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Report says universities, colleges need to address racism on campus

TORONTO - A white student painting his face black during a class presentation is one example used in a new report compiling students' stories of both covert and flagrant instances of racism on Ontario university and college campuses.

TORONTO - A white student painting his face black during a class presentation is one example used in a new report compiling students' stories of both covert and flagrant instances of racism on Ontario university and college campuses.

The Canadian Federation of Students, Ontario released the report Monday, which highlights issues involving racism in campus life, in hiring and curriculum and university policy and governance.

A task force investigated racism on campuses by holding 17 hearings on 14 campuses and gathered the anecdotal findings.

For Zahran Khan, a fourth year York University student who contributed to the hearings, the racism he said he experienced during a South Asian studies class was subtle but still stung.

"The professor started the first class by saying, 'I understand many of you will be ESL (English as a second language) students,"' Khan said in an interview. Khan said he was astounded by the comment from his white professor, considering most people in the class were Canadian-born, English-speaking students.

"I don't think there was anyone there in the entire class that was an ESL student."

The report found many examples of intentional and unintentional forms of racism in universities and colleges. In the hearings, the federation discovered incidents of racism in a classroom were, in many cases, not addressed by the professor.

In one example, a University of Windsor student said a classmate presenting on a person's experience of being deported was applauded for his work.

"He came in with black paint on his face, an outfit and spoke with a fake Jamaican accent and he kept saying 'yo yo yo,' " a student told the task force.

Students told the task force that so-called multicultural events often entrenched cultural stereotypes, and said student media did not reflect the diverse campus life.

The report also said curriculum could be ethnocentric.

"Our curriculum hasn't changed in the past 40 years," said Hamid Osman, of the federation.

Shantae Johns, a third year nursing student at Ryerson University in Toronto, said she experienced this while learning about the history of her profession.

"Most of the founders of nursing they mention are of the dominant class, but really and truly if you go back into the literature you find Indian women who've contributed to nursing," said Johns.

Osman said there are many ways for institutions to address these inequities.

"There's no anti-oppression training for our faculty, for our staff, for our president dons, for our security," said Osman. "One way to help fight against racism is to have this training."

Among a slew of recommendations to university and colleges, the federation suggested changing curriculum, making the human rights offices at universities more open and independent, creating "safe spaces" in dorms, and maintaining a representation of a diverse faculty.

The report is not a formal research study.

"There's no way you can get hard numbers on racism because the reporting mechanisms that currently exist are not inclusive," Osman argued.

While many universities and colleges did not offer an immediate response to the report, an official from Laurentian University in Sudbury said he hopes it's not reflective of the school.

"It presents a view of university campuses and I hope not one that is a pervasive view, or one that is a pervasive experience of students," said Chris Mercer, the chief of staff at the university.

Mercer said professors have academic freedom to design the curriculum, but he said the school has a policy of a respectful learning and workplace environment. He also said there is a human rights office if a student has a complaint.