Race and Racism

The treatment of "race" and the existence of racism have long been issues of concern for members of the Queen's community. Two important reviews of campus climate -- the Principal's Advisory Committee Report on Race Relations (1992) and the report on Understanding the Experiences of Visible Minority and Indigenous Faculty Members At Queen's (2003) --have reflected the need for ongoing measures to ensure that students, staff and faculty are able to participate fully and equally in the community, without discrimination on the basis of race or race related grounds.

It is now widely accepted that there is no scientific validity to the categorization of human being on the basis of “race”. Race, once believed to be rooted in biology, is now better understood as a social construct unable to adequately account for the many differences within, and similarities among, racial groups. However, while it may be argued that there is essentially “no such thing as race” and that the full diversity of humankind belongs to a single species, “the social construction of race is a powerful force in our society, with real consequences for individuals.” (Ontario Human Rights Commission Policy and Guidelines on Racism and Racial Discrimination, 2005). In other words, the fact that race does not exist has not spared groups of people from having racial judgements assigned to them (racialization) or from being treated negatively because of their perceived race.

Racism is a broad and complex phenomenon involving expressions of superiority of one racial group over another. The effects of racism can be detected in all areas of society including cultural practices, ideologies, discourses, social, political and economic structures.

As a public institution with a focus on diversifying community, curriculum and research activity, Queen’s University has an interest in challenging racism generally. However, it also has specific legal obligations to ensure that community members do not experience racial discrimination and harassment.

The Queen’s Harassment/Discrimination Complaint Policy and Procedure protects staff, students, faculty and visitors to campus from discrimination and harassment on the basis of race.Racial discrimination may be understood as a distinction, intentional or not, that has the effect of imposing burdens, disadvantaging, and limiting access to opportunities on the basis of race and/or what are often referred to as “race-related grounds” (i.e. characteristics often linked to race) such as: ancestry, colour, ethnicity, place or origin, creed and citizenship. Some examples of racial discrimination include:

  • Preference being given to persons of one race over persons of another race in housing
  • Denying a promotion to a staff or faculty member on the basis of race-related stereotypes
  • Negatively evaluating a student's course work based on the student's non-European surname

Racial harassment may be defined as a course of vexatious comment or conduct related to race or a race-related ground, which is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome. Some examples of racial harassment include:

  • Racial epithets, slurs, jokes, and name-calling
  • Ridiculing individuals because of their race-related characteristics, e.g. wearing of religious garments
  • Display of racial graffiti,posters, cartoons, screen savers, etc.

Accommodation may be understood as a series of steps taken to ensure that individuals, regardless of physical ability, ancestry, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. are able to participate fully in events, activities and employment. When members of the University have obligations related to a human rights ground that conflict with an institutional rule or practice, Queen's has a duty to accommodate peoples' needs with dignity and to the point of undue hardship. Examples of accommodation with respect to the race-related grounds may include:

  • Use of various methods of communication (e.g. written, oral, and visual) to assist learners whose first language is not English
  • Allowing the burning of ceremonial herbs (e.g. sage, sweetgrass) in University buildings
  • Providing flexible scheduling for employees required to pray during work hours

Please also refer to the section on Accommodation


If you would like to discuss a question or concern about racism or race related discrimination/harassment, please contact the Queen's Human Rights Office at:

Phone: (613) 533-6886
Email: hrights@queensu.ca