Ontario journalism students demand curriculum changes to eliminate systemic racism

Published On June 17, 2020 | By ngonputh | News
Carleton University in Ottawa (Carleton University)
Students of the journalism programs at Carleton University in Ottawa and Ryerson University in Toronto have created online petitions urging their programs address issues of systemic discrimination against students identifying as Black, Indigenous and people of colour. (Courtesy: Carleton University)
Neil Gonputh

Journalism students at both Carleton University and Ryerson University have filed online petitions demanding change in their programs.

“Carleton University’s School of Journalism fails to support students who identify as Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC), perpetuating systemic discrimination and deterring them from pursuing careers as journalists,” said an online petition written by the group BIPOC Students and Alumni – Carleton University.

A petition was also launched by Ryerson University students, calling for curriculum changes.

Meanwhile, faculty, alumni and students with the Humber College Bachelor of Journalism degree program are developing a letter outlining commitments to listening and improving the program for all students.

Atong Ater, a graduate of Carleton’s Journalism program, recalls a classroom incident where a white classmate quoted court evidence and said the n-word three times in front of a teacher, which she described in a first-person report with the CBC last year.

She was surprised the student could say the word so easily without considering its effect on her and her classmates.

The petition is filled with pages of similar experiences of inequity and racism students have had to endure.

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But Ater remains hopeful and has begun to see signs of change, she said in the CBC report.

Susan Harada, the interim director of the School of Journalism at Carleton, and Allan Thompson, the incoming Associate Director of Carleton’s School of Journalism and Communication, issued an open letter in response to BIPOC’s petition.

“We have read — and endorse in principle — the Call to Action published on June 11 by a group of graduates and current students,” they said in a joint statement. “We have not done enough to ensure that those of you with diverse backgrounds feel welcome and heard in our classrooms.”

Some of the changes the school has committed to include redesigning its first-year introductory undergraduate courses to ensure they have a strong central focus on diversity and inclusion, and making it mandatory for all students to complete a course in Indigenous history.

“There seems to be a willingness by the school to change. However, there is a long road ahead and we will be holding the School to our calls to action,” BIPOC Students and Alumni said in an e-mail statement. More than 2,500 people have signed the petition so far.

Meanwhile, Breanna Xavier-Carter started a petition to implement a Black-Canadian Reporting course at the Ryerson University School of Journalism, which currently has more than 3,500 signatures.

The petition also calls for awards and scholarships tailored for the achievements of Black journalism students for their work in a multitude of journalism beats.

At Humber College, no petitions or documents have been filed, said Dan Rowe, the coordinator of the school’s Bachelor of Journalism degree based at Lakeshore campus.

But in his discussions with students and faculty, he said they are aware of the situation and these are issues that Humber needs to discuss.

Rowe said Humber is taking a proactive approach on the issue.

“The faculty who teach in the journalism degree program have been discussing this and are going to, hopefully within the next few days, send out a letter to current and past students that will let them know of the steps that we intend to take,” he said.

These steps are to be in consultation with students and alumni so that by working together they can make the program stronger and better, Rowe said

“We have a long way to go and a lot to do but hopefully we’re starting to take some steps in the right direction,” he said.

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