Anti-racism forum

An Anti-racism Response Training workshop brought together a diverse group of University of Calgary students and non-students on Tue., Feb 6. The workshop’s focus was to help participants develop active responses to racism occurs.

U of C’s Exchange and Study Abroad Advisor, Alex Mowat, and coordinator of the off-campus organization (Reach Out Against Racism) Maryam Nabavi, co-facilitated the event, which took place during International Week. The art model, which presumes that witnesses of racism have the most power to stop it, is based on "witness-centered training" developed by University of British Columbia Professor Ishu Ishiyama. Both Nabavi and Mowat attended Ishiyama’s training session in Vancouver, b.c.

"Maryam and I met during the training a few months ago," said Mowat. "We had common interests and found areas we could cooperate on. First Maryam and I co-presented to the roar members and then we followed up with the International Centre’s volunteers. We believe in giving them skills to help them deal with people who walk in the door."

The training uses a variety of teaching methods, such as videos, role-playing and a forum to discuss personal experiences and reactions to discrimination. Participants were given cue cards offering possible responses to racism, from writing a letter to the local newspaper, to verbally addressing the offender of a racist incident. Participants were asked to determine the most appropriate response to described scenarios. The cue cards encouraged active responses toward offenders, co-witnesses and victims of a discriminatory situation. Since approaching the offender during a racist incident can sometimes be intimidating, one suggested getting other witnesses involved.

The card suggests saying: "I’m scared to speak out, but I don’t want to remain silent or walk away from the situation. Would you support me?"

Third year Social Work student and workshop participant Fifi Enyi thought many people could benefit from the training.

"I think this workshop should be a required component of every degree program at Canadian universities," she said.

During the training workshop participants discussed their own encounters with discriminatory incidents.

Karina Ramdath, Chairperson for World University Services of Canada, relayed how during a panel discussion, a man of Hungarian origin expressed negative comments about Canadian refugees.

"He came from a homogeneous society with the expectation that he would be part of another homogeneous society," said Ramdath. "There are some people in Canadian society that believe they have a monopoly over what it means to be Canadian."

Enyi addressed the misconception that refugees contribute to higher levels of crime in Canada. The Canadian Council for Refugees supports Enyi’s information. According to studies, immigrants are less likely to commit major crimes and are underrepresented in the prison population.

One U of C graduate student alleged at the forum the she experienced racism from members in the Archeology Department. In contrast, international student Gina Choi said her experience in Canada has so far been positive.

"I thought before coming to Canada that most Canadians were white," she said. "I lived here for a month and I felt Canada was very diverse, all living together. People are so friendly to strangers here." But Choi also wondered if she is in the midst of a "honeymoon" period, and that perhaps things might be different if she lives here longer.

"White guilt" is another topic that came up during the discussion. One participant said she felt a sense of frustration and inadequacy when her friends who are from visible minorities expressed mistrust and cynicism towards her motives.

Nabavi explained a common sentiment she hears is that Caucasians feel ashamed because of past societal actions. Nabavi’s response is proactive.

"You are only capable of doing what you can right now," she said.

"You can’t be responsible for the entire white race," agreed Enyi, who also stated that in order to build trust between people, actions speak louder than words.

Because of the positive feedback from the training sessions, and continuing indications of interest, Mowat and Nabavi plan to hold more workshops.

"One of the communications that went out over e-mail had a number of [university] staff respond with interest," said Mowat. "We will probably be doing a staff workshop in the spring,."

To learn more about Anti-racism Response Training can contact Alex Mowat at amowat_@ucalgary.ca, or Maryam Nabavi youth_roar@canada.com. Those who are interested can also drop by the International Centre located in MSC 275.



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