Univer­sity with­out di­ver­sity

A lack of di­verse cul­tures on cam­pus is a prob­lem for schools and stu­dents.

The Coast - - ON CAMPUS - BY KAILA JEFFERD-MOORE

When

Dorsa Es­lami first walked onto the Univer­sity of King’s Col­lege cam­pus with her mother three years ago, she im­me­di­ately rec­og­nized the lack of di­ver­sity.

“I haven’t had very many pro­fes­sors of colour. We don’t have that many pro­fes­sors of colour, I don’t think,” Es­lami says.

The only non-white pro­fes­sor she’s en­coun­tered at King’s in her two years of study was a guest lec­ture by doc­u­men­tar­ian Sylvia Hamil­ton, who’s also a part-time in­struc­tor at the col­lege.

“I went from go­ing to an in­ter­na­tional school, where there were 64 na­tion­al­i­ties from all over the world, to some­where where I stick out like a sore thumb,” says Es­lami.

A na­tive Ira­nian who at­tended the Bri­tish School of Kuwait, Es­lami grew up im­mersed in her peers’ cul­ture and un­der­stood their in­di­vid­ual cus­toms. Sur­rounded by con­trast­ing and dif­fer­ing per­spec­tives that a va­ri­ety of peo­ple brought to the ta­ble was the norm.

“I guess I was used to that as a base­line,” says Es­lami.

While 18 per­cent of those reg­is­tered at Dal­housie are in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, the school— as one ex­am­ple—is far from di­verse. A 2015 re­port on from Dal­housie’s Com­mit­tee on Abo­rig­i­nal and Black/African Cana­dian Stu­dent Ac­cess and Re­ten­tion found that only two per­cent of the school’s 18,000 grad­u­ate and un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents self-iden­ti­fied as Indige­nous or Black—far be­low pop­u­la­tion num­bers across Canada.

Re­becca Thomas is stu­dent ser­vices ad­vi­sor and Indige­nous sup­port per­son at the Nova Sco­tia Com­mu­nity Col­lege’s water­front cam­pus, where she helps Indige­nous stu­dents and pro­vides con­nec­tion to a sense of com­mu­nity on cam­pus.

There are five African-Cana­dian ad­vi­sors and six Indige­nous ad­vi­sors across NSCC’s sev­eral cam­puses. Thomas, who’s also the city’s poet lau­re­ate, says she rec­og­nizes how the lack of di­ver­sity on the water­front cam­pus can im­pact stu­dents.

In­di­vid­u­als are of­ten put in the spot of be­ing the “ex­pert” on a very large com­mu­nity, or even a to­ken rep­re­sen­ta­tive of their en­tire eth­nic­ity.

“It’s iso­lat­ing for the stu­dents,” says Thomas. “If the topic of your spe­cific eth­nic­ity comes up, ev­ery­one turns around and looks at you.”

When Thomas at­tended Dal­housie Univer­sity in 2003, the Indige­nous Stu­dent Cen­tre had al­ready been es­tab­lished. It of­fered her a sense of be­long­ing be­yond the iso­la­tion else­where on cam­pus.

“It was a space to go to,” she says, “that pro­vided a com­mu­nity.”

Since mov­ing to Canada and at­tend­ing King’s with a more ho­moge­nous stu­dent pop­u­la­tion, Es­lami says she’s wit­nessed the draw­backs of a less di­verse com­mu­nity—such as com­pla­cent ig­no­rance or be­ing to­k­enized.

“I was one of three peo­ple in their ma­tric­u­la­tion video,” she says. “I do love my school and I just want them to be bet­ter. I think that ev­ery­one im­proves when there is a di­verse at­mos­phere, be­cause you just find out more of the world that you had no idea about. You have more viewpoints to con­sider.”

Es­lami says she of­ten finds her­self ex­plain­ing why some­thing is not OK to say, or why she thinks a cer­tain way. “Other peo­ple don’t have to jus­tify their ideas as much.”

A lack of di­ver­sity takes away from stu­dents’ over­all aca­demic ex­pe­ri­ence, says Es­lami. With­out a di­verse de­mo­graphic, points-ofview that don’t di­rectly im­pact you or your life can be over­looked.

“You don’t come into con­tact with peo­ple from dif­fer­ent walks of life or dif­fer­ent parts of the world,” she says. “I think it kind of cheats the school a lit­tle bit, from things that are ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing.”

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