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Combating racism on campus

Combating racism on campus

Augustana is not immune to the racism currently visible on other university campuses

“F*ck your turban”. These were the words on a poster in white capital letters across the image of a man wearing a turban, that brought national media attention to the U of A. “If you’re so obsessed with your third-world culture, go the f*ck back to where you came from!” the poster went on.

The same day, Yadvinder Bhardwaj, president of the Indian Students’ Association at the University of Alberta told the National Post, “I don’t want this. We are students, we are here trying to get an education, we are not doing anything bad.”

Like many minority students across North American university campuses, he said he is “no stranger to racism on campus.” He emphasized that acts like these leave a lasting and distressing impression on international students.

The issue sheds light on a much larger problem, which is that racism affects minority students on a much more regular basis. In 2012, Mary C. Murphy, an assistant psychology professor at Indiana University, found that we live in a new age of racism. Whereas the “old fashioned” prejudice involved the belief in some sort of biological inferiority of racial minorities and the expression of racial hostility, contemporary forms of racial bias are more subtle but none-the-less prominent.

Recently, there has been a surge of racist acts across campuses in Canada from the racist posters on the University of Alberta’s North Campus to the Islamophobic posters on the campuses of the University of Calgary and Western University.

But why is racism still a problem today? Minority students not only have to battle institutional racism, they must also endure academic environments where microaggressions and stereotyping, though not always intentional, are prevalent.

A study by Ebony McGee and David Stovall, professors at Vanderbilt University, found that the consequences of racism and living in a society marked by white privilege entails deprivation in the long-term physical, mental, emotional and psychological well being of the affected individual.

The study also suggests that racism and discrimination adversely affect the mental health of minority students and faculty by diminishing their academic self-concept, confidence, and mental efficacy.

According to the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) there is an average of six to 10 thousand hate crimes a year in the U.S.—and the FBI expects that number to rise following Trump’s election, with over 700 hate crimes already reported post-election.

Post-election, the rise of hate crimes and harassments has also appeared at post-secondary institutions, such as an incident at the University of Michigan where a man approached a Muslim student and threatened to set her on fire with a lighter unless she removed her hijab.

There have also been incidents where students posted photos of a black doll hanging from a dormitory curtain rod on social media, swastikas being drawn on dorm buildings and muslim women being harassed for wearing their hijab around campus.

These incidents highlight the challenge emboldened racism poses on university campuses all across North America—and there is little reason to believe Augustana couldn’t fall into the same pattern. These problems have real consequences for minority students and the growing strength of racially charged political movements is making it more difficult than ever to combat.

In this fight against the resurgence of racism, it is essential that those who are privileged aim to leverage their privilege to help those who are the target of discrimination. This is the message of the Centre for Social Change & Social Equity at Murdoch University’s report Anti-Racism – What Works?, which recommends taking an anti-racist approach that goes beyond basic cultural awareness.

Talking to one another, educating ourselves and understanding other people can be a major force of good in an era of uncertainty and fear. In order to address racism and all forms of discrimination it is essential that we redesign social systems by acknowledging their flaws. In the words of Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire, “education does not change the world, education changes people, and people change the world”

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