By Margi Ende
Adjusting to Canadian culture hasn’t been easy for Ryerson international student Mais Kawar. She feels every aspect of the culture is different from her native Jordan.
“I stay in my room a lot,” she said. “People from residence look at me like I’m a loser when I say I don’t really like going out drinking.”
A study by the Canadian Council on Social Development shows most young newcomers feel the way Kawar does. The study, released in June, found that a majority of immigrants between the ages of 15 and 24 experience a traumatic adjustment because of their language and skin colour, and as a result end up with few places to turn to.
Young immigrants surveyed in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver said they think police and teachers are particularly racist. The immigrants said teachers often singled out certain students because of their ethnicity.
“If a white kid does something and I do the same, there is no question that I’m going to get into worse trouble,” one immigrant surveyed said. “In fact, teachers don’t even bother with me. I go to the principal’s office for the slightest offence.”
Kawar said she’s faced some unnerving moments in her Ryerson classes. “My teacher was talking about how well students concentrate in class and she said that Canadian students concentrate very well and don’t talk during class,” Kawar recalled. “She didn’t even consider that there were four international students in there. I felt so humiliated.”
The study found that while most students said they encountered racism and discrimination, few told their school’s guidance counsellors about their problems.
“It seems that as with teachers, police and school administrators, guidance counsellors are viewed as somewhat untrustworthy and perceived to be part of a system to monitor and control young people, not help them,” the report said.
Ann Whiteside, officer of discrimination and harassment prevention services at Ryerson, says just one case concerning race has been mediated by the office since she started in May.
“Students probably feel they experience issues [such as racism] at Ryerson, however, they haven’t been bringing those concerns forward,” Whiteside said.
She believes students often don’t report incidents of racism because they’re embarrassed or prefer to deal with them privately.”
Shahida Smith, an international student from Barbados, says she’s experienced discrimination on campus, although it’s subtle.
“When my friend [who is also black] and I walk in the stairways of Jorgenson, people walk really closely to the other side of the stairs,” said Smith, a first-year information technology management student.
Ryerson’s 391 international students can receive support and services from the school’s International Services for Students and campus cultural groups. Smith says developing a friendship with someone of the same ethnicity has helped her feel more comfortable in her time here.