UBC cancels 'accent reduction' workshop for international students

UBC cancelled an “accent reduction workshop” for international co-op students following backlash.

On January 31, international students received an email from their respective co-op offices inviting them to register for a workshop titled “Effective Interview Speech Skills with Andy Krieger,” which was to focus on accent reduction.

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“I was supremely uncomfortable with where that email went because it began with interview speech skills … they’re going to teach us how to speak confidently, or you know, be more concise,” said second-year arts student Arshiya Malik.

“But I scrolled down and [saw] who was taking it … basically it’s like [an] accent reduction workshop and not anything to do with interview speech skills.”

In his bio attached in the email, Kreiger seemed to specify that his main work was to help people with “Accent Reduction,” which was capitalized.

Julie Walchi, executive director in Work Integrated and Career Initiatives of the faculty of arts, said in an emailed statement that the workshop was to help with “professional development.”

“[It] was to provide professional development that would be supportive of our students and [to] respond to feedback from some international students in our program who shared that they were anxious about having to do interviews to land co-op jobs,” Walchi wrote.

The workshop was cancelled the same day, but the school stopped short of apologizing to students.

“I expected an apology which we didn’t get,” said Malik. “But I was very glad it was cancelled because at least they realized something was wrong.”

Walchi reiterated that the reference to accent reduction was made “in error” in the speaker’s self-written bio. She added that “Arts Co-op is currently investigating the potential for a broader approach to interview skill workshops that includes all students and will effectively meet their needs.”

“... I don’t think that they’re completely misguided overall, it’s just that that workshop was misdirected,” said Malik.

“I don’t think they’ve dug deep enough to think about how they want to shape us … they’re doing certain things that you’re supposed to do but they haven’t figured out what the ideal is.”