Despite how far we’ve progressed in creating diversity in Toronto’s education system, some say we still have a long way to go.
Toronto has consistently been rated as one of the most diverse cities in the world by the United Nations. However, more can be done in our education system, according to a recently set up task force to combat racism.
Otieno feels that while Toronto has achieved much over the years, there is still much to be do, which is why the Task Force on Campus Racism was created.
The website is part of a recent iniative to have hearings at Ontario universities and colleges where students can voice their experiences with racism on school grounds. So far, hearings have been had at Carleton University, University of Guelph, Humber College, as well as other schools.
“Compared to some other cities Toronto is doing pretty good, but there is still more work to do,” Otieno said. “I think everywhere needs more work…diversity education needs to take place both in and out of the classroom.”
Otieno says that one of the reasons barriers to equality still exist in the education system is because people are clinging to old modes of thought.
“One of the main problems holding us back is that many people are still stuck in an ancient mind state,” Otieno said. “It was working 100 years ago, but it’s not working now.”
One of the examples of this old style of thinking cited on www.noracism.ca is a medical text book that refers to African’s hair as thick and kinky and Asian’s hair as smooth and silky, which to some, is an example of Eurocentric teaching.
“They use white as the reference point and everyone else is pigeonholed or extra,” said Salvador, a student at Ryerson University.
To others in the education system, roadblocks will not be easily overcome. David Watkins, an African Studies teacher at Weston Collegiate Institute, says the entire education system needs to be revamped in order to appeal to minorities who do not feel included in the lessons they learn.
“When you’re dealing with a lot of black youth and some other marginalized youth, unless your culture is reflected in that education, you really don’t see it as relevant to you,” Watkins said.
To Watkins, marginalized youth feel disconnected from the education system because they do not see themselves in it.
“If you’re constantly looking at a mainstream projection, and you’re outside of that mainstream just because of circumstance, it’s going to be seen as foreign to you…it’s something you know, but not something you can really partake in.”
While Watkins and Otieno may have different viewpoints on why diversity in the education system is still in the development stages, they both agree that the only way to move forward is to get students actively involved.
“I think one of the ways it can be done successfully is to give an open seat for students to actually sit around that table where decisions are made,” Otieno said. “We need to give them a way to make them feel like they are part of the process, rather than a top down approach.”
Watkins too, feels that the government needs to get students from minority groups more engaged if diversity is to be embraced on a more universal level.
But many may be wondering, how can this be achieved?
According to Watkins, the first thing the provincial government needs to acknowledge is that the education system does not accurately reflect all backgrounds and cultures, and that marginalized groups must be accommodated for true diversity to be attained.
“I think they need to do more, they need to take more risks,” Watkins said. “Because one of the things is that when you’re taking a risk, you’re actually admitting that there are inequities, and a lot of people don’t want to admit that.”