Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Language of Anti-Asian Racism

anti-asian racism rally. Protesters with signs
Photo from

Our March blog post was written by Jenny Lee Northey, Career Counsellor. In this piece, she talks about the importance of language when doing anti-racist work

As we mark the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic, we have witnessed how the pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated all types of longstanding inequities in our society. In the early months of 2020 as the novel coronavirus spread, overt discrimination and acts of racism towards Asian communities spiked as people associated COVID-19 with people of Asian descent. There was heightened fear and anxiety, not only with the uncertainty of the coronavirus itself, but of the growing anti-Asian sentiment.

As the pandemic continues, we have seen anti-Asian racism and hate crimes continue to persist. There has been heightened media coverage of recent violent and fatal attacks on people of Asian descent, including an 84-year-old Thai American man who died of his injuries after being brutally shoved in San Francisco, a Montreal stabbing, as well as reports of verbal harassment and physical assault of frontline workers and business owners, amongst other incidents. While Canadians often claim that our country does not have the same level of race-based violence, the city of Vancouver reported a sevenfold increase of anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020, and other major Canadian cities such as Toronto and Montreal have seen similar spikes. In April 2020, concerned by the lack of news media coverage on Anti-Asian racism and data collection, individual organizations such as the Chinese Canadian National Council – For Social Justice (CCNC-SJ) and Project 1907 began their own work to report and track incidents across Canada.

These incidents and hate crimes corresponded to the rise of racist rhetoric, fuelled by inflammatory racist headlines and deliberate usage of the label “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus”. As Viala-Gaudefroy and Lindaman describes, using the word “Chinese” to describe the virus personifies the infection and associates it with a specific country and ethnicity, creating an “othering” effect that “stokes anxiety, resentment, fear and disgust toward people associated with that group.” Asian Canadian communities also recall similar xenophobia and racism they faced in the early 2010s related to SARS and the H5N1 bird flu.

This use of language is not novel, in the longstanding history of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy towards immigrants of Asian descent in both Canada and the United States. Part of the intent of the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 was to limit the “spread of disease” as the Chinese were often seen to be carriers of infections and disease and to further limit the influx of the “yellow peril”, despite the essential contribution of Chinese labour to the early economic development of the west coast of North America. Chinese people were seen as “dangerous to the white” and often described and labelled as “dirty” and “disgusting” and living with a “standard of morality immeasurably beyond ours”, as outlined in the 1885 Report of the Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration.

What we give language to shapes our narrative and worldview, and it is particularly in the midst of fear that language can be wielded as a weapon to further divide and alienate people from one another, further normalizing and institutionalizing racism and discrimination into our societal structures. Over this past year, we have seen how language around race and identity has been critically re-examined for the ways in which they can further marginalize individuals and groups of people, even erasing the differences that should be acknowledged and celebrated. As we continue to advocate for racial justice and equity for all, we need to continually be critical-minded and vigilant of how language is employed in shaping a more equitable, instead of divisive, post-pandemic world.


“Chinese Immigration Act.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, Accessed 15 Mar. 2021.

Chung, Amy. “In 2021, Asian Canadians Document Hate Crimes To Be Believed.” HuffPost Canada, 3 Mar. 2021,

Larsson, Paula. “Anti-Asian Racism during Coronavirus: How the Language of Disease Produces Hate and Violence.” The Conversation, 31 Mar. 2020,

“The Chinese Immigration Act, 1885 | Pier 21.” The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Accessed 15 Mar. 2021.

Viala-Gaudefroy, Jérôme, and Dana Lindaman. “Donald Trump’s ‘Chinese Virus’: The Politics of Naming.” The Conversation, 21 Apr. 2020,

Hope for the New Year

The first blog post of the year is written by Lavonne Hood, Queen’s University Ombudsperson. In her piece, Lavonne reflects on the impacts of 2020 and shares her hopes for 2021

As the seconds ticked down to midnight on December 31st, there was the usual sense of excitement and celebration for the new year. But this time felt a bit different. When 2021 arrived, it felt as if we took a collective sigh of relief after finally turning the page on the last year.

2020 was a year that few could have predicted, and one we won’t soon forget. From social justice issues regarding police brutality against Black and Indigenous people to the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 was full of challenges. Yet through it all, what it taught us was the ability of the human spirit to adapt to change and reminded us of our resiliency.

Resiliency. When things get tough and obstacles appear in our way, trip us up, maybe even knock us down, how are we able to pick ourselves up time and time again? This requires an inner strength that we often don’t even know exists until we must call upon it. Often we are stronger than we think.

With the new year comes a feeling of hope and a look toward the year ahead with optimism. 2021 is an opportunity for us to reflect on the past year while acknowledging that we have overcome a lot. We should be filled with tremendous pride for all that we have achieved. However, the challenges of 2020 will not magically disappear now that it is 2021 and there is still much to do. But there is hope, and so we persevere.

At Queen’s, the BIPOC community has had to come together like never before. With the challenge of working and studying remotely, we may be apart physically, but it is our shared experiences that unite us and bring us closer. As I think about 2021 and the year ahead, I am inspired by the courage of BIPOC faculty, staff, and especially students, to speak out about their experiences of racism this past year. It is this courage – this strength – that we will use to feed the resilient spirit that is foundational for the BIPOC community’s ability to overcome repeated injustices.

Standing on the shoulders of our ancestors and those who came before us, we are pushed forward and forever hold the hope in our hearts that tomorrow will be brighter than the yesterdays of the past. It is this hope that I hold on to every day, and it is my hope for all of us as we stand at the dawn of 2021.

Happy New Year!

Compassion, Acquisition, Respect, Evaluation (CARE): Key to Academic Acculturation

Talking stick image

In our final blog post, Liying Cheng, professor and Director of the Assessment and Evaluation Group (AEG) at the Faculty of Education, talks about how we can re-shape higher education systems in Canada with a more equitable approach

At Queen’s University, we are proud to state that “We are people who want to learn, discover, think, and do. We push the limits of what can be achieved and develop ideas that can make a difference in the world”. In order to achieve this goal, we need to challenge our thinking, learn something new (Learning), relearn what we have acquired (Re-learning), and have the capacity to challenge what we learned previously (Un-learning), which is this year’s theme for Together We Are! Most importantly, this learning, re-learning and un-learning within a higher education setting need to be conducted in a Safe Space where compassion, acquisition, respect, and evaluation (CARE) are key to academic acculturation.

As Queen’s University professor, John Berry, put it, acculturation is “a process of cultural and psychological change that results from the continuing contact between people of different cultural backgrounds” (Berry, 2006, p. 27). In a study of second language students in Canadian universities, we defined academic acculturation as “the dynamic adaptation processes of linguistically and culturally diverse students engaging with the academic study cultures of Canadian English-medium universities.” (Cheng & Fox, 2008, p. 309). Within these two definitions, I’d like to frame acculturation as the process where learning, re-learning, and un-learning take place. And this process involves the continuing contact and dynamic interaction with different languages, cultures, and, in the higher education setting, different teaching and learning. I created an acronym CARE to illustrate the process below.

Compassion, Acquisition, Respect, and Evaluation (CARE)

Compassion is the ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes, i.e., to have the capacity to feel what others feel. This is crucial when it comes to the differences of teaching and learning in a diverse higher education setting. I have adopted the term acquisition here to refer to both natural and unconscious learning, and intentional learning as both types of learning have to happen for academic success. Respect is about how we deal with differences and others who “learn, discover, think, and do” differently than us. Evaluation involves making a judgement, which in turn must entail critical thinking.  In CARE, acquisition and evaluation are about the process of  “learn, discover, think, and do”, whereas compassion and respect are about the ways in which we  “learn, discover, think, and do”.

In the fall of 2019 during one of my graduate classes, we used an Indigenous talking circle pedagogy[1] to express gratitude in our lives and our academic studies around the time of Canadian Thanksgiving. As the talking stick, borrowed from the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program[2] at the Faculty of Education, (see the image of the talking stick) was being passed around, the learning, re-learning, and un-learning occurred in a compassionate and respectful manner in which all students – be they domestic, international, masters, doctoral, or exchange students – expressed their gratitude from a multidimensional, multilingual, and multicultural perspective, inevitably from many different perspectives. Many of them learned something new, re-learned something that had acquired long ago, and un-learned something which might be stereotypical and/or misinformed. Some of the graduate course participants were moved to tears, thinking about their family and their loved ones whom they left at home/in school in order to come to the class. And many of them gave heartfelt thanks to their family and their loved ones, who are so far away, in some cases halfway around the world, far beyond regular or frequent physical contact. It was in that time and space (a Safe Space) when we opened our hearts and minds to embrace this diverse learning environment. It was also in this time and space where compassion and respect for others and the differences that others bring to the learning environment must have been present for such a powerful and positive learning to take place. Without compassion and respect, we cannot have a safe space where we can challenge ourselves and each other to “push the limits of what can be achieved and develop ideas that can make a difference in the world”.

We live in an ever-changing, increasingly diverse society. Higher education systems in Canada are under constantly growing pressures to meet the needs of an ever-more diverse population, not only of students but also of teaching, research, and administrative staff. As our complex classroom communities become increasingly heterogeneous, the traditional dichotomous perspective of seeing the world in terms of discrete entities, such as domestic/international, black/white, male/female, cannot continue. Therefore, we need to move away from thinking of dichotomies to working with continua. Within this larger and complex learning environment, we cannot afford not to care (CARE). We CARE so we can truly achieve the goal of pushing “the limits of what can be achieved and develop ideas that can make a difference in the world” – a foundation of who we are at Queen’s University.

The HREO would like to thank prof. Liying Cheng for the generous donation of her honorarium as a blog contributor to our office’s efforts in advancing EDII on Queen’s Campus.

[1] First Nations Pedagogy Online refers this pedagogy as “Talking Circles or Circle Talks”. “When everyone has their turn to speak, when all voices are heard in a respectful and attentive way, the learning atmosphere becomes a rich source of information, identity, and interaction”.

[2] “The Aboriginal Teacher Education Program Office provides administrative, academic and cultural support for our ATEP campus and community-based teacher candidates, Faculty of Education students, faculty and staff, and the greater Queen’s and Kingston community”.

Berry, J. W. (2006). Contexts of acculturation. In D. L. Sam & J. W. Berry (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of acculturation psychology (p. 27–42). Cambridge University Press.

Cheng, L., & Fox, J. (2008). Towards a better understanding of academic acculturation: Second language students in Canadian universities. Canadian Modern Language Review, 65, 307-333.

Speaking Up with Love (and maybe a glass of wine)


In this blog, Vanessa McCourt, Academic Advisor and Undergraduate Program Coordinator in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, talks about the importance of having courageous conversations


I’ve never been one to speak up. I get red and flushed in the face, my underarms sweat, the right words don’t come, and I feel REALLY uncomfortable. So, for those reasons, when people have said something that I think is offensive – either directed to me or someone else – I usually keep quiet.

Fast forward 40 years (well, minus the two years before I could speak), I read a Facebook post that made me really upset. Then to my husband’s chagrin, I responded back with my own comments. Of course, this started a commenting frenzy of defending opinions.

The person who posted is my neighbor. The neighbor who is nice to my kids, a great mom, and all-around lovely person.

After about ten comments or so, my neighbor suggested that we needed to sit down together with a glass of wine and discuss our viewpoints on the issue. I agreed.

However, before we had that glass of wine, she posted AGAIN with her support for a certain ex-hockey commentator! I thought to myself, ‘we’ll probably need the whole bottle to get through this!’

We eventually sat down and talked. What I learned from that experience is that in order to undergo a process of unlearning, we must experience an embodied connection. Although we didn’t agree, our talk together cemented that connection – something a Facebook comment could never do.

In the Ted Talk entitled “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Luvvie Ajayi says, “people and systems count on our silence to keep us exactly where we are.” I didn’t want to keep silent any longer. I didn’t want to stay where I was or have my neighbor stay stuck in her thoughts and opinions either.

What I also learned from Luvvie’s talk was the importance of asking myself three questions before speaking up:

  1. Do I mean it?
  2. Can I defend it?
  3. Can I say it with love?

I tried to keep this in mind when talking with my neighbor, and we are both better because of our talk. And, a glass of wine (or two) definitely helps!

How Representation can Fuel Change


In this blog piece, Tianna Edwards, Officer of Direct Response Appeals in the Office of Advancement at Queen’s, talks about the importance of having a diverse staff and student body as the starting point to achieve a genuinely inclusive campus


I was raised in Kingston and spent my elementary and high school years as the only person of colour in most of my classes. To clarify what this means, it means being the spokesperson for all people of colour (answering questions about my race), fighting stereotypes and generally losing any anonymity whatsoever. So when it came to applying to universities, I didn’t consider Queen’s. I felt that I wouldn’t fit into the established culture of sameness and didn’t want to continue the pattern of being the only person of colour in my classes. So I branched out. Like many young Kingstonians, I moved to Toronto. I studied journalism at the University of Guelph-Humber and for the first time in my life, I blended in with my peers.

Now, almost 15 years later, I find myself back in Kingston. Not just in Kingston but working at Queen’s and not just working at Queen’s but studying here as well in the Cultural Studies program (MA). I currently work in the Office of Advancement managing the direct mail program responsible for storytelling and encouraging alumni to give back to Queen’s. I take pride in my role because I get to identify some of the incredible research and student activities happening on campus and share these achievements with alumni. In this role, now more than ever, I am seeing students of colour — that wouldn’t have fit the Queen’s mould more than a decade ago – using Queen’s resources not only to enhance their education but to lift up marginalized voices. This is significant to me.

Though I feel that Queen’s has a long way to go when it comes to diversity and inclusion, the administration is slowly making space. For example, with proper guidance from the Human Rights and Equity Office on inclusive hiring practices, more positions will be filled with people who look like me and that impact will trickle down, depicting how Queen’s is seen and talked about.

Another good example is the Cultural Studies program that welcomes students to challenge these traditions grounded in colonialism and patriarchal perspectives without judgement or scrutiny. This is important for the growth of the institution.

When I left Toronto four years ago, many Queen’s alumni warned me not to come back to Kingston – let alone step on Queen’s campus – because of its negative reputation with marginalized communities. But I strongly feel that change has to start somewhere. It starts with people like me who are willing to have the tough conversations about race with my colleagues with hopes that future employees of colour won’t have to. It starts with the students of colour who are willing to stand up and identify where Queen’s can do better regarding inclusivity. And most importantly, the attention to these issues must not waiver. My fear is the discussion around inclusivity and diversity is a western trend and popular hashtags are fleeting. This work needs to be consistent to avoid falling into old patterns.

As my husband and I start our family and plant roots in Kingston, I am hopeful that if Queen’s continues down this path of inclusion, our children will one day be proud Gaels.


Tianna Edwards

Studying the past to dream our future


In this piece, History professor Adnan Husain talks about using education to combat stereotypes, and he explains how universities provide us with the opportunity of learning from the past to build a better future

As a historian, my reflex is to look to the past to analyze contemporary conditions and understand recent experiences.  When I first began to study medieval European and Middle Eastern/Islamic History as a university student, I did not imagine that my preoccupations with how religious identities were formed through the interrelationships between Muslims, Christians and Jews in the pre-modern world would seem so relevant to so many others.  My interests at the time developed from a more personal perspective as a Muslim from a religiously observant family raised in North America.  I was seeking historical grounding for what seemed an eccentric problem—being what one scholar would later term a “Western Muslim.”   My exploration of inter-religious interaction was meant to satisfy an internal dialogue about identity and its diverse sources and to discover ways to integrate and reconcile disparate influences of my heritage and formation.

It soon became clear that much more could be at stake than my own individual curiosity and exploration, even in such a remote and apparently distant past that initially seemed an antiquarian escape from modern relevance.  But I discovered that so little of the surprising intellectual, humanistic and scientific achievements of pre-modern Islamic societies were generally appreciated or their profound contributions to Europe even commonly acknowledged.  A diverse, complex and interconnected world of commercial, cultural, and intellectual interchange among Christians, Muslims and Jews had flourished around the Mediterranean and even sustained multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies for centuries.  These untold stories and forgotten histories of the Medieval Mediterranean world hardly figured in Eurocentric narratives about our past and seemed crucial to me if we were ever to imagine a collective and cosmopolitan future.

Yet, medieval history continued popularly to be represented as entirely divided by narrow religious bigotry, crusading conflict and cultural isolation.  And this vision of the past seemed increasingly attractive to extreme ideologues—nationalists and religious fundamentalists alike—emerging at the end of the Cold War.  Right at the time I started graduate studies, Samuel Huntington published his infamous article “The Clash of Civilizations?” which attempted to use this distorted perspective on pre-modern global history to ground a conservative investment in exclusivist identitarian conflicts based on religious and “civilizational” identities.

Since the Gulf War of the early 1990’s to our own era of terrorism, interventionist warfare and massive migrations of refugees, studying the historical relationship between “Islam and the West,” as it is typically and crudely formulated, has possessed undeniable relevance and importance.  However, approaching the relationships from a skewed set of assumptions like Huntington did leads dangerously towards re-enacting the bigotries of the past in the present and regarding them as natural.

At our campus, our challenge is even more immediate than this.  The general absence of curriculum on Muslim societies and diasporas globally affects our intellectual and academic community rather profoundly.  In my two history seminars this term—one on the Crusades and another on Muslim, Christian and Jewish in the Medieval Mediterranean world, we examine and discuss together the episodes of conflict or persecution as well as the long periods of coexistence and cooperation that patterned a shared past and allow us to consider and imagine a shared future.  Rather more such opportunities are needed in our curriculum and at our campus.  Education affords us the chance to critique dangerous misconceptions and to combat the stereotyped fears that fuel Islamophobia and other forms of prejudice.  It allows us to reflect on important contemporary issues or share experiences in an environment of genuine inquiry and respectful discourse.  These are precious opportunities that universities can provide toward dreaming and, hopefully, building a more equitable future together.

Note: One such opportunity this January concerns the more recent past, the killing of six and injuring of 19 Muslims worshipping at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City on the evening of January 29, 2017.  While it is painful to remember such tragic events, the Muslim Societies-Global Perspectives project has sponsored a lecture Friday January 25th at 6:30pm in 12 Dunning Hall by noted scholar Jasmin Zine entitled: “Lessons of the Quebec Massacre: the Roots of Islamophobia in Canada.”