Make Anti-Racism Education MANDATORY for uOttawa Teacher Candidates

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There is a huge problem with the Bachelor of Education program at the University of Ottawa. There is no course focused on anti-racism education - the only course that comes close is an elective course (that may or may not be offered in a particular year). 

As educators, we have a duty as individuals in positions of power to be properly educated on our own biases, privilege and how to not only be not racist, but actively anti-racist. It is irresponsible to assume that each person will do the reading/learning about racism in Canada (and how to be anti-racist) on their own time. We need checks and balances.

I have written a letter addressed to the Dean of the faculty, Richard Barwell. I have copied it below. Steps need to be taken to move towards a full semester, mandatory course in anti-racism at the University of Ottawa.

I hope this petition will be able to gain some traction in the coming weeks. I will be sending this letter to the Faculty regardless, but public support never hurt a cause and hopefully the more names we can get, the louder this message will be.


Dear Dean Barwell,

I am writing this letter in the hopes that it is one of many that you will be receiving from like-minded individuals over the course of the coming weeks. I have contemplated taking an action as formal as this before, but always found an excuse to defer it: work, social commitments, family commitments. Now, in the midst of a global pandemic and provincial shutdown, there is nothing to do but to think about the devastating events that have unfolded over the past several years; not only in the United States, but here in Canada as well. It has been incredibly difficult to sit with these emotions of anger, guilt, shame, frustration and sadness. I know that as a person who benefits from White skin privilege, I am only feeling a fraction of these emotions. I also know that I need to use the privilege that I have in the best way I can think of to try to make at least one small change in this world.

I attended the University of Ottawa for both my undergraduate degree (2011-2015) and my Bachelor of Education (2017-2019). I feel as though I have grown into the person I am today through both my successes and my failures and the relationships made at this institution. That is why I feel a need to address an issue that has weighed heavily on my mind since 2017, because I feel a sense of belonging to this community and its members, even after leaving the campus.

I believe there is a fundamental flaw in the Teacher Education program. As individuals who will be interacting with society's most impressionable, vulnerable, and valuable demographic I was shocked to find that there is no mandatory course on anti-racist education.

In my own experience of the program (Primary/Junior Division, ICI cohort), issues of race were only brought up in two courses (“Schooling and Society” and “First Nations, Inuit and Métis Education”) and occasionally it would be discussed in general teaching courses on Social Studies. Even when race was brought up, my classmates were clearly uncomfortable or defensive speaking about the issue(s).

The only other available options is an elective course (of which we in the P/J division only get one) called “Equity in Education”. Given the year (some courses are not offered as electives some sessions) and the capacity, some students may not be able to take this class. Bigger than that issue is the fact that it is not compulsory for all teacher candidates.

All educators will have students from wide ranges of cultural backgrounds. All educators will have to deal with instances of racism or difficult situations that revolve around race. “What is the N-word?” will inevitably come up in a teacher's career. And yet, we are not providing teacher candidates with the opportunity to deal with these situations in sensitive ways. How many teachers would simply ignore this question (ask your parents at home)? Or say: “it's a rude word you should never say”? When a child unpacks their lunch and another students comments on the smell, how many teachers might say, “his food is from another country so it smells different” or some well-meaning variation of that comment which reaffirms another culture's cuisine as the “other”; reasserting the Western version as the “norm”.

Once, a classmate of mine said (loosely quoted): “Racism isn't a thing in Canada. I don't look around my classroom and think, 'Oh there are the black kids, I'm going to assume they do worse and give them bad grades.'” This is the troubling reality of how many White Canadians view the situation in Canada. Not only is that statement “racism isn't a thing in Canada” untrue, but this classmate in particular completely ignored all other marginalized groups and their experiences. In Canada in particular, the marginalization of Indigenous individuals and communities is still an incredibly large issue.

Once, I overheard a teacher in a staff room say, “He's Indigenous but he's doing well in my class.” Why did the teacher feel the need to explicitly state that this student was Indigenous? Why did this teacher use the word “but”? This teacher knew that by saying the word Indigenous in this context, those listening would assume “bad student” so the word “but” is needed. This is a problem. The acceptance of this harmful stereotype is a problem. This type of language is a problem.

Racism has many forms. Many are forms of covert racism ingrained in the institutions of our societies, including our schools and schooling systems: what we include or do not include in the curriculum, the hidden curriculum, the language we use or do not use, and the subconscious biases we hold all exist in our classrooms. We cannot pretend we do not have them. Instead we must acknowledge them, unpack them and re-learn how to view society without this lens.

I understand that things take time. That change is difficult. And I understand that a large-scale change may by years away. However, I believe there are some steps we can take to improve our program and equip future teachers with the resources and mental toolkit they will need to navigate issues or race and racism in their classrooms.

I would first propose that a relevant PLC (Professional Learning Community) be created in consultation with experts in the field that provides teacher candidates with anti-racism education and resources, in addition to providing the time and space where candidates can discuss these issues together. This PLC would be mandatory for all teacher candidates at some point in their two year program. This step could easily be worked towards for this year with the help of the University's own professors and even student groups/organizations providing the framework and resources. Regrettably, one session will never be enough to address the complexities involved with being actively anti-racist, but something is better than nothing as an immediate and actionable starting point.

Ideally, I would like to see the University of Ottawa's Teacher Education program grow to include a full semester, compulsory course on anti-racism education, but I know that is a larger undertaking. However, it is an objective that should be on the radar of those in charge of the program and should be worked towards. I am happy to see that the University of Alberta's Dean Jennifer Tupper has already issued a statement committing herself to achieve this very goal as well as other anti-oppression initiatives within her department. If other institutions across Canada can make this commitment, so can the University of Ottawa.

I know it is easy to ask for something while others have the task thrust upon them, but the reality is, I do not hold the power required to make this change. All I can do is use my voice and demand the change. I hope my voice is enough.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I look forward to hearing about and (most importantly) seeing all the changes to come to our program.

Saya Takara