Editorial: How to call out your professors and course content

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By Tyler Griffin

In my four years of taking classes at Ryerson, I’ve always stayed quiet. When my classmates have said they “don’t see race,” or when my old white professors tried to explain my lived experiences to me—I’ve always stayed quiet.

Sometimes I stayed quiet because I was too shy to speak in an auditorium full of students. Sometimes it was because I didn’t feel equipped to confidently provide a rebuttal. Sometimes it was just out of plain old apathy. And other times, I was just too fucking tired. 

But after years, I’m done feeling isolated and uncomfortable in my classes. I’m done having my lived experience taught to me for the sake of checking off a diversity box. I’m done staying quiet.

My experience is a shared one among many Rye students. I’ve had many talks with friends who have suffered through classes “taught” by instructors who deliver hateful, stereotypical, racist, ableist, sexist and other ignorant rhetoric or course material. But it isn’t always that easy to spot. Even more often, professors regurgitate outdated or surface-level conversations surrounding mental health, diversity in the workplace and more issues that students face on the daily.

Every time, it’s exhausting, frustrating and downright humiliating. But you don’t have to sit back and let it happen—even though you’ll probably want to.

Since I’ve started as Arts & Culture editor at The Eye, I’ve poked my nose into a few places I shouldn’t have and talked to a fair share of students about these experiences. It’s armed me with the confidence to speak out in class. If you’ve ever been in a similar situation or felt isolated in the classroom by the material or your instructor’s speech, here are some tips I’ve picked up to help you call it when you see it: 

Stand tall, you’re not alone

Having to speak out against authority figures can feel lonely, especially when your peers stay silent. But you’re not alone—there’s probably tons of other students who are thinking the same thing you are, or don’t realize that they’re thinking it. Besides that, you’re speaking for yourself and for others without a voice. Stand straight, broaden your shoulders while speaking and if you need it, have something in your hand that you can squeeze like a pen or stress ball. It’s kind of like that corny quote: “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” 

Prepare what you’re going to say

Write out a few bullet points that you want to mention beforehand. It’s a good thing to have on hand if you forget what you’re trying to say, and even if you don’t, writing them out helps with memory retention (which will help you sound confident).

Look to friends and peers

It’s been so validating for me to have friends and peers who have gone through similar experiences to vent to about these problems. It’s especially valuable for moments when you feel isolated in huge classes, with no one to back you up or roll your eyes with. Be there in return for these friends—instead of over-analyzing just one experience, look at the bigger picture. You can also band together to organize an alternative education to counteract the one you’re receiving I co-started a student group called Ryerson Journalists of Colour for this exact reason.

Keep your receipts

No matter what, document your instructor’s behaviour or the course content you’re having a problem with (dates and times included). If you have friends in the class or know other students having similar problems, ask them to do the same. The more students and examples you have, the better case you’ll be able to make if you need to bring it to the administration.

Calling in or calling out

You can choose to act in the moment or later on. You can discuss the problem with your instructor privately during a break or after class, or say it in front of the class if you feel safer that way. Alternatively, you can choose to challenge the instructor, content or situation formally within the system. Bring it to your program administrators, or switch classes entirely if you need to. It’s also totally valid to sit through the classes without raising your hand or making complaints—just get your credit and leave it in the past.

Talk to equity groups, course unions

On the second floor of the Student Campus Centre (to the left of The Eye office) are the offices of six Equity Service Centres, who advocate on behalf of students and their rights. There’s The Centre for Women & Trans People, The Good Food Centre, Racialised Students’ Collective, RyeACCESS, RyePride and the Trans Collective. There’s also The Centre for Safer Sex and Sexual Violence, the seventh one, located in the basement (SCCB-03). If your situation falls under their umbrella, connect with them for resources and support. You can also reach out to the Ryerson Students’ Union or your specific course union. It’s their job to hear your concerns and support you through the process of making a complaint.

Be gentle with yourself

Above all, treat yourself with kindness throughout this difficult situation. Remember what you’re doing matters to a lot of people, but what matters most is you. Even if you choose to do nothing, you can speak out after the semester is over when you don’t have to deal with your instructor. Or write them a scathing course evaluation. The power is all in your hands, my friends.

Correction: a previous version of this article stated that there are only six Equity Service Centres, and omitted The Centre for Safer Sex and Sexual Violence Support. The Eyeopener regrets this error.

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