Ethnography of the University / Ethnography of the University: Focus on Diversity 2021 / Undergraduate Ethnography

Anti-Racism Workshops and Family Conversations, By Erica de Souza (Ethnography of the University 2021: Focus on Diversity)

This blog post was part of the coursework for the Ethnographic Practicum course, “Ethnography of the University 2021: Focus on Diversity.” It was originally posted in the category “Doing Diversity Work.”

Part of my research with the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office (ARCDO) was based on watching Youtube videos of their past sessions. There was one session that made me realize how vulnerable you have to be to really do diversity work beyond academics, or within just yourself. Systemic racism touches everyone’s lives and shatters families when it leads to violence. Children see it on the news in passing, but it shouldn’t be viewed passively or normalized. Having those conversations with your family can be awkward and difficult, and even highly trained academics have a hard time with it.

The session I viewed was called, “Talking about Racism at home,” and there were many U of T participants. I first perceived it as a training session in a more lecture format, but the amount of vulnerability was different because the facilitators opened up about their lives and their children as they sought to demonstrate the kinds of conversations needed at home. One facilitator with a biracial child explained the types of questions she fields, the aid from her community, as well as the racism and exoticism her family experience, 

As a very straight-haired mother, I get a lot of input from all communities around me…everybody has an opinion on hair. People feel like it’s quite appropriate to touch (my child’s) hair in the subway, at gatherings at school, in events where she’s been at where she’s representing her school. To make comment on her hair, to straighten her hair, to not straighten her hair. Am I using the right product?…all of which is just very interesting for us to navigate…” (ARCDO uToronto, June 12, 2020)

I had underestimated the depth of conversation that was going to occur at the workshop. I could no longer see diversity work from just a student and staff perspective. I was observing and seeing on a personal and collective level how racism affects families, and the emotions behind it. Many times facilitators paused to find the right words. It made me think of my own family and the conversations I was forced to have, because my family were not educating themselves. It was interpersonal, and the facilitators divulged from their own journeys was a great resource for those participating, probably wondering, “How do I have these conversations? What are the right words?” Limited understandings that separate staff and students were not useful. University members are community members, sharing similar stories, and trying to work together to articulate how they navigate systemic racism as parents. Whenever ARCDO communicates in their sessions that everyone is just a learner, I remember these conversations. 

ARCDO uToronto. 2020. “Talking about Racism at Home – ARCDO Webcast Recording.” YouTube video, 1:25:53 June 12, 2020.

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