The Race issue

The author identifies as Lebanese and is part of the small minority population that exists at King’s. The photos accompanying this piece feature Lianne Xiao, Julia-Simone Rutgers, Dorsa Eslami, Itai Kuwodza, and Chater, and are meant to serve as a parody to the over-recruitment of coloured individuals in King’s’ promotional material.

From left: Lianne Xiao, Julia-Simone Rutgers, Dorsa Eslami and Itai Kuwodza. (Photo: Kristen Thompson)

From left: Lianne Xiao, Julia-Simone Rutgers, Dorsa Eslami and Itai Kuwodza. (Photo: Kristen Thompson)

Lack of racial and class diversity has been a problem here at King’s for decades.

Evidence of this dates back to a piece the Watch did in October of 2001. The piece covers the inherent whiteness of King’s and the problems that can cause on campus.  But it appears that there hasn’t been much done in the way of creating a diversified campus since the piece’s publication.

While lack of diversity can easily be noticed by anyone who steps foot on King’s campus, only in recent years has administration began to take a step in the direction of diversifying the university. This includes the founding of the Enrolment Management Committee (EMC).

The EMC is made up of directors from King’s academic departments as well as the Registrar’s Office, including the committee’s chair and King’s Vice-President, Kim Kierans.

According to Kierans, the job of the committee is to give feedback to the Registrar’s Office about the way in which the school can achieve successful recruitment and retention strategies.

“We are the ideas people. What we do is we go into schools and give suggestions to schools that might have diverse students that would be interested in what we have to offer,” said Kierans.

In 2014, the EMC put forth a goal to address the apparent lack of racial diversity on King’s campus. In the Strategic Enrolment Management Plan, approved by school’s Board of Governors in June of that same year, the committee aimed to “increase the diversity of the student population to better reflect the diversity of Canadian society.”

In the plan, the committee acknowledges that “dependence on word-of-mouth recruitment” tends to yield students from “upper-middle-income North-Western-European backgrounds.”

In addition to several other targets, the committee seeks to address this challenge by approaching racially diverse high schools.  

Julie Green, the King’s registrar, said that the university has travelled to public and private schools inside and outside the Maritime provinces, but she did not provide a list of all the schools that King’s recruitment officers visit because she considers this “competitive information.”

While the committee acknowledges the need to branch out to more racially diverse schools, they also prioritize the need to stay afloat during the recent decline in overall student population.

In a Board of Governors meeting on June 23, 2016, Green said that “despite exhaustive efforts in traditional recruitment, enrolment targets for 2016-2017 have not been met.” She said that although King’s needs to change recruitment strategy, a “plan has been developed to direct the college’s recruitment efforts in schools where there has been success over the past four years.”

(Photo: Kristen Thompson)

(Photo: Kristen Thompson)

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Efforts Made by Administration to Fight the Race Issue

In 2014 the EMC recommended the formation of a working group that would allow for support of visible minorities on campus and solutions for further recruitment.

However, according to both Julie Green and Kim Kierans, such a working group does not exist.

According to Kierans, it was never formed because there wasn’t a registrar available at the time. Green said that the group never formed because those duties are already being filled by the EMC.

“We said we want to do this. But we haven’t done it in any kind of way that is substantial,” Kierans said.

Kierans also said that the committee seeks ways to increase scholarships, volunteers to give lectures to high schoolers, and writes letters to prospective students. In addition to recruitment strategies, she said that the committee liaises with the Black Student Advising Centre and the Transition Year Program at Dalhousie.

“It’s never enough. And we could be doing so much more,” she said. “I think that we need to have more staff and faculty who are diverse. From there, you can start identifying what needs to be done. In order to have a more diverse student population we need critical mass. I’m sure it can be very lonely here if you are the only person of colour in your class.”

For Kierans, the solution starts in Nova Scotia by building local relationships.

“We are doing a lot of work with First Nations communities, especially journalism in relation to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Journalism is an exemplar in relation to what it’s doing to live up to those recommendations,” Kierans said.

Julie Green said that the Humanities for Young People program at King’s is focusing on the history of First Nations peoples in Canada in relation to the TRC.

“We are trying to build relationships in our own Nova Scotian community; with African Nova Scotians, First Nations, and Nova Scotian people from different economic classes.”

Kierans thinks that solutions to the lack of diversity at King’s can come from the bottom up through education and discussion about race and racial minorities among students.

“You have to be prepared to be uncomfortable. You have to be prepared to be put in a position that’s not what you know and to be open to listening to other people. We stick to our little groups because that’s what we’re comfortable in.”

Green, who is also on the EMC, agrees that the goals set out by the Strategic Enrollment Management Plan have not been met. But she said that since then, it has become a priority to diversify the population as much as possible.

One change Green said that has been made in terms of recruitment strategy is that recruitment officers are widening their visits to high schools all around the Atlantic provinces.

“We very much do have the perception that we are catered to more affluent people. So we want to do as much as we can to let students know by being in their communities that we want them in our community.”

However, Green said that in addition to schools where King’s has seen success over the years, recruitment officers also visit schools that fit the university’s academic and cultural history.

“We would typically choose schools so that we feel the students would have more of an affinity to the subjects that we’re teaching,” Green said.

For example, schools that would fit these criteria would have strong choral traditions, renowned theatre programs, and schools with journalism connections.

Green said that King’s recruits from both private and public schools. International students, Green said, are also targets of recruitment.

“The trouble is that with international students, their tendency is to be much more attracted to science, engineering and professional programs. At the graduate level, journalism does do very well with international students with that program,” Green said.

(Photo: Kristen Thompson)

(Photo: Kristen Thompson)

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Student Input on the Race Issue

While recent recruitment strategies are aimed towards attracting racially diverse people, visible minorities who become King’s students feel even more marginalised on campus.

Itai Kuwodza is a second-year international King’s student from Zimbabwe. Kuwodza’s hometown is Mandara, a suburb outside of the capital city of Harare. Her tight-knit neighbourhood is made up of middle-class families, both black and white.

Kuwodza considers her family middle-class. She went to an all-girls private school that she said is one of the best private schools in Southern Africa. The school brings in many universities from abroad to recruit their students.

Her mother was worried about her attending university in the United States because of the violent political tensions of recent years. So she started to look for Canadian schools.

“King’s was very accommodating and they really wanted me to come. They were really excited about me. They fast-tracked my application. Honestly, King’s was actually a saving grace,” Kuwodza said.

She said she heard about King’s by searching the internet during high school. Kuwodza was unable to visit King’s before enrolling because she lived outside the country.

But when she arrived with her mother they were shocked about the lack of racial diversity on campus.

“My mom was like, ‘Yo! You’re like the only black kid here’.”

Itai said that she has made many friends here at King’s, both white and non-white. She said her over all experience at King’s has been positive.

“To me, people of colour are home.”

But, she said that certain aspects of life on campus have been a challenge.

“I am definitely benefiting from being in this environment. I just don’t think people here are benefiting from having people of colour in their environment,” Kuwodza said.

She said that staff and students assume her experiences and background and don’t take the time to learn about her real life.

“I’m definitely becoming a richer person in the way I view the world, react to it, and adapt to it. But I don’t think people in this community are benefiting from people of colour in their community because there’s just not enough people of colour to engage with in the community. Which again is a disservice to the school and the quality of education people are getting here.”

“I find it upsetting when someone looks at me and makes the assumption that ‘You’re from Africa and you’re black, that’s sad’, when actually you and I aren’t that different. The only thing different between me and middle-class Canadians is that I have seen more poverty around me.”

During her first year at King’s, Kuwodza was asked to be featured in a promotional video for the school.

“I think it does a disservice to the school because they can’t say ‘We’re diverse’ and I get here and they’re not,” Kuwodza said.

“I don’t want to be a face of something that’s not real.”

Kuwodza thinks that the school’s promotional strategies target people of colour and said it’s misleading, especially for students from outside the country who may not be able to visit the campus before applying.

“For someone like me, who can’t do campus visits until I commit to a school, how you look is what I see. There is little information about the students at this school.”

From left: Lianne Xiao, Dorsa Eslami, Itai Kuwodza, Julia-Simone Rutgers. Front: Fadila Chater. (Photo: Kristen Thompson)

From left: Lianne Xiao, Dorsa Eslami, Itai Kuwodza, Julia-Simone Rutgers. Front: Fadila Chater.
(Photo: Kristen Thompson)

Kuwodza said that the school should make better efforts to advertise themselves to prospective students, both nationally and internationally. Because Kuwodza is an international student, the only perception she had of King’s was from visiting their website.

“I feel like the school could make a bigger effort of drawing people of colour to the school,” Kuwodza said.

Like Green and Kierans, Kuwodza doesn’t think that King’s has reached their Strategic Enrollment Management Plan goals.

“It looks good on paper and in theory. But in practice, it looks like there is a failure,” Kuwodza said. “We can count the number of black people on my hand. It’s not right.

“Diversity is not just a card you put out there because it’s attractive, it’s supposed to serve a purpose.”

A quick search for “diversity” on the King’s website yields few related pages. But the promotional photos and web design tell a different story.

Dorsa Eslami is a second-year journalism student at King’s. She is also Iranian and a racialized minority at the school.

Born in Iran, Eslami spent most of her adolescent years in Kuwait until she moved to Australia when she was 16. She then moved to Calgary, where she attended a public high school. That’s when she heard about King’s.

“Something that drew me into this school was the small community, beautiful city, incredible journalism program. King’s was my top choice.”

Like Kuwodza, Eslami didn’t realise how white-dominated King’s was until she arrived.

Eslami said that she too has had an overall positive experience at King’s. However, due to the recent The Watch op-ed by Kyril Wolfe, Eslami has felt targeted for her race.

“For example, as an Iranian, after everything that’s happened, if I had read the Trump article that came out in The Watch, I probably wouldn’t have come here.”

If it wasn’t for her parents applying for permanent residence in Canada, Eslami said that international fees would have stopped her from attending King’s. She thinks that lowering international fees may bring in people of colour to the school.

“I think international awareness is very important. Because I do think that King’s is a good liberal arts school. I like being here. I want to help in making it more diverse and more welcoming. And I think that’s for everyone’s benefit.”

Like Kuwodza, Eslami said that the King’s promotional practices are misleading.

“I was in the matriculation video in my first year, and I was one of the four people of colour. It’s a little bit misleading. Why me out of everyone?”

The matriculation video, which is on YouTube, was made by the university in order to promote and advertise the school’s image. The video features Kuwodza and Eslami during their matriculation ceremony in their first year.

For both Eslami and Kuwodza, promotional materials on the King’s website portray UKC to be a racially diverse school, when the facts reveal otherwise.

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The Numbers on the Race Issue

To this day there’s little public information about racial history at King’s. However, despite what little information there is about race, the school’s recruitment practices and enrolment goals can be found on the public documents page of the school’s website.

The King’s student population has declined steadily since the 2013/2014 academic year. According to data collected by the Student Information System, the school’s student population was 1170, and at the beginning of this academic year, the total population is 915 students.

While population has decreased, the number of self-identified visible minorities has increased by two per cent since 2014.

According to Canadian University Survey Consortium, 11 per cent out of 84 respondents from a group of first-year students in 2015-2016 academic year self-identify as a visible minority. Seven per cent from this same group of first-year students of the same academic year self-identify as Aboriginal. Out of 189 students who were asked to apply for the 2015-2016 academic year, 84 responded to the CUSC survey.

However, according to Julie Green, these numbers may not accurately reflect the reality of racial diversity on King’s campus because they are self-reported.

Another pitfall of the CUSC data is that the school has not participated consistently enough in the past to compare the numbers and track any changes.

“Self-identification is a real issue across the board with universities, because many students, for a variety of reasons, don’t want to identify as a visible minority,” Green said.

In another data set collected by the King’s Student Information System, the numbers show that four per cent of the 2015-2016 King’s student population self-identified as a visible minority. The school’s admission form offers space to self-identify as a minority in the following categories: Aboriginal, Black/African descent, Aboriginal and Black/African descent, other visible minority, disability, sexual orientation, and gender orientation. However, there is no room for applicants to write down their specific racial or ethnic identity if they are “other”.

“I understand they wanted to appeal to that kind of demographic. But don’t do it through a false image of us being diverse by putting mainly people of colour in a video when we don’t represent the majority,” Eslami said.

Bottom line: King’s students are concerned about the school’s lack of diversity and the numbers that are available are limited by inconsistency and inaccuracy, and the university doesn’t appear to be doing much to change that.