Conference explores the realities of racism in UBC context

The Complicity and Complexity: Realities of Racism conference was held at UBC earlier this week. Run by the UBC Equity and Inclusion Office, the conference brought together professors, graduates and undergraduates who presented and held discussions with the audience about systemic racism, particularly at UBC.

The keynote speaker was Annette Henry, a professor in the Faculty of Education. She discussed her experiences with racism at UBC as the only black female department head on campus from 2008-2013.

However, she was not only criticizing her department. “It could be your department. It could be medicine, business — it could be anything. I’m not interested in my department coming out looking like a bunch of terrible people, but I am interested in examining the ways in which institutional racism takes place,” she said.

She brought up stories of her experience, ranging from comments about her hair to feeling restrained from using her rightful powers as department head.

“It’s looking at all of these [stories] and saying, ‘We can do better than this.’ Yes, we’re a great institution, but I think we pat ourselves on the back an awful lot. I don’t think we’re as diverse as we should be.”

Similarly, four undergraduate students used their own narratives to frame their discussion on racism.

One of the students, Dominique Bautista, graduated from the Asian Canadian and Asian migration studies program (ACAM) in 2015. She spoke about the Japanese students who were removed from the university to be imprisoned in the Japanese internment camps during World War II.

“I’ve had a lot conversations within ACAM community and with students who are very like-minded in wanting to know more about Asian diasporas and marginalized voices. You go to events and you see a lot of the same faces, which is wonderful and it’s great to have community support,” said Bautista. “But it’s a greater discussion when you’re meeting new people … because it gets the conversation beyond your own nucleus. It’s engaging newer audiences who may not typically associate themselves with these kinds of conversations.”

The other undergraduate students presented and discussed their experiences and the history behind the Chinese-Canadian community and Pakistani identity.

“The very fact that the Equity Office had dedicated an entire week to the conversation about racism is something to applaud. The fact that the university is dedicating time and resources to create events to drawing attention to this issue is something to celebrate. But we also have to make sure that these aren’t just one-off conversations,” said Bautista.

“What are the legacies behind these kinds of events? Are there going to be continuous dialogues behind these issues? Is it beyond just one week, once a year?” Sustainability of the race discussion and providing consistent opportunities for them is also important, she said.