At one point during my first year at the University of Toronto, a few groups on campus blocked the Hoskin Avenue and St. George Street intersection in front of Robarts Library to protest the lack of representation of Black and brown people in academic spaces. At the time, I didn’t understand why these individuals were aggravated.
My perspective shifted when I entered one of my International Relations courses in second year. During the course, the professors sanitized political narratives by strictly teaching from a Western European approach. I only saw Black, Eastern European, or Asian people represented when they were looking despondent with swollen bellies to show the casualties of Western European action and thought. At this point in my academic career, that protest became personal.
If the University of Toronto is training the leaders of tomorrow, what does a lack of adequate representation say about the future?
My greatest frustration is the blatant intellectual dishonesty. In more than half the classes I’ve taken thus far, alternative perspectives have not been explored. As a woman of colour, the irony of the university is that it claims to be inclusive while actively excluding perspectives of marginalized people.
In class, those who are not white are frequently portrayed as victims. Non-Western European experiences and philosophies become compressed into one diluted identity that betrays vital complexities.
The exploration of these perspectives in the departments of International Relations, Political Science, and others is missing. When I sit in my classrooms, I hear and read content that does not consider my experiences or way of life. I am required to regurgitate and innovate in a space that refuses to allow me to be myself. As a result of this tension, students can become weary and despondent. There needs to be active integration of diverse global and gendered perspectives in all classes. Professors can include African philosophers or Asian political perspectives along with the Western European thought. There is no single way to see the world, yet by excluding non-European thought, some ‘free-thinking’ professors have told me there is.
POWERPOSE is an ode to women of colour in academic spaces. In a university that tells us that our experiences do not matter, I want to showcase women fighting back. By taking up space, we are taking back our stories. Angela Davis once said that “Black women have had to develop a larger vision of our society than perhaps any other group. They have had to understand white men, white women, and Black men. And they have had to understand themselves. When Black women win victories, it is a boost for virtually every segment of society.”
To be a woman of colour in an academic space and a world that have not been created for you means making room where there is none.