oppression, equity and politics

Hey U of T. It’s been a busy week hasn’t it. I, for one cannot wait until this week is over and I can enter the eternal hibernation Arts and Science students call “reading week”.  At the end of this week, you all should take a break and eat a cake or something. Who cares about “caloric value” when you got midterms people. But, seriously solidarity to all of my students out there in the struggle this week. Show that midterm who’s boss. And go easy on the coffee.

So earlier this week, fulfilling my civic duty as a student, I attended the UTSU’s Special General Meeting – I’ll spare you the details. While there were a few instances of student politics as usual, nonetheless it was a productive meeting, lots of good motions passed including one propose by my friend and fellow blogger, Shak to endorse the Idle No More movement. When I finally got home that night and surfed the internet – I came across a comment on an UTSU page that I will not dignify with a quotation. Needless to say, it was quite racist and demeaning to people of First Nations’ heritage.  Whether you support the Idle No More movement or not – there is no room for racism on our campus.

That unfortunate message got me thinking about oppression on our campus. Before I go on, I’d like to say that U of T is a very open, diverse and welcoming campus and the people here for the most part espouse the ideals of equity. That being said, things aren’t perfect and it’s time we had an open and frank conversation on how we can move forward.  In the two years that I have been on this campus, I have heard stories of Aboriginal students having their heritage questioned, of Muslim students that don the hijab being asked if they are “oppressed” and have seen mature students get far too many glares sent their way in class.  I have heard students make fun of their peers that hold part time jobs and far too many students subject to the stigma and stereotypes that come with being diagnosed with a mental health issue, and I have heard some of these comments be justified under the guise of “being politically incorrect”.  We have to realize that our words have weight and that if they publicly offend a lot of people, then we’ve probably gone too far.

We as students need to come together and truthfully, usually we do. However, when equity issues enter the realm of student politics – that is when things get complicated.  Accusations of racism and counter accusations of falsification are thrown around.  I have seen students’ mental health issues dismissed due to the position they were holding and the issue of equity becoming a touchy political football.   I urge my fellow students, no matter what divide you are on when it comes to student politics to view equity as a problem that is higher than politics. Something that we can all come together to tackle. Next time, regardless of the context it arises from, when an equity issue comes to the forefront of campus discussion – I hope we can have a frank and honest conversation about it. Rather than jumping to conclusions about the political implications behind a story of oppression, we owe it to the person who has been oppressed to honestly discuss what has taken place and move forward.

If you are facing an equity issue, be it in the lecture theatre, in your residence or in a common room there are many outlets to which you can turn – see the list below.

U of T Human Resources and Equity.
U of T Anti Racism and Cultural Diversity Office.
And more resources can be found here. 

Have a good week U of T!

–       Abdullah

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