British Columbia’s Equality and Diversity Committee and on the City of Vancouver’s Cultural Communities Advisory Committee.
Published in Education
Monday, 16 January 2017 16:04

Making “Friends” Key to Integration

by A Special Correspondent in Montreal

A new Concordia University study has found that making friends in Canada and being positive about the "new country" can go a long way in helping new immigrants integrate into communities. 

“[The study] shows that the early days after immigration are very important for newcomers. The dispositions and preferences expressed by people when they first arrive will set them off on different trajectories of social engagement in the new culture,” said a Concordia news release.

The study suggests it is important to invest in resources to support immigrants at the very beginning of their integration journey, especially those who may have misgivings about the environment they are entering into.
 
The study was conducted by recent Concordia graduate, Marina Doucerain. The researchers surveyed 158 international students who had just arrived in Montreal, whose native tongues were neither French nor English and who had not had much time to change and adapt to their new cultural environment.
 
New Canadian Media conducted this interview with Doucerain by email. 

1. Does Canada's policy of multiculturalism play a role in these predictors of integration?

We did not specifically test that idea, but we believe it does. In terms of social interactions and friendships, it takes two to tango. The fact that newcomers were able to form friendships in the mainstream society and interact regularly with Canadians likely reflects a welcoming Canadian climate that encourages contact between members of different cultural groups.

2. Does it matter if the "friends" are drawn from the same ethnic community?

For an immigrant, making friends with someone with the same cultural origin or with people in the mainstream society is quite different. For that reason, this study focused on predicting interactions and friendships in the mainstream society, so outside of people's own cultural group.

In addition, we selected only participants who had neither English nor French as their native language. We reasoned that making friends with well-established Canadians is very different for someone from China or Venezuela than for someone from the United States or from France.

 3. What percentage of those studied were successfully "integrated" over the course of the study?

This is really hard to say, as there are no clear cut-offs for what "successful integration" means. Does it mean having three, or five, or 10 Canadian friends? Does it mean regularly talking to 5 or 10 Canadians? We just don't know, and that's why more research is needed.

What "successful integration" really means is still a pretty open questions. We have elements of answers, but no clear categories.

4. Were there any factors that are specific to Quebec weighed as part of the study?

The study took place in Montreal, which is a very bilingual city. This allowed us to test our hypotheses in both Francophone and Anglophone contexts (the study was the product of a collaboration between researchers at Concordia university and Université du Québec à Montréal). We observed the same patterns in both contexts.

5. What policy implications do these findings have?

In this study, we focused on the very early days of migration, literally within a few weeks of newcomers' arrival. We believe that these early days are crucial and that it's would be important to invest energy and resources to make sure that newcomers have a lot of opportunities to have positive contact with people in the new society. This could take different forms.

For example, a mentoring or buddy program where immigrants are paired up with a well-established Canadian, just to talk, have some interactions, could be really helpful. Having this initial contact could give an entry point to the immigrant into their new society.

6. Lastly, do the researchers plan to test out their study on a national scale?

This is indeed an exciting future direction for our research!

More information on this study can be found here - The importance of making friends fast — when you’re an immigrant

Published in Top Stories
Saturday, 03 December 2016 12:18

Thunder Bay – Off the Beaten Path

Commentary by Paul Wojda in Thunder Bay, Ontario

Immigration represents both an incredible opportunity and a challenge for Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario.

As skilled workers across a wide range of fields retire from the workforce in Northern Ontario, employers are struggling to find trained and experienced replacements who can step in to take their place.

Owners of small businesses throughout the region who would like to sell and retire are finding it challenging to find buyers. The inability to fill these gaps has a potentially devastating impact on smaller communities, leaving them with a reduced tax base and fewer services.

While the development of the local workforce to meet these needs is a necessary and desirable outcome, immigration can allow these businesses to survive and flourish while this training takes place.

Net negative migration

The number of immigrants arriving in the region has remained fairly steady over the past few years, but overall, the region has been experiencing negative net migration. This has sparked a number of efforts to reverse this trend and to encourage immigration both from other parts of Canada and other countries.

The Common Voice Northwest conference in September 2016 brought together stakeholders from across the region to analyze the topic and to develop a series of next steps to address it.  The creation of the Northwestern Ontario Immigration portal represents an effort to provide newcomers with an accurate picture of the advantages and resources available should they move to the region.

Job opportunities, businesses for sale, funding opportunities and other resources are centralized in one location to make the immigration pathway a seamless process for prospective newcomers.  

In addition, city and regional representatives have been attending job fairs, conferences and expositions around the world to showcase the opportunities available. The emphasis of these marketing efforts focuses primarily on the unique benefits of life in Northwestern Ontario.

Personalized attention

There are a number of distinct advantages for immigrants looking to move to a smaller community outside of the larger metropolitan areas. One of the key messages that is repeatedly heard from newcomers is the personalized attention and support they receive upon their arrival.

In Northwestern Ontario, there is often more of a communal effort to help welcome newcomers and support their integration, since they are seen as essential to the survival and growth of the community.  While there is a vast representation of different cultural groups from around the world, they do not tend to be grouped into enclaves as they might in large cities, resulting in a fuller integration into the community as a whole.

Recently, Thunder Bay has seen a rapid increase in the number and variety of restaurants and grocery options to meet the needs and desires of newcomers from diverse backgrounds to the area. The overall high quality of life with affordable housing, excellent health care facilities and a wide range of entertainment and dining options also plays a role in attracting and retaining newcomers.

Local residents can enjoy all the amenities of a bigger urban centre while still being only minutes away from a vast array of outdoor recreation opportunities. While some may see the area as being isolated, it is easy to connect to larger centres such as Toronto, Winnipeg or Minneapolis through several daily flights from the international airport or by ground transportation.

Keep students here

Encouraging newcomers to choose a smaller community can be a challenging process. A main obstacle can be convincing them to visit, tour and see the area with their own eyes.

One way to address this is by building on the success of Confederation College and Lakehead University in attracting international students.

These students are often highly skilled, motivated and bring a wealth of previous experience. Since they have already overcome that first step of visiting and living in the area, it would be advisable to create more programs to encourage them to stay rather than leaving upon graduation for larger urban centres.

The creation and enhancement of economic incentives for newcomers to settle in smaller communities can help to stimulate the purchase of businesses for sale, allowing those communities to continue to benefit from the services and jobs they provide.  

Expansion of the Provincial Nominee Program could allow more discretion in this area, to both support the settlement of newcomers and to help sustain the existence and quality of life in smaller communities.  

With affordable housing, employment opportunities, diverse recreational pursuits and an exceptionally high quality of life, Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario represent an incredible destination for immigrants to create a new life in Canada.  

 

Paul Wojda is the youth programs facilitator of the Thunder Bay Multicultural Association

Published in Economy

Commentary by Peter Halpin in Halifax

Atlantic Canada could become a field of dreams for entrepreneurs, immigrants and international students.

And, if we give talented newcomers an incentive to move to the region and stay here, they will help build its economy.

Those themes were heard loud and clear at the June 24 Atlantic Leaders’ Summit on Talent Retention and Entrepreneurism, an event sponsored by the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) that attracted 75 business, community, government, student and academic leaders from across the region.

Federal Treasury Board President, Scott Brison, M.P. (Kings-Hants), set the tone in a keynote address that opened the Summit. Minister Brison said entrepreneurial immigrants boost the economy and help address the region’s “terrifying” demographic challenge — too few workers supporting too many retired people.

The starting-over advantage

“Starting over (as immigrants do) is inherently an entrepreneurial experience. Immigrants see opportunities that others don’t.”

The Minister said the growth of the wine industry in Nova Scotia underscores this point. The leading pioneers in Nova Scotia’s wine industry – Hans Jost (founder of Jost Vineyards) and Hanspeter Stutz (founder of Domaine de Grand Pré) - both migrated to Nova Scotia from Europe. Pete Luckett, an immigrant from the United Kingdom and founder of Luckett Vineyards, is also a leader in the sector.

Due in part to the leadership of this trio, the wine business has grown from a fledgling industry into a major success story over the past two decades. Today, Nova Scotia boasts 22 wineries, 70 grape growers who cultivate more than 800 acres of vineyards, seven distinct grape growing districts, and its own white wine appellation, Tidal Bay. 

Despite the benefits that immigrants like Messrs. Luckett, Jost and Stutz have brought to the region, Brison said there is “little upside” to supporting immigration as a politician.

Too often, voters see immigration as a “zero sum game” – one in which newcomers take jobs from long-time residents.

Too often, voters see immigration as a “zero sum game” – one in which newcomers take jobs from long-time residents.

Role for universities

He said universities have an important role to play as “thought leaders” in leading a “culture shift” towards “accepting and welcoming new Canadians.”

The AAU has largely succeeded at persuading stakeholders that universities are the best source of new immigrants to Atlantic Canada.

Minister Brison’s challenge “to lead the culture shift” among Atlantic Canada’s communities and citizens towards greater acceptance of new Canadians is the natural next step for the region’s universities in their support of regional population growth strategies.

Indeed, the AAU’s 2016 Graduate Retention Study showed 75 per cent of international graduates would remain in their province (of study) after graduation if given a choice.

Not that Brison is a pessimist. He says the region’s positive response to the recent influx of Syrian refugees may be a “game-changer.” He also says Atlantic universities are leveraging federal research grants to boost immigration to the region and build “a more innovative Canada.”

For instance, the Tesla lithium battery lab project led by Dr. Jeff Dahn at Dalhousie University has assembled a team of 22 researchers, 12 of whom came from other nations.

“These investments in … research are incredibly important to bringing immigrants to Canada.” They “are part of an overall integrated” strategy in which universities play a key role. “Creating a world-class research environment … is critically important to our region.”

The Trudeau government would like to attract more global talent to universities in Atlantic Canada, and keep them here once they graduate.

Ditch "Come from Away"

“Can we take a Team Atlantic Canada approach to attracting foreign students?” The Minister suggested a pan-university mission to China is one idea worth considering.  The current contingent of the nearly 13,000 international students at AAU universities already represents a significant industry.

Less than two weeks after the Summit, Brison was also part of the team of federal cabinet ministers and Atlantic premiers who announced a three-year pilot project under which immigration to the region would increase significantly.  

At that meeting, Minister Brison was blunt in his assessment of current attitudes toward newcomers to the region:  “I have been told repeatedly by people who have moved to Atlantic Canada – that it takes a while to fit in. We’ve got to do more to welcome people here”.

Minister Brison quite rightly encourages Atlantic Canadians to ditch the “come-from-away” label often affixed to newcomers to the region.  He went further by saying that, “it’s in our collective interest, economically and socially, to not use terms that reflect a negative view of people who choose to make Atlantic Canada their home. We’ve got to do more to welcome people here”.

Building on the success of attracting more and more international students to our campuses; warmly welcoming them to communities across the region; helping place them in co-op education and internships during their studies; introducing them to alumni networks and employers and encouraging them to stay are just a few of the things our universities are doing to help lead the required “culture shift” across Atlantic Canada.

Minister Brison’s call to action to our universities to help lead the creation of a more welcoming environment to newcomers has not gone unheeded.

Peter Halpin is executive director of the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU). This comment is the second in our series on immigration to the Atlantic region.

Published in Education

Wellington (IANS): New Zealand has denied visas to thousands of Indian students who wanted to study in the country, a media report said on Friday.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) officials believed the Indian students who enrolled themselves in tertiary institutions were not intending to study there, Radio New Zealand reported.

 

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Published in India

Written by

Hadi Wess abandoned pre-med studies in Syria due to the civil war to come to Canada with his family. He currently studies psychology at the University of Ottawa, where he is also the Vice-President-Social for the university’s Student Federation (SFUO).

He helped to organize a vigil on June 13th honouring the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. SFUO condemned homophobia, transphobia but also Islamophobia at the vigil, where the tragedy was framed as a hate crime against the LGBTQ community as opposed to a terrorist attack.

Hadi spoke at the vigil about the impact of the shooting on Muslim communities amid fears that this incident would be used to justify further Islamophobia. He also discussed the importance of marginalized communities being allies to one another. Here is his speech.

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Muslim Link

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Published in Commentary
Tuesday, 02 February 2016 23:41

Students Lead Initiatives to Help Syrians

by Florence Hwang in Regina

When the pledge was announced to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees, many Canadians wanted to help — university students being no exception.

Using their resourcefulness and skills, students across the country have come up with tangible ways to help the new immigrants settle into their lives.

This ranges from handling legal paperwork, to collecting cutlery sets, to simply befriending incoming refugees.

More than just paperwork

In September, Rosa Stall, a third-year law student at Queen’s University, read an Ottawa Citizen article about how University of Ottawa law students started the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program. In this program, they worked with local lawyers to help people who were interested in helping out privately sponsored refugees.

In less than a month, that program attracted 140 volunteer lawyers, reported the Citizen.

Inspired by this initiative, Stall reached out to her classmates Jess Spindler, Kaisha Thompson and Lauren Wilson to set up something similar in Kingston.

So far, the Queen’s Law Refugee Support Program has met with local lawyers and helped different community groups resettle the refugees in Canada. This program provides training to lawyers and students regarding immigration law to help with the refugees’ paperwork.

In less than a month, that program attracted 140 volunteer lawyers.

The program has now grown to connect other Syrian refugee-related efforts through a portal hosted on their website.

Through their online fundraising campaign, the group has raised $1,896 to help Queen’s University professors sponsor a refugee themselves. They have also raised $550 offline and hosted a cutlery campaign where people had to collect stickers to redeem cutlery sets that would be donated to immigrants.

“Every single little bit helps, whether it’s taking somebody to the library or giving them cutlery or donating a lamp or something,” says Wilson.

Discovering similarities with newcomers

Thompson says this experience has been very eye-opening for her. She remarked that the refugee the professors sponsored was non-religious and spoke English, which surprised her as many may think Syrian refugees are Muslim and only speak Arabic.

“I think that the conception that we have of Syrian refugees of them being different than us is actually a false construction,” she says.

Thompson adds, “We’ve been learning a lot about the struggles that he [the sponsored refugee] faces, the political challenges that Syria is enduring currently. We are working towards creating a positive welcoming space for them in Canada and being an example to others who I think feel confused based on some of the media articles and the way that their issues are being portrayed.”

Efforts at other universities around Canada

One of the volunteer students with the Ryerson University Lifeline Syrian Challenge is Radwan Al-Nachawati, who speaks Arabic. This third-year marketing student, who is a Muslim of Syrian descent, is an Arabic interpreter for one of the newly arrived families.

When he found out about the Syrian crisis, he felt helpless, so he was glad to hear he had an opportunity to help through his school.

“It was definitely an uplifting feeling because it gave me a chance to help,” says Al-Nachawati, who is also the President of the Ryerson Muslims Association. 

Other students used their skills and training to help the Syrian refugees; for example. finance majors helped immigrants open a bank account and nursing students helped them set up their health cards.

He was glad to hear he had an opportunity to help through his school.

Another Ryerson student who felt moved to help out is Jaimie Dufresne. Dufresne is part of a sponsorship team that’s helping one family settle in Toronto. She remembers how emotional one of the three sons, who had arrived earlier in Canada, was when he was reunited with his family.

“I’m sure it must have been traumatic because they really trying to stay together. It was hard for them to be apart from him for so long,” says Dufresne, who is a PhD student in molecular science. 

Although Dufrese didn’t have much in the way of monetary funds to donate to incoming refugees, she noted she had time and skills to offer.

“It made me less hopeless about it. It made feel really good to be able to do something about it,” Dufresne says.

For the students, by the students

Concordia University’s Syrian Student Association initially helped raise funds for basic needs like clothing, food, housing, tutoring language and paperwork.

But they wanted to do more. That’s why Kinan Swaid, president of the Association, wants to build a resource centre dedicated to help all refugees that’s a stand-alone organization that is affiliated with the university.

The third-year mechanical engineering student notes that the only way for the centre to continue on is for it to start getting funding from the students, saying that it’s a service for and by the students.

Swaid, who is Syrian, says this refugee centre would ideally offer assistance to address psychological, medical, housing, education, career and financial needs immigrants may need.

The students will be able to vote at a referendum on whether they want to support this resource centre in the upcoming student by-election in March. The centre, if it goes through, will be funded by students based on their course load credits. 

 If the centre gets the green lights from the students, Swaid thinks the centre could be built by next September. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Education

by Vinita Srivastava in Toronto 

At first, the news of the cancellation of a free yoga class for disabled students by the University of Ottawa Student Federation and the Centre for Students with Disabilities (CSD) due to issues of cultural appropriation read like really good satire. 

Like many others who responded, tweeted and commented with shock and exasperation, I found it amusing. The cancelation of one yoga class seemed like an utter misplacement of energy – ridiculousness and chaos caused by a few students in power.

On the scale of cultural appropriation (where elements of a minority culture are ‘borrowed’ and sometimes misrepresented by the dominant culture), a yoga class seems mild. After all, isn’t it a little late where yoga is concerned?

Yoga has been integrated into the western world for at least 20 years. Is this like saying we should not eat cous cous or chow mein for dinner?

But then, as the public and media voices around me got self-righteous and even angrier about how wrong this politically correct move was, I found myself thinking about the student federation at the University of Ottawa (U of O) and the fact that these students have not backed down in the face of ridicule. 

I imagined myself in the place of those students for a moment. 

In those early days of political awareness, I sometimes said dogmatic things and was accused of being ‘politically correct’. 

Sometimes politics requires us to be extreme even if just to raise an issue. 

We are still a far cry from the utopia where we can all borrow culture without any power dynamics in play.

Then I looked at the situation at the U of O as a faculty adviser and professor, which I have been for many years. 

It is interesting that even though my analysis is imminently more sophisticated than my student days, I am still sometimes called ‘politically correct’ in relation to conversations around race and culture. 

Daring to challenge privilege

Based on the Internet furor this yoga cancellation has raised, challenging the privilege of being able to appropriate someone else’s culture does not sit well with the general public. 

How dare these students challenge privilege? 

But it wasn’t too long ago gangs calling themselves ‘The Dotbusters’ harassed women wearing bindis and saris in Toronto and New Jersey. And only last week a University of British Columbia student was spit at for being Muslim. 

We are still a far cry from the utopia where we can all borrow culture without any power dynamics in play. 

[W]ouldn’t it be great if the U of O helped out by leading the public and the student federation in a conversation about cultural appropriation?

Perhaps these students are new to their political analysis, making them more dogmatic than necessary. Perhaps they have been badly misrepresented by a miffed yoga teacher. Perhaps we members of the press are simply too eager for a controversial story that we can feed to our hungry audiences. 

But wouldn’t it be great if the U of O helped out by leading the public and the student federation in a conversation about this misunderstanding and even about cultural appropriation? 

Instead, the University of Ottawa Twitter feed placed the school in opposition to its student federation. 

The university distanced itself by first tweeting that a student group made the decision to cancel the yoga class, and later tweeting an announcement that free yoga classes would still be available for dates in December. 

Need for universities to host critical conversations

At the heart of the student federation’s investigation into the yoga class and other student activities is the issue of inclusion. I doubt the federation’s members would move to suspend a class simply for the fun of it. 

By taking this action, students have raised these questions about their campus: Who is made to feel welcome within the selection of student activities at the U of O? Who is made to feel excluded? What are the best activities and classes to offer the student body? 

We should perhaps listen to what the students are saying instead of deriding their voices, making their campus feel unsafe to them.

Of course, yoga originated in South Asia, but, like pizza, chow mein and cous cous, it is now part of our international, multicultural every day. 

Whether or not the students at the U of O meant to raise this issue with such fervour, the issue has nevertheless, been raised. We should perhaps listen to what the students are saying instead of deriding their voices, making their campus feel unsafe to them. 

The student federation at the U of O released a statement last week saying how disheartened its members feel by the rhetoric being used to critique their process. 

They say they feel disappointed and harassed, some by violence. They feel their process has been misrepresented. 

"The CSD in no way thought that suspending this program for the semester with the intention of improving it for a January return would cause this much uproar," read the statement. "Let us please … have a more conducive dialogue around how to make our campuses more accessible to those who do not feel safe.” 

There is clearly a need for university campuses to facilitate open and critical dialogue about difficult and sensitive issues like cultural appropriation, inclusion and exclusion. Perhaps there is no better lesson than this, as the story turns into the latest Internet meme.


Vinita Srivastava is an editor and journalist who has been a university educator for the last decade. She is currently the creative director of Upsari by Pondichéri.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
Friday, 09 October 2015 13:35

The Many Problems with the Term "White"

by Rubin Friedman in Ottawa and Anita Bromberg in Toronto

Posters promoting a "White Student Union" appeared on campus at a number of Canadian universities recently. 

What are we to make of such a student group and the use of the term “White”? 

Those behind the union seem to see it as a natural response to groups focused on marginalized and racialized communities. Their website postings suggest that the union is merely a way to protect what it describes as “values of western civilization.” 

The word "White" is itself a loaded term.

The students using these terms should be clear about what they are defending. Are they putting forward the idea that values such as democracy, parliament, human rights, equality, and habeas corpus are important to discuss and defend, or that these are exclusively linked to one colour?

The power of words

The word "White" is itself a loaded term. 

It is in fact an exclusionary term that has been used to oppress based on notions of racial superiority.

The history of Europe, like the history of Canada is a reflection of stories of migration of large groups of peoples of varying backgrounds.

Forming a group to discuss ‘western civilization values’, and what they might mean moving forward, could conceivably have some value. However, to form an exclusive club for “Whites only” based on skin colour rather than a willingness to discuss important issues of the day is a serious flaw.

It leads to the logical supposition that the union’s real purpose does, in fact, lie in the loaded word "White” as an expression of exclusion and false superiority. 

[S]uch uses of the term “White” – no matter what side of the coin you are starting from – are dangerous and negative.

Let's not forget that similarly named groups such as those that have cropped up in the United States have been linked to white supremacy movements as have other efforts claiming to be in the name of “European pride”.  

Is blaming one race racist?

These days, the term “White” also pops up in discussions led by anti-racists in the context of “White privilege”, or “White attitudes”. These phrases are used as a kind of blanket condemnation of western or European civilization. 

While such terms are used to explain racism, are they not themselves inherently racist? Is not blaming one race, as would be inherent in the term “White privilege”, racist in and of itself? 

Surely such terms prevent us from confronting the reality that individuals of any colour or origin can themselves be racist in their attitudes and behaviour.

Indeed, the whole framework for such terms depends on using racial classifications to distinguish between people, based on sweeping generalizations and without regard to any needed nuance.  

The challenge is to find a broader approach to dealing with racism and discrimination as they are practised in any group.

In the end, such uses of the term “White” – no matter what side of the coin you are starting from – are dangerous and negative.  Such divisive tactics cannot build cohesion within a state of equality for all.

Mutual respect and responsibility

The challenge is to find a broader approach to dealing with racism and discrimination as they are practised in any group. 

In the Canadian context, the way forward favoured by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation is to build a shared understanding of the current state of race relations and how we got here.

At the same time through initiatives such as our 150 stories, workshops and symposia, we would seek to include the broad range of Canadians in a dialogue about the non-racist values we want to guide us towards a common future based on mutual respect and responsibility.


Rubin Friedman is a member of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation board of directors. He has extensive experience in dealing with issues of community, integration, prejudice and discrimination. 

Anita Bromberg has been the Executive Director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation since June 2014. Prior to that, she served as National Director Legal Affairs at B'nai Brith Canada.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

BRUCE Kehler, CEO of Canex Building Supplies Ltd. of Chilliwack, helped make the back-to-school season a whole lot brighter for over 100 underserved Surrey students.  He announced an incredible back-to-school donation of $25,000 in the form of $250 gift cards to the Surrey Urban Mission Society Day Camp Adventures students.  These funds will help […]

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Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

Zo2 Framework Settings

Select one of sample color schemes

Google Font

Menu Font
Body Font
Heading Font

Body

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Background Image

Top Wrapper

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Modules Title
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Header Wrapper

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Mainmenu Wrapper

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Slider Wrapper

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Scroller Wrapper

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Mainframe Wrapper

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Bottom Scroller Wrapper

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Breadcrumb Wrapper

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Bottom Menu Wrapper

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Bottom Wrapper

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Text Color
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Background Image
Background Color
Modules Title
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Background Image