Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

StFX students, faculty add their voice to national conversation on anti-Asian racism in higher education

December 1st, 2021
Students Tiffany Bondoc and Molly Burke along with Dr. Derrick Lee of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and the Coordinator, Interdisciplinary Health Program all participated in the recent virtual National Forum on Anti-Asian Racism: Building Solidarities in Higher Education. 

Two StFX students and a faculty member have added their voices to the national conversation around anti-Asian racism in higher education. 

Students Tiffany Bondoc and Molly Burke along with Dr. Derrick Lee of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and the Coordinator, Interdisciplinary Health Program all participated in the recent virtual National Forum on Anti-Asian Racism: Building Solidarities in Higher Education. 

They say it was an important conversation, and one needed to help bring about change. 

Ms. Bondoc, a fourth year health honours student from Toronto, ON, participated in a panel that discussed the fact that conversations around gender identity and sexual orientation have long been ignored in Asian communities. Further, she says, the panel helped shed light on the experiences of Asian LGBTQ2S+ identities and the role that Canadian universities can play in fostering safe spaces for Queer students, faculty, and staff.

POSITIVE CHANGE 

Ms. Bondoc says the opportunity to participate in the forum came up through her role as Equity Representative with the StFX Students’ Union. 

“I sit on an equity committee where members of equity-deserving groups are able to voice their concerns, as well as recommend ideas for positive change. In these meetings, I reflected back on my own experience here at StFX and talked about some of the challenges involving the Asian student experience. Meredith Cudmore-Keating, the Vice President Academic of the Students’ Union, took note, and coincidentally, received an email the following day from X University (formerly known as Ryerson University), which detailed their search for BIPOC students to assist in the organization of the National Forum on Anti-Asian Racism. Through this, I volunteered as a student panelist, and recruited Dr. Derrick Lee and Molly Burke for their respective efforts at StFX.”

She says the forum’s goal was to bring together students, staff, faculty and academic leaders, as well as community partners, to engage in a timely, open dialogue about anti-Asian racism in Canada’s post-secondary education sector.

The forum, she says, acted as a safe space to learn about the challenges and lived experiences of anti-Asian racism, as well as deepen the collective understanding of the subtle and overt ways that systemic racism shapes higher education in Canada, and connect and amplify voices from different communities to create the change needed.

She says it was nerve-wracking having to be vulnerable and speak your truths, especially at a conference as large as the NFAAR. “However, I think that having a round table discussion with individuals who shared similar lived experiences as me was extremely validating, and brought me an unexpected sense of peace that I hadn’t felt in a very long time.

“By participating in such a forum, I was able to explore queer and Asian history for the first time, as well as illuminate the role that colonization, systemic racism and the institutional policing of gender and sexual orientation play in the lived experiences of the queer and Asian communities today. In doing so, I recognized the strength and resilience of my people, fostering my pride as a non-binary, pansexual-identifying Filipina-Iraqi student.”

She says many students, including herself, have faced double oppression in higher education institutions due to stigmas around queerness and Asian-ness. It’s important to create an open dialogue with people of shared lived experiences, she says, as they are not talked about enough. “By lending my voice to this discussion, I hoped to increase the visibility of Asian Queers, and empower those within and outside of my communities to advocate for the rights that Asian Queers deserve.”

ONCE IN A LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY

Ms. Burke, a third year sociology student from Fredericton, NB and Indigenous Representative on the Students’ Union, sat on a panel called "Racialized Representation in Student Governance and Leadership."

"Participating in the forum was one of the best learning experiences I have ever had,” she says. 

“To have an open and healthy conversation on what it is like to be a racialized student in governance is rare. To have that conversation with other racialized students in governance across Canada was a once in a lifetime opportunity. To hear their stories, thoughts, and hopes, as well as my own has made me realize that I am not alone in my experiences. Universities across Canada have intelligent, outspoken, and proud racialized students representing and pioneering for a better student life and education for all post-secondary students."

FACULTY REPRESENTATION 

Dr. Lee spoke on a panel entitled: Faculty Representation: University Recruitment, Retention and Promotion. 

This panel scrutinized the role university tenured faculty recruitment and promotion practices have in perpetuating anti-Asian and institutional racism within curriculum development, research funding and the student experience and discussed how diversity and tokenism impacts Asian and racialized faculty’s experiences within university institutions. 

“As an epidemiologist, the pandemic has shone the spotlight on many problems our world is facing when it comes to anti-vaxxing, vaccine hesitancy, and general lack of scientific literacy and understanding; however, the pandemic has led to another virus spreading across the world in the form of hate and fear towards Asians. Having terms like, “Chinese flu” and “Wuhan virus” being spouted by the former U.S. President makes it hard not to attribute this type of rhetoric to the rise of anti-Asian racism and violence – in a report released by the Vancouver Police Department, anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 717 per cent from 2019 to 2020 [CTV]. Although my specific panel focused on faculty representation, talking about stereotypes and microaggressions towards Asians is part of a conversation that needs to happen,” Dr. Lee says. 

“Being told I speak English well is not a compliment and, although I teach statistics, the assumption that I am inherently good at math because of my ethnicity belittles the actual work put towards my doctorate. These types of prejudice can and will impact anybody, let alone faculty, and having this conversation is the first step to acknowledging the problem. Moreover, representation has a large impact on students, particularly racialized students, and being able to see faculty that “look like them” and being able to have mentors that understand their lived experience is an important part of having a safe and nurturing environment that can allow students to grow.”

Dr. Lee says he would describe the forum as a conversation starter focusing on understanding, highlighting, and addressing the impact of anti-Asian racism in post-secondary institutions in Canada. “When it comes to solutions, it’s obviously not a, one-size-fits-all approach, as rural universities like StFX can face different challenges than urban universities like UBC, but diversity brings about different views, ways of thinking, and approaches to problems that can help bring about the best learning experience for students.”

He says the panel discussion was engaging. “We dove into how the culture of the university and department, as well as the supports available, play a large role in helping faculty succeed, and how a lot of universities need to do more to support their faculty, regardless of ethnicity, that will, in turn, help better support the students of the university.”

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