Curriculums and classes: Where diversity falls short at Concordia

Concordia University’s Campus Service website claims they support diversity on campus, and that Concordia is “a large, urban university with a multicultural population.”

Yet, a CBC News investigation in March found that many Canadian universities don’t actually keep track of how students identify racially and most promote diversity without having actual numbers to support their claims. One of these universities is Concordia.

CBC asked 76 universities across Canada to breakdown their student populations by race and found that most couldn’t provide data about their student bodies’ racial backgrounds.

Concordia told CBC News that they don’t keep such data because, “in Quebec, this is not an option and it is considered illegal to ask.” CBC countered that argument saying that it is legal to gather “race-based” data in Quebec.

This brings up a larger problem at Concordia—diversity is promoted and celebrated, but is rarely seen within the university’s curriculums.

Collecting race-based data and truly understanding who is in your student body can help a university be more aware of student needs. Not knowing how many black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) students Concordia has is problematic, and this is made obvious by the lack of representation in course curriculums and departments.

In January, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) announced the creation of the BIPOC Committee, led by Sophia Sahrane, the CSU’s academic affairs and advocacy coordinator. The Committee was created to serve black, Indigenous and people of colour and their interests at the university.

Among its projects, this committee is attempting to highlight the institutionalized racism within Concordia and its curriculum. This doesn’t mean teachers are outright calling their BIPOC students racial slurs. This means course curriculums are often Eurocentric—they focus on white stories, by white people, for white people.

Take Concordia’s English department, for example. There are less than 10 courses that cater to people of colour, among them African-American Literature to 1900, South Asian Literature, First Nations/North American Literature and Literature of Ethnic America. It’s disconcerting to realize that almost every other class in the English department focuses on literature that is catered to white people.

These courses focus on subjects that only pertain to white culture/white history. Even worse, some of these “diverse” courses are taught by white professors instead of people from the communities they discuss. This isn’t okay—BIPOC should be teaching their own histories and cultures so students have a more concrete understanding of the subject, and more importantly, so BIPOC students feel represented.

It’s startling to realize most teachers at Concordia are white, especially given the university’s preachings about diversity. Universities shouldn’t simply aim to have a diverse student body—faculty and staff should be included as well.

We at The Concordian believe Concordia should make more of an effort to implement courses that cater to BIPOC students and that are taught by BIPOC professors. Indigenous history classes should be taught by those who identify as such; African American literature lectures should be led by black professors, not white. Students need to feel represented in a school that claims to support diversity. They need to read about their own histories and cultures by people from their communities.
This is also beneficial for white students, who can learn more about other cultures and histories. They can become more educated about topics that don’t directly concern them.

We believe that all students deserve to learn more than what they are familiar with, and to have their ideas and backgrounds represented fully in school. It is only then that we can hope to strive for a future filled with tolerance, acceptance and understanding.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

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