Introduction: Racism in the Canadian University
Frances Henry and Carol Tator
Our schools, colleges and universities continue to be powerful discursive sites through which race knowledge is produced, organized and regulated. Marginalized bodies are continually silenced and rendered invisible not simply through the failure to take issues of race and social oppression seriously but through the constant negation of multiple lived experiences and alternative knowledges. –G. Dei and A. Calliste, ‘Introduction, Mapping the Terrain: Power, Knowledge and Anti-Racism Education’
In this collection of essays each author analyzes the impact of hegemonic Whiteness and the processes of racialization that continue to function in the Canadian academy. Drawing upon an extensive body of literature and empirical investigations of racism in Canadian academic institutions, the writers explore how access and equity are often denied to both racialized faculty and students through the everyday values and norms, discourses and practices within a dominant White Anglocentric, Eurocentric, and racialized culture. All of the contributors to this book believe that the daily struggle to find a safe and inclusive space for racialized students and faculty within the classroom among peers, colleagues, and administrators contributes to a sometimes hostile, oppressive, unsafe learning and working environment. Each of the scholars in this collection draws attention to how Whiteness as ideology and praxis function in the Canadian academy.
We were drawn to this subject for two main reasons. In the first instance, our past research and writings have often focused on how racism and the culture of Whiteness impacts the major institutions of Canadian society. For example, first we surveyed these major institutions in our book The Colour of Democracy in 1995, including systems of governance, health and social services, mass media, education, justice, policing, and arts and culture. In researching new material for the 3rd edition, published in 2006, we were struck by the increase in the volume of literature on manifestations of racism in the academy, much of it written by often relatively newly hired racialized faculty.
Moreover, Frances Henry spent years in the early seventies struggling to get the right to to teach a course on racism and to conduct research on this ‘tabooed’ and ignored topic; Carol Tator has taught a course for more than a decade related to anti-racism, and through it is exposed to the experiences of racialized students. These experiences have left, and continue to leave, deep impressions on each of us.
Attending and participating in many conferences in almost every province of this country has led both of us to listen to the painful and marginalizing narratives of many Indigenous faculty and faculty of colour. Henry, in writing the report on inequity at Queen’s University, had an opportunity to meet with faculty, staff, and administrators to examine the impact of racism and the role of Whiteness in the culture of the university. In 2005, we launched a pilot study to critically analyze the extent to which racism is present in Canadian universities.
All of these factors have added to our involvement with this subject matter, and eventually to this book. As we are deeply committed to critical race theory and its emphasis on experiential voices, it was only natural to invite noted scholars of colour and a highly respected Indigenous scholar to participate in this venture.
Outline of the Book
In chapter 1 the editors, Frances Henry and Carol Tator, explore some of the common theoretical perspectives that inform the analysis of all the contributors to the book. Drawing from an extensive body of literature, as well as empirical evidence based on data drawn from our interviews and a survey with Canadian academics across the country, we explore how racism is manifested in the academy. In this conceptual framework we map how the contours and processes of Whiteness and racialization intersect in the academy and impact upon racialized and Aboriginal faculty, as well as Aboriginal academics and students of colour. We probe the diverse ways in which both overt and covert forms of racism are manifested in what counts as knowledge and scholarship and how Eurocentric standards impact upon hiring, promotion, and tenure decisions. The narratives of racialized academics and students that are included in this book are characterized by self-doubt, apprehension, frustration, and disappointment. Despite, over two decades of scholarship documenting the problem of racism in our universities, and endless recommendations, there remains huge resistance to change.
Chapter 2, written by Audrey Kobayashi, focuses on how women of colour in Canadian academia are notable for being unseen. Androcentric and Eurocentric values, supported by the power of ‘old white boys’ networks have kept women of colour out of the academy. Even when women of colour are present in the academy, they experience the effects of racism through the practice of Whiteness. A Whiteness lens makes it very difficult for the majority to see or understand the experiences of women of colour. The impacts of Whiteness that define the experiences of women of colour are identified as denigration, deflection, exotification, and guilt. Kobayashi draws upon examples from her own experience to demonstrate that we cannot really understand systemic effects of racism without a recognition that normalized patterns of racialization are acted out through individual bodies. She argues that social institutions, such as the university, need to acknowledge the ‘adverse effects’ of racialization.
Patricia Monture in chapter 3 reflects on the many lessons of survival she has learned since she began her university teaching in 1989. Monture suggests that the collective experience of Aboriginal people in universities is still about lived oppression of indigenous ways of being and knowing. She describes, in some detail, how her positioning as an Indigenous scholar in the university was often seen as problematic. Her analysis indicates how the rules and traditions governing promotion and tenure decisions were used against her in ways that led to a denigration of her experience and her research.
In chapter 4 Camille Hernandez-Ramdwar turns attention to racialized students, in this case, those from the Caribbean, and their experiences in the university. Her interviews with undergraduate and graduate students who have migrated from the Caribbean and those who are second generation (born in Canada to migrants) identify some of the factors that impact on academic performance. She found that graduate students had the most to say on the subject of racism in the academy and identified the lack of mentoring and lack of support as key barriers. Racialized students felt that they had to work harder and continually prove themselves to their professors.
In chapter 5 Carl James focuses on policies designed to create change in the university and the many impediments to their implementation. He argues that in so far as the universities are formed by Western European middle class patriarchal ideologies, expectations, and traditions, the norms, values, and principles by which they operate are not raceless, colour-blind, neutral, or fair and objective, despite claims that they are. Therefore, the assumptions that potential job applicants are able to access positions ‘if they are qualified’ ignores the systemic ways in which identities such as race and ethnicity function in enabling access to university faculty positions. James identifies some of the issues that impact upon racialized applicants for faculty positions and promotions including such factors as cultural differences and race of candidates in the hiring process; and the struggle over terms such as ‘excellence,’ ‘demonstratively superior,’ ‘equally qualified,’ and, ‘a good fit.’
In chapter 6 Enakshi Dua continues the analysis of university policies and praxis in her discussion of the findings of a recent preliminary investigation on the extent to which universities in Canada have developed anti-racist policies and practices. Her analysis is informed by reviewing policies and mission statements of thirty-seven Canadian universities, as well as telephone interviews with a number of directors of human rights and equity offices in these universities. She found that most Canadian universities have developed some form of policies to address racism within the academy, including employment equity, anti-harassment policies and clauses, and anti-racism workshops. Most universities surveyed had structures within the university which validated the need to address racism. However, from the perspectives of human rights and equity officers that she interviewed, these policies and interventions had a limited effect on actually addressing racism. The most powerful barrier is the unwillingness of senior administrators to address systemic and structural racism.
The various perspectives offered by each of the contributors of this book are linked to a strong commitment to the notion that teaching and learning are deeply political practices and that our universities must ensure protection of the rights of all indigenous and racialized students and faculty to find a safe, inclusive, and intellectual home in our universities.