On behalf of the Newcomer Students Association (NSA)—an Ontario-based provincial organization working at the intersection of migration, education, and social justice, and a platform committed to promoting inclusion and equity for post-secondary newcomer, immigrant, and refugee students—we support and endorse the open letter issued by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) on Dec 18, 2020. We endorse the criticism levelled in the OHRC statement and welcome the specific measures they recommend to protect the human rights of Black, Indigenous, and racialized students.
In this open letter that goes out to all Presidents and Principals of post-secondary educational institutions in Ontario, OHRC brings attention to media stories, social media posts, and communications received by them directly from students and student groups who have reported experiences of racism and fear, with an increase in acts that violate students’ human rights to access a safe educational environment. We at NSA, based on our relationships with the student community, have heard multiple accounts of students experiencing racism, discrimination, and xenophobia within Ontario post-secondary institutions. We have also learned about our student community’s frustration at the lack of institutional responses to these issues. These experiences are not new, but racism is ingrained in our society and institutions. It has surfaced more starkly during, and was exacerbated by, the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that the last few months of living with COVID-19, with reliance primarily on virtual platforms for learning and socializing, has led to racialized students feeling doubly isolated, marginalised and discriminated against. We acknowledge that sadly, there has been little recourse to much-needed institutional support to help students deal with the unique situations they are currently experiencing.
Notably, the OHRC letter highlights the serious nature of these concerns, pointing to the challenges experienced by racialized students as a sign of institutional failure. Such institutional failures have led to a lack of redressal of complaints in the absence of policy mechanisms to evaluate and prevent perpetration of future discriminatory acts. OHRC urges “directing minds” of universities to take positive action by instituting “transparent, accessible and formal structures to promote compliance with human rights law and principles, including comprehensive complaint mechanisms to foster a culture of human rights accountability.” While NSA is saddened by the racism and pervasive systemic challenges our racialized learning community is currently facing, we feel supported by the OHRC acknowledgement. We urge the academic community, all educational institutions, and other stakeholders to come together and take action to ensure that all learning and societal spaces are respectful, equitable, and free of any discrimination.
The Newcomer Students’ Association