By: Asfia Yasir in Toronto, ON
IMMIGRATION is reshaping Ontario's classrooms, changing the demographics of both students and teachers. The latest statistics indicate that one in 10 new teachers hired in Ontario is internationally-trained (about 1,000 of 11,000 new teachers in 2016). The transition is never easy for these newcomer teachers as they get used to cultural norms very different from their home nations and learn to deal with a room full of students who may not always look up to the person standing in front of the classroom.
Hycinth Gomez, an Indian immigrant working at a private Montessori school, can attest to some of these “unique circumstances”. Starting out as a volunteer before moving her way up to her current teaching role, she still found herself faced with difficulties that others did not face – at least not to the same extent.
“I started as a supply teacher in an elementary school and sometimes I had to bear more than the class teacher. I used to get badgered so much because children knew I was not there permanently,” says Hycinth Gomez. Having taught in Ontario for almost eight years now, she has had the opportunity to work with a number of age groups through additional UCMAS (Universal Concepts of Mental Arithmetic Systems) courses she also helps administer.
Immigrants coming from developing countries may also bring their own set of values and norms, serving perhaps as important role models for students who may not always see visible minorities in positions of authority and instruction. The student-teacher dynamic is one that new instructors navigate delicately as they get used to Canadian mores.
“When I was growing up, my teacher was like an empowering tower on me and I was always shushed whenever I asked more than one question. Whereas in Canada, asking questions and handling them positively is the norm,” Gomez points out.
This dynamic is not unique to elementary or high school classrooms. A female immigrant scientist* who teaches at the University of Toronto, vents her own frustration. “Students find my accent funny. They come to me for help all the time, during and after the class. But my accent gives me a hard time.” She is convinced that part of the problem is her gender, pointing out that no male faculty member seems to face the same hardship.
Female teachers can be perceived as exercising less authority in a classroom and there is some evidence to suggest this is a hard-wired bias. Recent studies based on student evaluations reveal that male teachers receive higher scores in a number of areas, including aspects that were readily comparable. For example, when reviewing categories such as “promptness” – which refers to how quickly an assignment was returned – male instructors scored 16 per cent higher than their female peers.
Dr. John Shields, a professor in the department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University and an authority on the subject of immigrant settlement and integration, also attributes this to a hard-wired bias. “Immigrant teachers lack the relevant experience. Specifically, female immigrant teachers have difficulty in commanding authority in a classroom due to gender bias. As a result, students put extra demands, for example [demanding] retests, more time, even if the deadline is met, which burdens their work.”
Shields further highlights the societal pressures that extends to women students at the university level, saying, “Although the number of female students is a lot more than male students, it is still quite demanding for them considering the fact that the responsibility of childcare or an elderly family member is more upon women than men.”
Mehreen Faisal, who recently graduated from Ryerson University with distinction, couldn't agree more. She states, “As a mother I have more responsibility of the house and kids and studying with that status gives me extra pressure to cope up with my family life and studies at the same time." A Vanier Institute of the Family info-graphic titled "Women, Caregiving and Work in Canada", confirms that Faisal is not alone. Women are more likely than men to report having spent 20 hours or more per week providing care, separate from what they are employed to do.
A third issue for newcomer high school teachers like Linda Mourot, who started teaching later in life, is the perception that she is perhaps taking a job away from a younger person. “People think that if I am going to college at the age of 50, its very shameful as there are so many young people out there looking for jobs and here I am at this age who is going to take a job needed by young people.”
However, in Mourot's case, her experience has only made her more bold and confident. As a teacher of French in an officially bilingual nation, she is amazed that some students seem averse to learning a new language. Many parents do not realize the importance of learning French. “They have never travelled outside of Canada, never even to French-speaking Canada, so they see no use of French. You never know young people today may find a French speaking girlfriend tomorrow, but they find it funny.”
With their wider spectrum of experiences, immigrant teachers offer a variety of new perspectives that can make all the difference in helping to widen a child's horizons. However, these teachers face real challenges. After all, it is surely not an accident that a settlement organization like Skills for Changes in Toronto owes it origins in 1982 to "five English as a Second Language teachers [who] identified a need and shared a vision for integrated skills and language training."
*identity has been kept confidential to protect individual
Commentary by: Mona Mashadi Rajabi in Tehran
I was standing in front of the school’s office and Melody, my daughter, was right beside me. All the children were passing by happily with their parents.
The principal gave me the registration forms and started to talk about the rules and regulations of the school. I was there to register Melody in junior kindergarten.
While I was filling out one of the forms, the principal pointed to an important part and said: “Please write two phone numbers of family members or trusted people, the people whom we can call in case of an emergency.” He continued, “if something comes up, there must be someone other than you and your husband that we can call.”
But, there was no one else to call and it made me nervous. I explained that my family was new in the country and no other family members or trusted friends to call. It was just us, I said, promising to be available Melody needed help.
My daughter's big moment
I was busy attending preparation classes at university when the big day for Melody arrived. It was her First Day at school. Parents were supposed to be available to accompany their children to help them get ready for a milestone moment in their young lives. Parents were expected to give the children a goodbye kiss and wish them a good First Day at school.
It was a big moment for my daughter, a four-year-old girl who wanted to start the journey of her life, but, sadly, I could not be there to support her.
I had to attend a lecture, so I left home early in the morning and my husband took her to school. I learned that the principal was so surprised because of my absence as I missed the most memorable day of my daughter’s education. It was the day that would never come back and the memory that would not be repeated in the future.
After a few months, Melody’s teacher invited the parents to talk about their children’s behaviour and performance in school, and I missed that occasion, too. I missed it because I had an exam on the same day and I had to be at the university.
My absence from my daughter’s life sadly continued. She became sick and I was at my office in the university for my teaching assistant job. She attended the school’s Halloween party and I was busy preparing for my mid-term exams.
She started to speak English and I was not there to witness it, she started to learn French and sing some short songs and I was not there to enjoy it, she found friends and I could not be there to celebrate her friendships, she got invited to her friends’ birthday parties and I could not accompany her, and she went to the playgrounds and I was too tired to play along with her.
I was never available for her, as I was either busy at school or tired at home.
My wish list
I was unhappy and unsatisfied deep inside as I was living a dual life. A life of a full time Ph.D. student who had to work all day long and the life of a mother who was supposed to raise a happy and healthy child but was missing all the precious moments of her daughter’s childhood.
It was not just me in this situation. Many international graduate students with children felt the same as they were alone and had no family or close friends around to help them. They were always busy at school and could not attend to the needs of their children. Many of my colleagues felt like a failure as a parent and lived in an unstable emotional and financial situation in Canada.
I thought about alternative solutions that could help parents like myself who were also full-time students.
I wished the university’s educational calendar started one day after the First Day of children’ school. I wished the schoolteacher could give a couple of choices to parents from which they could choose the one that fit their schedule to speak about the children’s performance at school. I wished the university’s teaching schedule was more flexible and professors cared more about graduate students who had a big responsibility as a parent specially when they had to work as a teaching assistant.
Those were the thoughts that occupied my mind, but they remained a wish list.
Finally, an unbalanced life
Unfortunately, I could do little about my circumstances. The university expected me to be a full time student and a failure at school could lead to the termination of my student visa and eventually an order to me to leave Canada. My husband and Melody were my dependent and a change in my status could have changed theirs as well.
So, I, like most of other international graduate students, had to sacrifice my family life in order to stay in Canada on my student visa. This was an unfair deal for a parent graduate student.
Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.
By: Mona Mashhadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran
Communication is more than understanding the words.
I was always aware of language barriers when I decided to move to Canada. But I didn’t know that this would go beyond an understanding of words and sentences.
It took me a few months to get to this point, after a few odd experiences along the way. I will explain two of them for you.
Animation film that opened my eyes
I was a student in Ottawa and some of my courses were project-based. There were four students in each group for the econometrics project. The deadline for the project was approaching, but we were stuck. The central problem in the project could not be solved, and the more we tried, the less progress we seemed to make.
One day, as we were reading related articles and brainstorming, Gen, a Canadian-born student on my team, said: “We should call Thing 1 and Thing 2 to solve this problem.” Her reference did not make sense to me, but everyone else burst into laughter.
I showed no reaction. I didn’t understand what was going on and didn’t know how to respond. Fortunately, no one realized that I didn’t get the point and we quickly got back to work. But the experience stayed in my mind.
A few months later, while I was watching “The cat in the hat” animation film with my daughter, I discovered the origins of Gen’s reference. She was talking about two creatures in the cartoon that could solve unsolvable problems, the creatures that could help the “Cat” reach his goal.
It was a fulfilling moment for me. But I also realized that this sort of thing could happen again.
For a moment I felt like an alien. The society that I chose to live in had so many unknown features rooted in its culture. I could face many obstacles because of that. I knew that I could meet people who might not understand my situation or may misunderstand my responses. I was missing out on a few things.
But it was my decision to move to Canada for my studies and it was in my interest to learn the culture and become a full part of the society around me. So, I had to work harder and not get disappointed.
Lack of self-confidence to react in an emotional situation
Melody, my daughter, was a happy, four-year old girl who started her junior kindergarten in Canada.
Sara was one of Melody’s classmates. I knew her mother, Kate. We were living in the same neighborhood and we used to chat while we were waiting for the school bus. Kate was a photographer and was so nice to me.
At the school’s New Year celebration day, Melody’s class came on the stage and started singing a song. Melody was loud and clear, she pronounced every word correctly and performed well with other children.
Kate was standing beside me. She said: “Melody’s improvement in speaking English is impressive” and added that “Sara is so shy and never sings with the other children.”
She was worried about her daughter and I understood her concerns as a mother, but I didn't feel confident enough to respond spontaneously.
She looked at me in anticipation and I finally put two words together.
“Wow, really?” I said. It was the worst reaction that I could have made.
At that moment another mother joined our conversation and said: “I am sure she will get better. Some children are shy at first, but they will become more social after a few years.”
This was a better response. A kind of response that every mother expected and I had shown thousands of times before moving to Canada.
After that day, I saw Kate many times and she did not mention my poor reaction to her concern. I explained my deficiencies in communication to her and I was surprised when I learned that it was not a new experience for Kate. She used to work with new immigrants and had faced strange situations before.
She was the one who told me that the main barrier for an immigrant was not language but it was the communication skill.
She added: “Communication is the skill that can be gained by living with people, talking with them and becoming friends with them. The kind of skill that can be gained over time.”
After that day, she started talking about Canada’s culture, parenting and lifestyle. She tried to help me improve my skills and become an active person in conversations. She used to inform me about every cultural event in the city and playhouses in the neighbourhood.
Becoming friends with Kate was an impressive experience for me. This experience taught me to accept other people, to understand their situation and not to judge them based on one poor reaction. It taught me that in a developed society, every person matters and every person feels responsible for others. This responsibility was one of the keys to success.
I remember Kate always telling me, “It is does not matter what you had, the important thing is what you gain. And the vital ingredient for success in this process is your willpower, hard work and ability not to give up or get disappointed.”
And I chose to go on this way hoping that leads me to success.
Although challenges of miscommunication did not end, I was more relaxed because I was not the only person facing communication challenges in Canada. I knew that there were many people in society who understood me, nonetheless.
This was the time that, I felt like home.
This piece is the second part of a mini-series within New Canadian Media’s Mentorship Program. The writer was mentored by Alireza Ahmadian.
Coming up next: Why I Am Still Considering Immigrating to Canada
Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.
Commentary by: Mona Mashadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran
“Canada needs you!” This is a sentiment I heard over and over while I was in Canada. I came to Canada with my husband and daughter, in August 2015, on a student visa to pursue my Ph.D. in economics.
I still pursue that dream of coming to Canada, but meanwhile, things have gone awry.
Our bank account manager in Ottawa was the first to utter these words to me: “Canada needs you! You are young, talented, educated and have work experience in economics and engineering, (my husband’s field) both of which are needed in Canada.”
Then my daughter’s teacher told us the same thing, adding that “Canada is the place that protects talented people”. In her opinion, we were among the most talented.
I was a good student and had more than 10 years of work experience in business journalism. As a result, I was offered multiple offers of admission to a number of universities in Canada, Germany, the United States and Great Britain.
So, we started to think about our options as a family and we came to a final decision: Canada. A North American and English-speaking country with natural beauty, peaceful policies, and high educational standards, as well as welcoming immigration laws; Canada we assumed would be an ideal destination for our family.
Funding opportunities for international students were also an important factor, as this would help me focus on my studies and research interests.
With this in mind, I reached out to the head of the department for more information. An email response pointed me towards a partial scholarship through the university's "Teaching Assistantship".
But he also suggested that there were many external funding opportunities available, scholarships that I could apply for once I got to Canada. My good educational background meant I had a good chance of securing these scholarships, he said.
So, we packed up.
Running out of options
I was a good student in Canada. I attended all my classes, read all the books that were suggested and got good grades. Simultaneously, I tried to apply for scholarships from organizations outside the university. But there was a problem. Most scholarships were given to international students who had lived for more than 12 months in the city that housed the university. As such, I did not qualify.
Other scholarships were given to students who had started working on their thesis, provided that the thesis proposals were approved by funding organizations and met their objectives. I did not fit this category either.
Besides, the amount of external funding for international students was very low. If I won one of them, I could not access other scholarships.
I explained my situation to the head of the department. He told me: “You are a perfect student, but the university cannot do anything about it.” That’s it!
I completed the first semester with an “A” in every course. I went to the head of the department and told him that I could not complete my studies without funding. I told him “money matters for me”, but I heard the same answer, “There are no other options for you.”
It took almost 5 months for me to understand that the reality was far from what we had anticipated.
I had come to Canada to get a Ph.D., become a researcher and a productive person in society. But I made the mistake of making a decision based on incomplete and, sadly, inaccurate information about funding available to international students. I trusted the information that was given to me and did not try to verify before moving to Canada.
I made up my mind. I did not want to be a “not-so-good” student, “not-so-good” mother, “not-so-good” provider and “not-so-good” person, who made a mistake but did not want to admit it.
I had just accepted at face value a possibility that came into my life because I was afraid to review, re-think or even return to where everything had started.
As a result, I dropped out of school and flew back home to Iran.
Costs on all sides
It was a hard time in my life. I was in the middle of a journey that was potentially leading my family and me to nowhere.
When we were on the flight back home, I was thinking about all the things that had happened to my family, all the challenges that we had faced, and all the decisions that we had made.
I thought about what I lost when I left school. The economic costs of this decision and the emotional suffering was tremendous. I also thought about the costs that the university endured: the cost of giving me a partial scholarship, the cost of losing someone who could have become a good researcher, and the cost of counting on someone and planning for her to be an academic, but losing her so soon.
At the time, I thought to myself, “These five months of my life were like a game with no winner, a lose-lose game”.
This piece is the first part of a mini-series within New Canadian Media’s Mentorship Program. The writer was mentored by Alireza Ahmadian.
Coming up next: What I Did Not Know About Communication and Why I Am Still Considering Immigrating to Canada
Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.
By: Lu Xu in Halifax
Gaining overseas work experience while attending university may sound appealing, but some Dalhousie University international students say they’re having trouble completing this mandatory part of their school program because they can’t find a job here in Canada.
Yuxi Tang is one of them.
After months of fruitless job hunting, Tang is giving herself a few more weeks to find work. All of her friends have already left for China, but she’s still hoping to find a local co-op placement—a compulsory part of her Bachelor degree in commerce.
“Disappointment is definitely there. But it’s also normal that I haven’t found anything as there are a lot of us [who haven’t found work],” Tang says, in an interview conducted in Chinese.
Dalhousie is one of the few universities that has mandatory co-op requirements in its commerce program. In order to graduate, students have to complete three work terms, typically in their second and third years. But the language barrier for international students can make finding local work placements difficult. In frustration, some students leave the country or transfer to other schools without compulsory work terms—like Saint Mary’s University—to finish their degrees.
Originally from Shanghai, Tang came to Halifax two years ago to study commerce. The co-op system was actually a valuable factor in how she chose her program. By the time she graduated, Tang thought she’d have three terms of overseas work experience. More importantly, she came here with the expectation that her co-op job would have already been pre-arranged by Dal.
A degree with three creditable work terms is very uncommon where Tang comes from. Prospective students often rely on secondary sources and special agencies to help them apply to foreign universities and understand how the co-op programs work. Yu Tian, another student in the same commerce program with Tang, says the agency she consulted also told her Dal would help find her an internship. The reality is students are often on their own.
According to Janet Bryson, spokesperson for Dalhousie, the university’s faculty of management offers a career services centre with specific supports for international students—such as targeted workshops and appointments with recruitment specialists.
The school’s career development centre is also available to students looking for jobs.
“From drop-in peer advising and career counselling to online services and resources, the [career centre] offers many services aimed at helping students develop their skills and identify their ideal job and career paths,” writes Bryson in an email.
But many international students expect more focused help than resume and cover letter writing.
“I wish that the university could tell us what kind of jobs have lower language requirement or companies that tend to hire international students in general,” says Jinze Bi, a third-year finance student at Dal.
Even if the international student does speak English well enough, it’s also tough getting past Canadian competition. Tang says there’s no reason for an employer to hire an international student if there’s someone local who’s just as good.
“You have to be extremely good and outperform the local student to get a job here.”
The tuition for international students at Dalhousie is around $20,000 a year—roughly double as much as the cost for Canadian students.
Lu Xu, who hails from China, is studying journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax. This article was republished under arrangement with the Coast.
By: Tim Mayfield in Melbourne, Australia
The latest Australian census data is in and it makes for interesting reading. Of particular note, 72 per cent of residents reported speaking only English at home, down from nearly 77 per cent in 2011. Moreover, for the first time since colonisation, most of the Australians who were born overseas came from Asia rather than Europe.
So what to make of these shifts?
On the face of it, the data indicates that Australia is becoming an even more diverse society with greater links into our immediate region and beyond. However, these numbers don’t tell the full story.
To properly assess where we are at as a nation, we need to critically examine the quality of the engagement between Australia’s ethnic communities, as well as the depth of our links into Asia (given that our immediate neighbourhood is so crucial both in terms of trade but also as the major source of new immigrants).
According to these criteria, there is much work to be done. The shortfall is borne out by a quick examination of the state of Australia’s second-language teaching from early childhood through to tertiary level.
Australia is not just failing at languages (especially Asian languages), we are failing spectacularly. The percentage of students studying a foreign language in Year 12 has decreased from 40 per cent in 1960 to around 10 per cent in 2016 – and this includes native speakers.
It just doesn’t make sense in the context of our increasing interconnectedness with the global community both at home and abroad.
Of course, one could argue (and plenty do) that because Australia’s foreign language capability is on the rise, driven by immigration, there is a decreasing need to commit time and resources to second language learning.
There are several issues with this perspective. The first is that our collective commitment to multiculturalism should not start and end with those who arrive on our shores. For multiculturalism to work, it requires genuine commitment to engagement and mutual understanding from all sides.
Learning a second language is both an end in itself but also an effective proxy for the kind of intercultural understanding that will be essential if Australia is to continue to thrive in its diversity. Assistant Professor Ruth Fielding argued recently that Australia’s multilingual diversity is being stifled by a monolingual culture and approach to curriculum in schools.
By engaging with an unfamiliar language, students are also engaging with the culture and history that comes with it. In doing so, they gain perspective into a world beyond their immediate experience, greater insight into their own communities and curiosity to broaden their horizons.
This latter point is crucial when it comes to preparing the students of today for the jobs of tomorrow. Simply put, we must change our collective mind-set around the importance of languages to our continued wealth and prosperity.
The reality is that nearly all young Australians are likely to be working either in highly culturally diverse communities in Australia or in global teams with global clients and markets. Bilingualism is a skill most people will benefit from, and is something that other countries have recognised for years. That’s why Australia is now lagging at the very back of the OECD pack when it comes to the time our school students spend learning a second language.
We have been coasting for too long on the natural advantages of being a developed nation, proficient in the world’s lingua franca, and with an economy powered by an abundance of natural resources.
That is all changing. As Australia’s economy continues to transition to services, so too do the requirements of our workforce. New opportunities will be driven by evolving skills and possessing a second, third, or even fourth language will be prime among these.
It is therefore a matter of great urgency that governments at all levels get the policy settings right. At the moment, our track record on languages is abysmal. The first step to a solution is admitting there is a problem. The second is developing a road map for this vexed area of education policy. The Asia Education Foundation (AEF) has undertaken considerable research to address this second aspect, especially at the senior secondary level.
We advocate expanding opportunities to study languages in senior secondary certification structures. Simultaneously, governments and schools need to provide access to high quality languages programs to build and sustain student participation.
These efforts must be supported by engagement with all relevant parties (including students, parents and educators) to recognise and promote the value and utility of languages. At a higher level, governments and sector bodies should collaborate nationally to support languages planning and implementation in a unified way across the country.
The question is who within government and the education sector will drive this change?
Tim Mayfield is the Executive Director of the Asia Education Foundation at the University of Melbourne. This article has been republished with permission.
By Leslie Layton in Chico, California
On a recent Wednesday, Chico State journalism professor Mark Plenke was messaged that he should check the campus newspaper racks. The student-run weekly newspaper, The Orion, had come out earlier that day, and an opinion column was already producing a stream of angry social-media responses.
Plenke, the faculty adviser to The Orion, found some 600 newspapers missing from racks in Tehama and Butte halls and rescued them from nearby garbage and recycling bins. The May 10 column by student journalist Roberto Fonseca, “Debunking GSEC Myths,” had already inspired a newspaper theft and was on the verge of sparking a campus debate that would veer from angry threats to culture-wars name-calling to thoughtful discussion.
The column had been a sweeping attempt to take on what Plenke calls “hot-button issues” popular with conservatives -- in only about 500 words. Fonseca argued that “systemic racism” doesn’t exist, that there are only two genders, and that the student-run Gender & Sexual Equity Center (GSEC) was promulgating false notions about “rape culture.” In fact, Fonseca wrote, rape culture doesn’t exist, either.
Soon, Fonseca, a 20-year-old junior who is finding his voice as a conservative columnist, was under fire for his writing skills, his choice of sources, his analysis. Before the week was out, a sign had been hung on the newspaper’s office door re-branding the paper “Rape Apologist News,” and he had received two threatening social-media messages.
At times, the discussion at Chico State has echoed the campus debates nationwide when speech is perceived as offensive, tapping into a well of anger. But it’s also a story about a university community’s frustration with its student paper, and with how journalism is often conducted in an era of polarized politics.
Some Orion critics say the column fits into what is now a pattern of irresponsible journalism, and they want more from the paper – more accuracy, more sensitivity, more listening.
Fonseca, who the staff named opinion editor for the coming academic year, said his column wasn’t meant to be “malicious.”
“Any sane person looking at this column knows it wasn’t meant to incite violence against anybody,” Fonseca said. “I was just trying to critique some ideas.”
But GSEC warned that articles can incite violence by reinforcing prejudice.
Rachel Ward, the student director of GSEC, said there’s a feeling on campus that “he didn’t write that article to open up an honest discourse. “It was written to purposely hurt and piss off a lot of people, especially in the political climate we live in,” she said.
Lindsay Briggs, a human sexuality professor, went further, labeling the column “hate speech” that was itself an act of violence because it “dismisses peoples’ identities.” Briggs, in defending students who have been marginalized, can seem brash, and she was, as she puts it, “boisterous” in challenging the column as hate speech.
“Fuck you, Roberto Fonseca,” she wrote in the first of several public Facebook posts about the column. Later, in Facebook conversations, she refers to him as “some garbage student” and “repugnant” and “shitty.”
On other parts of campus, the narrative has been different. Some journalism faculty say the article prompted a productive if painful discussion about free speech and gender and race. But in the view of some university staff, the column suggests the degree to which The Orion, in a time of sweeping change, has lost its footing.
Alternative facts vs. legitimate sources
The campus paper is a cornerstone of Chico State’s journalism program, having won a dozen national Pacemaker awards for general excellence. The staff works out of a basement office in Plumas Hall, and every week, after a new edition is published, receives a written critique by Plenke. But the adviser refrains from pre-publication intervention in keeping with state law that gives public high school and college students the right to freedom from censorship.
As the “opinion section conservative” on the paper during spring semester, Plenke believes Fonseca was “blindsided” by the response to the GSEC column. Earlier columns, Plenke said, made people “upset” but not “inflamed.”
In a March 25 column, Fonseca links terrorism to the Islamic faith, and says, “This is a religion that isn’t afraid to kill people for speaking out against their beliefs.”
By the end of May, the online version of Fonseca’s GSEC column had about 19,000 page views, making it the most viewed article for the year, according to The Orion’s May 16 editorial. The column had easily superseded – in terms of readership and certainly attention -- news stories like a spring semester investigation into the costs of deferred maintenance at the university.
In the aftermath, readers struggled to respond to the column and, in some cases, with their frustration with the paper. There were reports that alumni threatened to withhold donations. There were calls for the adviser to undertake more active advising. And there was Briggs, who said she’d refuse interviews and otherwise refrain from collaborating with the paper, “so long as Roberto remains on staff and the Orion continues to peddle trash such as this.”
Briggs reported on Facebook that the parents of a prospective student saw her posts, contacted President Gayle Hutchinson, and declared that their child wouldn’t attend Chico State. Hutchinson then released her own statement and called Briggs to a meeting to remind her that her social media posts reflect on the university.
Some of the 242 comments posted on the story were sarcastic, others thoughtful. A few students indicated the column reflected their own thinking. But the majority were critical, slamming the column for what they said was poor writing or the use of biased sources.
“In our world of alternative facts, Roberto has a bright future. But which will he choose? Breitbart? Lifesitenews.com? Which proto-fascist rag will pick him up for his convenient opinions?”
The online version of Fonseca’s column links to research from mainstream media sources that provide facts, like the higher unemployment rates among Latinos and blacks compared to whites. He also cites sources that fall within the conservative mainstream, a right-leaning think tank and the journal “LifeSiteNews” that’s packed with propaganda and founded by a lobbyist group that opposes abortion and same-sex marriage.
The right-wing sources seem to help him justify the leap to his conclusions, such as, systemic racism “is another myth put out by GSEC members that is widely accepted,” and, “Latinos and African Americans are falling behind by choosing to believe in racism instead of hard work.”
Katie Peterson, program coordinator at the university’s Cross-Cultural Leadership Center, said the column had no foundation in sound research, and, yet, The Orion staff has access to professional journalists for guidance.
“We’re allowing for a culture of alternative facts,” Peterson said. “The amount of hurt that was caused is ridiculous.”
Plenke defended Fonseca’s right to use conservative media sources – even though he says he had talked to the writer earlier in the semester about sourcing.
“It’s not uncommon for conservative commentators like Roberto to call on the sources he’s familiar with from the conservative side of the spectrum,” Plenke said. “I think there’s a legitimate argument about framing and the use of facts. I don’t happen to agree with most of what Roberto said, but that doesn’t give me the right to deny him the ability to frame an argument the way he wants to.”
Plenke decided not to report the newspaper theft because tempers were “hot” and a police report would further “inflame things.”
“Eventually, this drifted into more of a discussion about whether speech like that should be allowed, whether the column should have been published, whether editors fell down on the job,” he said.
The Orion’s outgoing Editor-in-Chief Carly Plemons couldn’t be reached despite several requests by ChicoSol for a brief statement.
Fonseca is the son of Nicaraguan immigrants and hails from Los Angeles. On May 17, after a week of intense scrutiny, he was interviewed at Chico’s City Plaza. A few days earlier, a journalism instructor had referred to his column as “fake news” and then led a heated class discussion about its content. Fonseca had been interviewed on the local nightly news.
Because of the class discussion, Fonseca said he now understood more clearly the phrase “rape culture.” He said he was wrong when he wrote that gender and sex are synonymous, wrong to tackle so much in a small space. But he said his conclusions were unchanged, just not supported well. “I acknowledge that my arguments probably weren’t the best,” he said.
He had read professor Briggs’ Facebook posts and seemed bewildered by them. “She says she hates me,” he said. “It sounds so personal.”
The Briggs offensive
On the Wednesday that Fonseca’s column was published, Lindsay Briggs, who describes herself on Facebook as “louder, meaner, sassier, and less afraid than most,” was on fire.
In a May 17 interview in her Butte Hall office, Briggs, who sits on the GSEC advisory board but doesn’t speak for the student-run organization, explained why Fonseca’s column was a personal affront. “This student has written several inflammatory articles all year that were terribly written and super-offensive, but they weren’t attacking anybody,” she said. “In this one, he utilized GSEC throughout.”
“As a queer person who is up close and personal with violence,” she told ChicoSol, “I see it day in and day out. I see the real effects of verbal violence all the time. I see the real effects of sexual assault and rape culture. Especially on this campus, where we do know that sexual assaults happen.”
After she read Fonseca’s column, she contacted journalism faculty, who explained that they don’t run the paper. She contacted the editors, who defended the column. That night, she said on Facebook that she had “pleasant but underwhelming” conversations with the journalism department. She announced her Orion boycott and encouraged other faculty to follow suit.
GSEC, Briggs pointed out, is a program run by five students that has far less institutional support than does The Orion. “I don’t think it’s fair to say, ‘Let’s let The Orion staff and the GSEC staff fight it out.’ That’s a denial of the systems of power in place.”
Briggs doesn’t believe in unlimited free speech in general, which she said makes her part of a small faculty contingent. But she said she doesn’t object to Fonseca’s First Amendment right to speak about his beliefs – as long as The Orion is not the platform.
“One of the things that’s really harmful right now,” Briggs said, “is that all ideas are valid and equal. That’s intellectually dishonest. Everybody’s right to an opinion has now become ‘all opinions are equal.’”
Losing patience with a campus learning lab
In the last edition of spring semester, The Orion published an editorial, “Campuses must choose between safe space or free speech” arguing that the column’s publication was a question of free speech. It cast the Chico State debate as one of many campus debates around the country pitting free speech against the right to critique or mock what college communities are calling “safe spaces.”
“To promote ‘safe spaces,’ speech is being suppressed,” the editorial states.
The editorial did not respond to critics who said Fonseca’s thesis hadn’t been well argued or to those who said that it was harmful to students who already feel vulnerable to verbal and physical attack. It didn’t address the fact that Fonseca says he didn’t fully understand some underlying concepts.
The paper also published three pages of letters to the editor about the column and a one-page op-ed by GSEC. (The op-ed wasn’t included in the paper’s online edition until someone contacted The Orion.)
Plenke, who agreed that he’s a “First Amendment absolutist,” applauded the editors, who he said “made the resources of the paper available to people who didn’t like the column.”
“While it hurts everybody’s stomach to have this level of anger,” Plenke said, “it did prompt some serious discussions on campus.”
But some students and staff resented the reliance on the First Amendment argument.
The president, Hutchinson, had already come down squarely on the side of free speech, although in her statement she attempted to distance the university from Fonseca’s column. “…the views expressed in the article in question do not reflect the values of our University,” she wrote.
Although GSEC does calls itself a “safe space,” offering a place of support for marginalized students, Ward was incensed by The Orion’s editorial, arguing that it presented a false dichotomy.
“I’m particularly offended by an editorial that suggests that safe spaces and free speech can’t co-exist,” she said, adding that it wasn’t his opinion that GSEC objects to but rather his use of sources. “We’re not negating his right to free speech -- we would never go there.”
In her May 17 op-ed, Ward focused on a call to the journalism department and The Orion to hold its writers to “higher standards.” Ward said the paper needs to take measures to “restoring the trust that many students, faculty, and staff have lost in ‘The Orion’ in recent years due to a pattern of irresponsible and inaccurate reporting.”
Some in the campus community say that increased tension since the November election has made Fonseca’s columns particularly difficult to stomach. “Things have felt heightened,” Ward said. “The election has given a lot of people permission to be prejudiced in an explicit way. Students of color or who are queer or transgender have experienced firsthand slurs and have had rocks thrown at them.” (See sidebar.)
In several quarters, staff members are out of patience. After the publication of Fonseca’s column, the Student Health Center told The Orion that it no longer wants to be a distribution point for the paper, said Jill Cannaday, nursing supervisor. Cannaday said she was told that the health center can’t opt out by law, so when a bundle of the May 17 edition arrived, they remained “behind the counter” and “available upon request.”
Cannady said the center is used by students from many “walks of life,” some of whom are sexual assault survivors, and they deserve a “safe space” and welcoming environment.
At the Cross-Cultural Leadership Center, Program Director CC Carter said he no longer reads the paper. “From a diversity standpoint, every semester they do something that hurts and pisses off my students,” Carter said.
Two interviewees pointed to an April 2016 video The Orion posted – and that has never removed from its website -- of Cesar Chavez Day interviews with drinking students as culturally offensive and shoddy journalism.
Journalism faculty say the paper’s independence is key to its “learning laboratory” features. Still, Susan Wiesinger, chair of the Department of Journalism & Public Relations, said it “pained” her to defend the GSEC column.
“The column was not particularly well written or carefully sourced and that is a poor reflection on the program,” she wrote in an email statement to ChicoSol. “…it’s peer-led, experiential learning. There will be mistakes and missteps. Our responsibility as a faculty is to take those teachable moments into the classroom and help the students figure out what could be done better or differently as they learn their professional skills.”
In the view of Plenke, the GSEC column produced a healthy debate and growth on the part of Fonseca, who has inched away from certainty in some of the beliefs he expressed in the column.
But for many members of the campus community, the debate and the classroom opportunities it presented came at a time when tension is high and patience either gone or thin. For GSEC’s Ward, they came at the expense of some of the university’s most vulnerable minority groups.
Leslie Layton wrote this story with support from New America Media’s Tracking Hate fellowship program. She retired from part-time teaching in the Chico State journalism department nine years ago. Layton is editor of ChicoSol. This article has been republished with permission.
Firstly, Canada’s own immigration policies have made it difficult for international students. On the front end, the financial requirements are difficult to meet. International students need to show unreasonably high available funds just to be approved for study permits and seek extensions for their studies. The prohibitive cost of international tuition forces many students to take a break from their studies or resort to extreme measures (like taking up jobs in violation of their study permits or taking out private loans) to keep with the payments.
Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton
A few weeks before Brampton Council begin debate on the latest budget, the city and province delivered a big lollipop to the citizens of Brampton in the form of a University to be built in our city.
At the risk of sounding cynical, I can’t help but suspect this little bit of theatre is meant to divert the attention of Bramptonians away from the poor economic performance of our city, the recent tax increases, stagnant municipal services, and the provinces’ ruinously expensive and incompetently handled hydro mismanagement.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I, like many, believe a university campus is something Brampton needs, and needs badly. In fact, I know many parents are excited at the thought of their children obtaining a quality post-secondary education in their own city.
Downloading to taxpayers
But for anyone who listened to what was said at the Brampton press event, while Brampton has been chosen as the site of one of two new university campuses, there was no specific timeline or details about where or when this facility will be built, how it will be funded, or how much of the cost the province will download onto the backs of Brampton taxpayers in order to make the announcement a reality.
What we do know is that there is a $90 million allotment for each of the two municipalities approved in this round of funding. Let’s remember that when then Premier Dalton McGuinty wrote his infamous letter to the Brampton citizens promising that Peel Memorial Hospital would not be closed – just before he closed it − the replacement facility’s phase I costs were over $300 million and Bramptonians were practically extorted into paying $60 million towards the project.
If you think this is an isolated occurrence, think again. When the province promised to finish highway 410 north to highway 10, it was only accomplished after the Region of Peel was forced to pony up over $40 million to the province.
Citizens in the dark
Will $90 million build a university campus? I highly doubt it. I am convinced we are going to be put in the position of shelling out millions more from municipal coffers – your tax money – to provide land and capital funding in order to make this happen. How sweet does that lollipop taste now?
Let’s face it, we have no idea what we are getting out of this latest deal. We know from the past the province promised to keep our original hospital open, then closed it, then tore it down. The slogan for the new Peel Memorial was “More than a Hospital,” but in fact this too was a lie. The new Peel Memorial will be much less than a hospital. It will house outpatient services, clinics, dialysis, and will not have an emergency department. Instead, it will have an urgent care centre that closes down at night, and while some services now housed at Brampton Civic are moving to the new building, Brampton is getting much less than it deserves in terms of health care services. This does not bode well for our university.
Brampton Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon says this council worked hard work to make this university happen and Mayor Linda Jeffery maintains this is exciting news for Bramptonians. This from a council that turned down $300 million in funding for a light rail line up Main Street that over 70 per cent of the citizens wanted.
I think the citizens of Brampton have some fundamental issues with trusting this council and these concerns are well justified.
So, I think we can all look forward to a future that will see more tax levies for health care, our university, and whatever other lollipop the city or province thinks up to throw at Brampton, in an attempt to win our votes with our own money. That makes us all a bunch of suckers.
Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer.
by Our National Correspondent
Dr. Alaa Abd-El-Aziz, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) was appointed Chair of the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) earlier this month. New Canadian Media conducted an interview with him by e-mail.
Q: You obviously bring a strong international outlook to the new position given your own early background and education in Egypt. How do you think your immigrant background will help as Chair of the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU)?
A: Together the presidents of Atlantic Canadian universities share a diverse range of experience and we are stronger because of it. Having been an international student that immigrated to Canada, I would not claim to understand the needs and hopes of all international students. Everyone’s experience is unique, but that does not prevent me from drawing on my experience when I approach an issue.
I believe the key to success for both international and Canadian students stems from good relationships. At the University of Prince Edward Island, we strive to keep this at the core of everything we do, and it is emphasized during new student orientation and mental health and well-being initiatives. Interactions with friends, family, professors, staff, employers, and strangers affect our day-to-day lives, and building good relationships with these people can make all the difference.
International students will almost always have smaller networks of people in their lives so providing those services and opportunities to build those relationships when they come to Canada is key.
Q: As you say in your news release, foreign students are a particular focus. How do you think the current population of international students is fitting into Atlantic campuses? Are they contributing to the overall campus experience or do they tend to keep to themselves?
A: The culture of Atlantic Canadian universities is one in which the larger community and the campus are integral to one another. The cultural and social influences of students and their communities impact each other positively and benefit the overall experiences and success of everyone.
International students play a very important role on Canadian campuses as they are ambassadors for their respective countries. In Atlantic Canada, we strongly believe that integrating our international students into our campus communities not only benefits international students, but also Atlantic Canadian students.
Q: What does your early experience in Canada as a student/researcher tell you about what more Canada – particularly the Atlantic universities – can do to make foreign students feel more welcome? What advice do you provide to international students that you run into?
A: Canada has been, and is, welcoming to students of all cultures, and international students arrive in Canada with great appreciation for our country and its diversity. Having been an international student myself, I can say that there were many Canadians who made me feel at home by demonstrating support, kindness, and sincerity.
I personally have worked with and supervised dozens of international students and I tell them all, “In Canada you have the opportunity to be yourself, talk about your culture, interact with your community, and embrace Canadian values while enriching them with those of your own home.” This is advice that can truly help to make the best of an international student’s experience while studying in Canada.
Q: In your view, should international students have a pathway to Canadian citizenship? Would that help the Atlantic region address its demographic challenges?
A: When I think of immigration and encouraging our international students to stay and pursue citizenship, I recognize the many benefits that would have for our region. As our governments are actively working to attract talent and youth to help build our economy and society, an obvious group of people to attract would be the international students who are currently studying, researching, and honing their skills here in Atlantic Canada. In addition, I have to think about it from the point of view that even if our international students decide to return to their home country, they will forever be linked to Atlantic Canada. This too will have positive results, because if our international students are looking for opportunities to build bridges globally, there is a good chance that their first thought will be Atlantic Canada.
Q: Your time in Canada appears to have taken you to institutions from coast-to-coast. Can you please share with our readers your views on Canadian multiculturalism?
Having arrived as an international student and lived in Canada for over 30 years, I have seen many examples of how Canadians welcome, appreciate, and support the benefits of multiculturalism. We consist of people from all over the world, and yet we are probably one of the best examples of embracing differences. This makes us unique as we pour an incredibly strong foundation that embraces and respects the values of everyone.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit