Change through disruption at anti-racism summit hosted by Laurier

Photo by Will Huang
Photo by Will Huang

On March 21, the anti-racism summit, which is also the United Nations Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, was held at the Holiday Inn Conference Centre in Kitchener to discuss and explore ways which university and college campuses can be more efficient in addressing the concerns of racialized students.

The focus of this summit was to develop strategies that will be sector-wide, rather than putting the onus on individual institutions.

Laura Mae Lindo, director of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Diversity and Equity Office, said in order to address racism, this shift in focus is important.

“If we’re addressing racism, and we recognize that racism is systemic, then we have to address it from the sector. We can’t eliminate it as an individual institution within the sector,” she said.

The summit was attended by over 150 individuals who held senior administrator positions at their respective institutions. It ran throughout the day and was split into three sessions that addressed topics such as racial justice through sector-wide initiatives, telling stories from institutions and students about racism and putting these stories into practice.

Leah Gazan is currently teaching at the University of Winnipeg and is a member of the Wood Mountain Lakota Nation.

Gazan hosted the second session which consisted of a panel with Drew Hayden Taylor, writer-in-residence at Laurier and Samantha Clarke, a social work educator at Laurier.

“We just need a place in the circle,” she said.

Drew Hayden Taylor is from the Curve Lake First Nations and uses his aboriginal perspective in his work. At the summit, Taylor said he tries to bridge those gaps with those familiar and unfamiliar with the native community through literature and storytelling.

“I’m a firm believer that the universal language is storytelling. Every culture likes stories, every culture listens to stories and very often those stories define that culture,” he said.

Clarke stressed the importance of inclusion and creating spaces in which students of colour and their knowledge can be legitimized and respected.

Towards the end of the summit, Lindo said there were a number of concrete actions the attendees discussed. The Chief Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission, Renu Mandhane, suggested the collection of race-based data for students. This data would be used to create the support that students are asking for.

Another topic was the support needed with the plan to indigenize campuses. An example would be if there was an increase in the number of indigenous students and how this would impact faculty and staff. A solution that was brought forward was the creation of mentorship opportunities for indigenous students.

“What I found fascinating and what I think is really important to emphasize is that the reason for creating these mentorship opportunities is that these students are leaders and mentors, but it’s that we have not recognized that mentorship within the indigenous students that we even have on campus now,” Lindo said.

Lindo has also been trying to advocate for an anti-racism policy that is sector-wide.

“We can approach racism as an individual thing and there’s a person that’s acting in a way that’s racist and you can stop them. But the reality is that the way that the systems have been structured, they’ve been structured initially without certain people at the table and without their needs being considered,” she said.

Lindo indicated that the second shift, which must take place is the need to name things as they are. With racism, it is important to specify islamophobia or anti-black racism to address the “root cause.”

“There was some real conversations … Some people said we are talking about diversity here and we’re talking about anti-black racism and it’s super powerful, it’s sometimes felt as disruptive,” Lindo said. “But it’s something that we have to disrupt the system, if we want to change the system.”

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