Politics department lacks POC, say Rye students

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By Samreen Maqsood and Madi Wong

Ryerson’s head of the department of politics did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication. This story will be updated with the department’s comment. 

Students of colour at Ryerson are disappointed over predominantly white professors teaching politics courses, citing a lack of representation and diversity within the department. 

Some current politics courses being taught by white professors include: people, power and politics, power and influence in Canadian politics and western political thought.

Students of colour like Tatyana Johnson, a second-year politics and governance student, are disappointed with not only the politics and governance department, but the university as a whole.

Johnson said in the program, there is a lot to learn about injustices such as racism, discrimination and marginalization. 

“It is important for people of colour to teach because it makes it personal when discussing topics that affect people of colour,” said Johnson, who is taking global governance, political statistics and western political thought courses. 

Ryerson’s 2018 Employee Self-ID Report was released in June 2019 by the office of the vice-president equity and community inclusion. It is aimed at providing information on the “recruitment, representation and retention” of women, racialized people, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and LGBTQ2IA+ people.

It states “there is a wide range of diversity within the racialized employees’ equity group, which draws attention to the ways in which different racialized groups in Canada experience disparate barriers to employment.” However, some students think otherwise.

“Ryerson is definitely diverse especially when compared to other universities in Ontario,” said Nardos Tedros, a second-year politics and governance student.  “But there is still a large white majority. With our large white population, this is going to reflect the profs who teach the courses.” 

Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi said the university’s 2019 Employee Self-ID Report is expected to be released at a March 3 Senate meeting. 

Learning from lived experiences

Tedros said it is disappointing to see limited Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) professors teaching the courses in politics, particularly because BIPOC students are “missing out on the opportunity to learn from profs who share similar experiences to us” as a result.

“Considering that I am a Black student who wishes to potentially work to support the Black community somehow in my future career, I cannot see myself fulfilling this without the implementation of some sort of Black history curriculum in my politics courses,” said Tedros. 

When discussing decolonization, there are many layers to cover. It can also be a sensitive topic as every Indigenous, Black and other marginalized population has a different set of lived experiences, Tedros added. 

“I believe white profs…can definitely be knowledgeable on the topic and teach it but it will never be understandable to the level of someone [who has experienced it],” she said. “When you are directly affected by it, it provides a whole different meaning.”

In addition to missing perspectives from those with lived experiences, students like Johnson said they believe the department whitewashes history and politics. 

“White political leaders or achievements are discussed, although people of colour have also contributed to Canada being what it is today,” said Johnson. 

“I can specifically recount topics on Indigenous people in Canada being watered down, mostly focusing on what white Canadians did to help [the] Indigenous.”

The Eyeopener reached out to professors in Ryerson’s politics department who are racialized to comment on the issue, but many did not respond to a request for an interview or declined to comment. 

Several students said that Indigenous topics are often not discussed in-depth.

For instance, Indigenous courses and teachings are often overlooked, even with promises made of Indigenizing the institutions’ curriculum. If the promise made by Kathleen Wynne in 2016 was kept about adding courses that teach about the legacy of residential schools, then academic institutions would have successfully implemented Indigenous topics in curriculum.     

“There needs to be a faculty-wide reform in which politics professors are given exposure on how to include racialization in their curriculum,” said Iman Hassan, a first-year social work student.

According to Hassan, one of her politics professors does a “mildly good job at incorporating the fact that Canadian history is white feminism and laced with the oppression of Indigenous people.” 

“We’re tired of learning about dead, white men and want to know more about the Indigenous people who were a part of combatting the ethnocentrism in Canadian political history,” said Hassan. 

But she wishes that Ryerson could “bring in Indigenous faculty and scholars and allow them to alter the curriculum based on their understanding of the oppression their ancestors faced.”

Last semester, Ryerson announced that the university hired eight new full-time tenured Indigeous faculty members. This came after the discussion of both Ryerson’s Truth and Reconciliation Community Consultation report and the Ryerson Students’ Union Canada 150 campaign’s demands—one of which was to hire more Indigenous staff. 

According to Ryerson’s Self-ID report data on Indigenous representation at the university, only one per cent of full-time faculty in the Faculty of Arts—which the politics department falls under—are Indigenous. It is not clear how many Indigenous politics professors there are at Ryerson. 

“[Indigenous faculty and scholars] should get a say in which iconic, historical, Indigenous figures we learn about and how white settlers destroyed the preexisting legal society of Indigenous peoples,” added Hassan.

Hiring racialized faculty

Ryerson’s Diversity Data for Racialized Employees states that from 2014 to 2018, the representation of racialized full-time faculty at Ryerson has only risen by two per cent. The data reveals there were 24 per cent of racialized full-time faculty in 2014 and 26 per cent in 2018. 

In addition, a separate data sheet reveals that in 2018, Ryerson’s Faculty of Arts—which the politics department falls under—had 22 per cent of their faculty members identify as being a part of a racialized group. 

The faculty with the least racialized full-time faculty in 2018 was Ryerson’s Faculty of Science. 

“If not already, the contributions and achievements of racialized people should be a part of the curriculum in all politics classes where it applies such as in my power and influence in Canadian politics classes,” said Malika Haider, a first-year professional communication student.

In addition to hiring more BIPOC professors, Zanele Chisholm, a second-year English student, said she hopes Ryerson can make space and allow for people to be able to teach their own history. “We are trying to rebalance power which has so often been shifted towards white people and men,” said Chisholm. 

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