Our core questions for our project are:
1) Is ethnic separation normal or just a phenomenon found in Dawson?
2) What leads to the division of these cafeterias?
3) Has it always been like that?
4) Are those divisions good or bad? Why?
5) How does it affect the mentality of Dawson students?
6) How could we change this phenomenon? Should we change it or just let it be?
In order to get answers to our questions, we interviewed various people, a university teacher in Education (Nicole Carignan), a sociology teacher in Dawson College (Dan Loomer), an English teacher for over 20 years at Dawson that has taught about Culture Shock (Greta Hoffman), a member of the DSU (Nadia Kanji), various students from each cafeteria, and the president of the “Chill Club”, a club aiming to go against the discrimination in the cafeteria (Flint Deita). Here are the summaries of each interview along with what main information we got from them. You can also see footages of the interviews in our final documentary.
Interview with Nicole Carignan, Ph.D. in Comparative Education and full professor at Uqam University
Here is a summary of the interview with Nicole Carignan. She was very prepared and had made some research to answer our questions as professionally as possible. The summary contains selected quotes from Carignan.
Nicole Carignan is a teacher in education and she often talks about the topic of ethnic diversity in class. I came across her as she was giving a free conference at Uqam University (in French) called Pluriethnicité à l’école, menace ou richesse? (Translation: Pluriethnicity at school, menace or richness?) It is important for future teachers to have a formation on the subject. She sent me a lengthy PowerPoint with various interesting facts and statistics concerning ethnic diversity in Canada and in the education system.
During the interview, we asked her to explain why students tend to divide themselves according to their ethnicity, mainly in the cafeterias. To explain her answer, she referred to the Five Characteristics proposed by Marger (Northern Kentucky US):
1- Unique Culture Traits : an ethnic group is recognized by their common culture traits
2- Sense of Community: there is an obvious “we” feeling amongst members of the group, the people in and out of the group both feel and act as if it were a separate group. There are no ethnicity without a distinction between “them” and “us”
3- Ethnocentric bias: Ethnocentrism is the tendency to judge other groups by the standards and values of our own. Inevitably, this produces a view of one’s own group as superior to others
4- Ascribed membership: One’s ethnicity is a characteristic acquired at birth and is not subject to change. Individuals come to learn their group membership early and effectively (which means that people are born into their ethnic groups, they don’t pick which one they belong in)
5- Territoriality: Ethnic groups often occupy a distinct territory within the larger society. In the case of our school, ethnic groups probably feel more powerful occupying a specific territory, like the cafeterias.
In sum, here is the main information we gathered after the interview with Nicole Carignan to explain the phenomenon:
-> Ethnic segregations are mainly due to Ethnocentrism, the feeling that “our” group is better comparing to other groups. However, it is normal to look for people similar to “us” because as a group we feel stronger.
-> Such divisions are not a question of good or bad, the concern is to find a way to all live together and to learn the values of diversity, the richness of sharing similarities as well as thinking multiculturally.
– >We need a strong institutional leadership because such a situation can drive us to discrimination. We should learn to avoid Ethnocentrism, and learn that all individuals and all groups have something to offer. We have to learn to promote the sense of “our” community and the one of the others.
Dan Loomer’s sociological point of view on the situation was very interesting. He gladly answered our questions and had an interesting point of view on the cafeteria segregation. Dan Loomer believes that segregation is inevitable in schools because students search for a group they can identify with.
The same phenomenon is also repeated in society at large: think of the different neighborhoods in Montreal that each have their own characteristic and usually group people from the same ethnicity.
He remembered a story that happened not so long ago: the “Goth” group used to hang out at the bottom of the escalators in the lower atrium, but one day the administration told them that they weren’t allowed to hang out there anymore because of safety issues. A few days later, the Goths had found a new hang out place at the end of the 2C wing: basically, we can try to move a group from its place but it won’t break up the group, they will just find another place to hang out in.
Everyone finds their place in the end, but what about people who don’t feel like they can identify with any of them and can’t find a space? Dan Loomer explained that those students may not have a specific space to occupy, but they occupy a space that’s fluid around the school, basically they vary their hang out spots and occupy a space that belongs to everyone pretty much equally.
The students we interviewed had told us that the 3rd floor cafeteria was the most segregated of the three while the atrium was considered the least segregated. To explain that, Dan Loomer hypothesized that it could be based on the location of the cafeterias. To go to the 3rd floor cafeteria, you have to go up the stairs and intentionally reach it, while the atrium is in a more public space. Furthermore, the “Italian Caf” is the only cafeteria that actually has a cafeteria where you can purchase food, and when they are done buying their food they have to come out by the exit that leads them directly into the middle of the atrium, so when there are free tables they might choose to just sit down there.
Interview with Greta Hofman Nemiroff, New School English Teacher
Greta Hoffman was my English teacher last semester in the New School. She has taught at Dawson College for over 20 years and she has taught a class about Culture Shock. We interviewed her about the evolution of the Dawson Cafeterias and about the sentiment of culture shock.
Dawson College wasn’t always all in one campus, it actually used to have 10 campuses. Greta couldn’t retrace the exact moment when the cafeterias began to segregate, but she remembers that she clearly noticed it in 1996, which is 14 years ago. However, she doesn’t consider it to be a unique trait of Dawson, she’s worked in different schools and each one of them had spaces occupied by different ethnic groups.
The segregation happening in Dawson is only a problem if it is defined as a problem by the students, but according to our interview with students (see bottom of page), students don’t see it as a problem. However, Greta believes that it is a problem in society because prejudices come from lack of knowledge, so if students don’t explore and learn about different cultures, they will keep those prejudices. A multicultural society would be ideally a society where everyone is open-minded and no one takes into account ethnicity to judge people.
The uncomfortable feeling experienced by students when they walk into a cafeteria they don’t “belong” can be compared to the feeling of “Culture shock”, which is basically a feeling of acute displacement, when you find it hard to establish your identity in a different environment or culture, and feeling like an outsider.
It is clear that students are sensible to feelings of acceptance and nobody likes that feeling of discomfort when you feel like an outsider, but Greta encourages students to just go with it! «Discomfort is good; students should open their eyes, their ears and their hearts and talk to people of other ethnicities. They would learn so much by getting out and talking to the “others”». There are approximately 89 different ethnicities in Dawson College, and people who don’t engage in trying to learn about them are missing out.
Dawson College tries to host multicultural events like for example the multicultural food fair. However, ethnic food doesn’t scare people as much as people scare people. Students simply enjoy the free food and the shows and when the event is over, they simply go back to their separation. Multicultural thinking should be thought and encouraged in every class in Canada, giving students the space to talk about their cultures and learn about each other.
Interview with Flint Deita, President of the “Chill Club, the unofficial student lounge of Dawson”
Flint originated the idea of chill club after noticing how bored he felt in the cafeterias of Dawson. He didn’t know anyone at first, and he found it hard to make friends or meet new people because they were already formed in cliques in the cafeterias, but he didn’t feel like he belonged in any of them.
Also, he didn’t want to meet people exclusively based on their race, so in Fall 2008 he created a venue. The Dawson Chill Club is a club space where, contrarily to the other club spaces, anyone can join: there are no preferences to become a member, as long as you have the interest to meet new people. It is a temporary solution to the absence of a student lounge in the school. When someone walks in, it is mandatory for everyone to make the “new” people feel welcomed. It is the opposite of the uncomfortable experience of walking in one of the cafeterias and sensing that people are staring at you
Even thought Chill Club is doing well and has grown since 2008, Flint Deita’s real goal is to make an actual Student Lounge run by students where anyone can feel welcomed and where students can host events and little shows.
Special Message from Flint Deita: If you want to meet new people and chill somewhere different during your breaks and feel welcomed, come by the Chill Club at 2C.9!!
Interview with Nadia Kanji, director of Internal Affairs, DSU
I decided to interview Nadia Kanji from the DSU after I saw someone wearing a pin given by the DSU that said “My Caf is RaceLess”. I was interested in finding out why they were distributing those pins: was the DSU planning a campaign against segregations in the Cafeterias? I had to find out for myself…
Newly this year, Nadia explained, Dawson College has joined the Task Force on Campus Racism, a campaign already installed in various campuses in Canada.
The DSU, along with the Task Force on Campus Racism, plans on setting up public consultation where students can submit cases and complaints related to racism or discriminating behaviour on campus in order to transfer them to the administration and set up new regulations. The segregation phenomenon in the cafeterias is only one of the cases.
Like us, Nadia had noticed the separation by ethnicity happening in the cafeterias, and she believed that being segregated would create a barrier to inclusivity and tolerance amongst students. To trigger their awareness campaign, the DSU decided altogether to print a limited number of “My Caf is RaceLess” pins to hand out, but Nadia is not sure if the DSU will proceed to printing a greater number of those pins.
Nadia claims that people come into their office frequently to complain about discrimination based on their ethnicity in the school, but she couldn’t give us an example of any precise cases because they are anonymous.
Interview with random students sitting in the cafeterias of Dawson
The best way to learn more about the cafeterias of Dawson was to go directly to the center of each cafeteria and interview random people who were sitting at the tables. After interviewing two different tables at each cafeteria, I came up with a summary of what we learned from them:
- Out of the 13 people who were interviewed, about 5 people said that they felt welcomed everywhere in the school. This means that more than 50% of our interviewees claimed that sometimes they can feel uncomfortable when they walk in a cafeteria they don’t “belong” in.
- People in the “Italian Caf” tend to say that the “Jewish Caf” is the most segregated and unwelcoming cafeteria of the three. They believe that it is due to its location because it is situated on the 3rd floor and it is not close to the actual cafeteria where you buy food, so people have to go out of their way to get there while the two others are closer to everything.
- People in the “Jewish Caf” enjoy their space and some say that they dislike the “Italian Caf” or Conrods because they are too loud. The 3rd floor cafeteria is quieter.
- Nobody interviewed considered the separation to be a problem. They say that it’s always been like that and that it’s normal for people to want to hang out with similar people.
In sum, we learnt that there is indeed a separation by ethnicity going on in the school, and most people know about it without however considering it as a problem. Our interviewees found their places in their “respective” cafeterias and they decide stay there since they are comfortable. The sum of our interviews also confirmed our statement that some students feel uncomfortable when they walk into other cafeterias occupied principally by another race. It also confirmed that people from each cafeteria have prejudices about people in the other cafeteria. And racial prejudice is a form of minor racism.
It is important to consider that all the people we interviewed were sitting IN the cafeterias. Once people find a place where they feel they belong in, they feel comfortable and won’t find any problems with it. However, people who don’t feel like they belong in any of the cafeterias would have a different point of view on the situation. They also didn’t see it as a problem of “missing out” on learning about different cultures.
If the majority of students in the school don’t find the segregation to be a problem, it will never change.