‘The rose-coloured glasses are off’: Why experts, students suspect racism under-reported on campuses

But low numbers are, of course, better than high numbers, and overall university graduation numbers are higher for visible minorities than non-visible minorities (not to discount the issue):

CBC News investigation has found many Canadian universities received few or no complaints of racial discrimination on campus over the past five years, but experts and students — and even a couple of the universities — say the low numbers aren’t necessarily a sign of racial harmony.

Instead, they say the data might suggest students are reluctant to come forward with official complaints. Experts also say significant barriers exist for students who do pursue complaints.

Back in October, Julia-Simone Rutgers of King’s College in Halifax was concerned about a hip-hop-themed night planned for the campus pub because she was disturbed by what she witnessed at a previous event with a similar theme.

“It created a space where people felt kind of comfortable using racial slurs and kind of celebrating a music and a culture that was not critically discussed anywhere else on campus,” she said.

Despite her concerns, she said her first instinct wasn’t to make a complaint.


York University professor Enakshi Dua says students are sometimes discouraged from pursuing the formal complaint process. (CBC News)

“I just didn’t feel like they would be able to understand that experience, and so I didn’t feel like it would be productive for me to go through that route.”

York University professor Enakshi Dua studies anti-racism policies at Canadian universities and says trust is important for racialized students looking for help.

“On the most basic levels, students want someone who can appreciate and understand, help them sort out the situation that they’re dealing with,” says Dua…..

Numbers not the whole story

CBC News asked 76 universities to provide their yearly totals for student complaints of race-based discrimination and/or harassment for calendar years 2011 to 2015. Forty-seven schools provided data, but the vast majority reported either no complaints or numbers in the single-digits over the five-year period (not all schools provided data by the calendar year).

“Over five years? To me, hard to believe that,” said Girish Parekh, a former investigator with the Canadian Human Rights Commission who worked as a complaint resolution adviser at Ryerson University in Toronto in 2014/15. “Even for one year I wouldn’t believe that.”

He says some cases aren’t counted because they’re resolved outside of the prescribed complaint process, without the involvement of a human rights or equity office.

But Parekh says many incidents don’t result in complaints because students don’t think they will be taken seriously.

“They say, ‘Well, there is no point wasting time unless it’s something extremely serious,'” he said.

Dua says that even when these complaints are brought to the attention of the appropriate office, students are often discouraged from pursuing the formal procedure for dealing with them because the process can be long, tense and emotional….

Students reluctant to file complaints

Western University in London, Ont., is one of almost two-dozen universities that reported zero complaints over the five-year period from 2011 to 2015. Jana Luker, the school’s associate vice-president of student experience, says the numbers don’t always reflect the reality on campus.

“I would say that this does not necessarily indicate that racism is not a part of our campus — our city, our country — at all,” she said.


Jana Luker, Western University’s associate vice-president of student experience, says increasing staff diversity is an important way to help make students comfortable coming forward with racial discrimination and harassment complaints. (CBC News)

Luker acknowledges that students aren’t always comfortable taking their experiences forward and points to staff diversity as an important part of making the process more welcoming.

Mount Royal University in Calgary, which reported 11 complaints over five years, raised the issue of under-reporting in a statement to CBC News: “We’re always looking for ways to cultivate a culture in which members of our community feel safe to share their experiences.”

Source: ‘The rose-coloured glasses are off’: Why experts, students suspect racism under-reported on campuses – Canada – CBC News

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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