Rule Out Racism was held for the first time on the Vancouver campus on March 25, 2014. The event brought together staff and faculty for presentations, workshops and conversation about institutional racism at UBC. Rule Out Racism was held to recognize the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (March 21) and was modeled after previous events held in the UBC Okanagan. 2013 is the first year that both campuses held Rule Out Racism events.
Vancouver’s event was held at St. John’s College. Sponsors of the event included the Equity and Inclusion Office, UBC Human Resources and the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice (GRSJ).
Musqueam Elder, Jewel Thomas opened the event and related her own conflicts with racism and recognition that racism is rooted in colonialism and for aboriginal people in the ongoing legacy of residential schools. “From concept to finish it was wrong, wrong, wrong,” she said. Elder Thomas helped lift the spirits of the audience of nearly one hundred people with a prayer and a welcome to Musqueam land.
In his opening remarks, event moderator Alden Habacon, UBC’s Director of Intercultural Understanding Strategy Development, spoke of the importance of having conversations about race in the University setting. “I was asked what the connection is between intercultural understanding and racism. I’d like to answer that racism is a barrier, not just to intercultural understanding, but to all of the commitments of Place and Promise. Racism in many ways is the opposite to intercultural understanding.”
Linc Kesler, Director of the First Nations House of Learning opened the event with his keynote address on “Systemic Racism, Systemic Address.” As Senior Advisor to the President on Aboriginal Affairs, Professor Kesler spoke about the many ways that racism is present in University culture, and how racism can impact students and faculty when it is left unaddressed.
As an example of the burden that racism can have on students, Kesler presented a short video clip from What I Learned in Class Today produced by undergraduate students in the First Nations Studies Program. In the video several students relate their experiences with racism in the classroom. Kesler said “we like to think of the University as a neutral playing field. But these students show us that it is not a fair environment and that these circumstances affect them. It is our role to provide support and training to deal with and discuss these issues and events when they happen.”
Kesler related several personal stories about experiencing racism in his life, including during childhood visits to his Mother’s family on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota and as a young man growing up in the 1950’s in racially segregated Chicago. In concluding his speech Kesler advised the audience “We must think about the ways in which our thinking needs to be reconstituted and reflect real circumstances. We must keep our eyes open.”
In the discussion moderated by Alden Habacon, the four panelists began by discussing their experience with the phrase “I’m not racist, but…“ at UBC. Vanessa de Oliveira Andreotti, Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Studies spoke about how we should not think about racism as an event that happens to us but as a part of the system. “When an organization says ‘we stamped out racism’ it is still there systemically. And often the people who raise the issue become the problem,” said de Oliveira Andreotti. “When racism is seen as an opinion, wrong knowledge or something to be corrected it personalizes it and puts the onus on the individual to make change when it is actually a systemic issue. “
Shirley Nakata, UBC’s first Ombudsperson for Students, discussed the equity and diversity structural review at UBC and how students and faculty experience institutional racism. On the faculty side, Nakata said there were concerns that institutional racism could affect promotion or the pursuit of scholarly activities. On the student side there was a concern that the attempt to treat everyone equally was actually serving to erase difference when students actually wanted their differences to be valued. “Racism is in the environment and we are all responsible for improving the environment,” said Nakata.
Annette Henry, Professor, Department of Language and Literacy Education, and GRSJ Institute Faculty Associate said that systematic racism is a part of university culture. “What we can learn and whose knowledge is shared, the curriculum continues to be white. Students lose out.” Henry is surprised at the erasure of race at UBC. “We are good at talking about gender, sexuality, aboriginality (even though its often met with silence) but we need to become more literate with aspects of race.”
Gordon Christie, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law and Director of the Indigenous Legal Studies Program stated that the law is essentially racist but that UBC could be part of changing perspectives with the mandatory first year course in constitutional law which discusses aboriginal law and treaty rights. “This curriculum change, 10 or 20 years from now will have significant affect over lawyers and judges (2/3 of whom graduate from UBC Faculty of Law),” said Christie.
At the conclusion of the panel discussion Mike Dangeli, a drummer, dancer and singer from the Nisga’a Nation responded to the panelists and “claimed victory” on the discussion. He drummed and sang a rousing victory song that energized the crowd for the afternoon’s workshops.
Following the panel discussion participants had a choice of several workshops. Starting off the workshops was John Paul Catungal, Killam Honourary Postdoctoral Research Fellow and SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice who presented on the limits of “I don’t see race” discourse using examples from the fields of education, health promotion and social services. Catungal drew from his research on AIDS organizations founded by ethno-cultural groups especially for their own communities.
Linda McKnight, Director, Human Resources Advisory Services and Mark Trowell, Senior Manager, Faculty Relations presented a workshop on how staff and faculty can help create a respectful and inclusive workplace free from bullying and harassment. Monica Kay, Director of Conflict Management at the Equity and Inclusion Office led a discussion on racism in the workplace and the interpersonal conditions that contribute to racism and how we can bring about change. Carmen Lavoie, Equity and Inclusion Office Educator led a workshop on the role of institutions in perpetuating racism and how individuals can bring about change.
Both campuses will continue this dialogue throughout the year and plan to make Rule Out Racism an annual event.