Racism in post-secondary institutions an obstacle faced by Black students

By Murphy Browne Thursday April 24 2014 in Opinion
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By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)


Mastering their thoughts and forgetting our own

and we wonder why we always feel alone,

from the media to academia hanging brothers like coats

and in their schools.

I always take two sets of notes,

one set to ace the test and one set I call the truth,

and when I find historical contradictions

I used the first set as proof-

proof that black youths’

mind are being polluted, convoluted,

diluted, not culturally rooted.


Excerpt from the poem “Two Sets of Notes” published in the book It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop: The Rise of the Post-Hip-Hop Generation, by M.K. Asante Jr.

 

We are approaching the time of year when the weather is warmer, we can put our winter and spring coats in storage and for many students in post-secondary institutions, the text books and notebooks are also being packed away.

 

It is that time of year when final exams have been done, marked and students know whether or not they have passed or failed a course. By the end of April, every student in a Canadian post-secondary institution would have written the final exam for the 2013-2014 academic year. Meanwhile, many 17- and 18-year-olds are preparing to enter post-secondary institutions in September.

 

There are also “mature students” (anyone over 21 years old) returning to post-secondary education or entering for the first time. People strive for/pursue higher learning/post-secondary education for various reasons. For some, it is expected/family traditions, while for others, it is a means to qualify for better job prospects.

 

The experts tell us that: “Education leads to numerous benefits for the individual, for business, and for government. The expected returns on an investment in education take the form of higher earnings for the individual, increased productivity for business, higher taxes for government, and an improved standard of living for society as a whole. Canada has one of the highest rates of postsecondary-education completion in the world.”

 

A study done by a unit of the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) states that: “According to the 2006 census, six out of every 10 adults between 25 and 64 years of age had completed some form of postsecondary education. In 2005–06, more than one million students were enrolled in universities in Canada, a record-high enrolment rate. Statistics Canada reported about 781,300 full-time and 266,400 part-time students, with 64 per cent of them between the ages of 18 and 24. In 2004–05, there were more than 514,266 full-time students at public colleges and institutes. Participation in post-secondary education has grown significantly in recent years, driven more by increasing educational demands in the labour market than by population growth. Women continue to be the majority on both university and college campuses.”

 

What has not been addressed in any of these studies is the effect that racism in post-secondary institutions has on the educational experience of racialized students studying in those institutions. Since the development of critical thinking skills is an expectation of post-secondary education it stands to reason that racialized students would have to deal with significant cognitive dissonance.

 

In his 2009 book It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop: The Rise of the Post-Hip-Hop Generation, African-American author M.K. Asante Jr. gives some advice in a poem entitled “Two Sets of Notes”. As an African-American in academia, this young man felt that his survival depended on taking two sets of notes to deal with the cognitive dissonance of being a conscious African-American.

 

Asante reminds “students of colour” that it is imperative that they take two sets of notes if they wish to gain a clear and healthy understanding of the world, because: “We must understand that as James Baldwin told his students, ‘American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful and more terrible than anyone has said about it.’”

 

African-American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet and social critic, James Arthur Baldwin, who lived from August 2, 1924 to December 1, 1987, is credited with the quote: “To be Black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.”

 

This truth is also a daily reality for many African Canadian post-secondary students. I have experienced and had conversations with African Canadian students who have suffered from subtle and blatant racism while pursuing post-secondary education. Racialized students need strategies to cope with the seemingly clueless professor whose White skin privilege blinds him/her to the White supremacist “throw away” or “off-hand” remarks or to the images presented for class viewing.

 

I was surprised to find a book that was published in 2009 that documents the experiences of racialized staff and students at Canadian universities. Edited by White Canadian authors/professors Frances Henry and Carol Tator, the book Racism in the Canadian University: Demanding Social Justice, Inclusion, and Equity includes six chapters written by racialized faculty at Canadian universities.

 

One chapter contained the experiences of racialized students in post-secondary education (written by Ryerson University professor Camille Hernandez-Ramdwar) and that chapter resonated because the students were either born in the Caribbean or were born in Canada to parents from the Caribbean.

 

Of course not every racialized student is conscious enough to realize the subtle variations of White supremacist rhetoric during their post-secondary study. Professor Hernandez-Ramdwar writes: “As a professor of undergraduate students, and one who teaches on issues of racism, I have noticed that many students who come into my classroom are unaware of the entrenched levels of racism operating within society and the university, as well the insidious way in which racism operates.”

 

While it is desirable to procure post-secondary credentials to at least have the opportunity to access better paying jobs, racialized students need the knowledge and skills to cope with the White supremacist attitudes that exist in academia. Be prepared as you enter the hallowed halls within the ivory towers of post-secondary institutions.

 

During the Spring/Summer hiatus read at least one book on the subject to be prepared and not suffer culture shock. This is a description of the book Racism in the Canadian University: Demanding Social Justice, Inclusion, and Equity that appears on the Amazon website:


“The mission statements and recruitment campaigns for modern Canadian universities promote diverse and enlightened communities. Racism in the Canadian University questions this idea by examining the ways in which the institutional culture of the academy privileges Whiteness and Anglo-Eurocentric ways of knowing. Often denied and dismissed in practice as well as policy, the various forms of racism still persist in the academy. This collection, informed by critical theory, personal experience, and empirical research, scrutinizes both historical and contemporary manifestations of racism in Canadian academic institutions, finding in these communities a deep rift between how racism is imagined and how it is lived. With equal emphasis on scholarship and personal perspectives, Racism in the Canadian University is an important look at how racial minority faculty and students continue to engage in a daily struggle for safe, inclusive spaces in classrooms and among peers, colleagues, and administrators.”

 

Being aware and prepared to cope with the White supremacist attitudes, course materials etc., of post-secondary study might mean the difference between dropping out or gaining that diploma/degree.


tiakoma@hotmail.com

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