On March 28, McGill University followed Harvard and Oxford in a campaign for the inclusion of racial minorities. The experiences that these students are sharing to raise awareness are not direct barriers to success, which they show they are more than capable of achieving, but barriers to feeling valued and included. One student of the Harvard campaign said, “I go to Harvard, but I don’t really feel of Harvard.”
The type of attitudes that these students face have been termed as “racial micro-aggressions” but there doesn’t seem to be anything micro about it. The comments toward racialized students of this campaign may often be unconscious messages, but regardless of intention, they have impacts.
At McGill, the photo series is just as powerful as those that precede it. The intro to the photos reads:
We denounce the conscious and unconscious micro-aggression that often silences our voices, devalues our contributions, and questions our presence at this elite institution of higher learning. This is a direct plea to Canadian elite educational institutions to take the frustrations and demands of visibly non-white students at these institutions seriously, by making the necessary structural changes to empower us to continue to strive for excellence.
An article by Cheryl Thompson in ViveleCanada.ca discusses how statistics, surveys and research about racism continually show the same results but fail to raise awareness or stir any change. Thompson writes that those perpetuating racism are still not fully aware that they are doing so. Campaigns like these are a great way to open up the necessary discussion around types of racism that many people are unaware they are a part of.
Allyson Hobbs wrote that after seeing the Harvard campaign she felt that her experience at Harvard had a more positive, despite graduating in 1997. She proposes that perhaps the wider presence of clubs, like the Black Student Association, provided safe spaces to feel welcomed and be able to “experience racism without internalizing it.”
The means of accepting and welcoming diversity need to evolve with the changes in society. The spread of this campaign to students of different cultural backgrounds across campuses in the U.S. and Canada shows that it is a widespread problem in need of address. It also opens up a new avenue to showcase the conscious or unconscious racism that exists in society and goes unnoticed.
The interim dean of Harvard, Donald Pfister responded: “‘I, Too, Am Harvard’ makes clear that our conversation about community does not and should not stop.”
McGill has yet to respond to the campaign, but with such powerful messages hopefully it will foster the same awareness as at Harvard.