Racial comments

The Faculty of Arts & Science is searching for a new Registrar because the incumbent, George Altmeyer is retiring.

The Dean struck a search committee. I’m on it. In addition, there are two college principals, two department chairs, a couple of folks from the deanery, and a person from human resources, as well as a part-time student. That’s a total of nine people, including myself.

I’m the only non-white person on the committee. That comes neither as a surprise,
nor as anything novel for me (or, indeed, any person of colour involved in such activities).

The committee has been meeting to interview candidates for the position. Friday, there was one such meeting.

The committee members variously ask questions of the candidate and evaluate their answers. One of the members of the committee was asking the candidate about how the Office of the Registrar could be envisioned ten years from now, or such.

The candidate responded with ideas about the use of technology to make processes more efficient, and also less time-consuming for students. While students should not have to come in for most things, the candidate said, it is important nevertheless to maintain a human face, have personnel in place, for interaction with students.

That’s when the questioner said that he certainly hoped the Office of the Registrar doesn’t become “a call centre in Pakistan.”

Everyone chuckled, except for me.

When it came time for me to ask the question, I implied rather strongly — for “great minds” anyway — that I was irked. Maybe I wasn’t clear enough. No one apologized, no one said anything — the person who made the comment simply avoided my gaze for the rest of the time.

I understand the context of the statement — i.e., impersonal services — but it’s still disconcerting. It made me uncomfortable, and was almost offensive. It’s certainly not something I’d expect from a senior university administrator.

How come everyone in these meetings is white? Or mostly male? Rah rah diversity.

I guess a man’s entitled to make a fool of himself if he’s ready to pay the cost.

- Malcolm X

In the fall of 2005, soon after the school year started, a representative from the Commerce Students’ Association came to speak to ASSU about his organization. He talked about how they hadn’t been interacting with ASSU for a considerable amount of time and so were like the black sheep. I said something like, “more like the Chinese sheep.”

That didn’t go over well with him, as well it shouldn’t have. I apologized rather quickly and have kept it in my mind ever since. It wasn’t the right thing to say, especially coming from someone in my position (as an Executive Member of ASSU).

(Context: before I met this person, I had met three different friends of Chinese backgrounds at three different points in the day who were cracking jokes with me about their Chinese-ness. I also have a few friends in Commerce who joke about it being dominated by East Asians. That doesn’t, by any means, excuse my comment.)

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2 Responses so far

  1. 1

    WM said,

    May 29, 2006 @ 4:51 pm

    I sincerely hope I know you. I even more sincerely hope that I have either taught you or will have the opportunity to. You can fix more of my geography along the way. Thank you for visiting chez moi. Now that I’ve found you, I’ll be back here to get the lowdown.
    Whoever you are, I’m proud of you, as would the whole faculty be, if the knew enough to be.

  2. 2

    WM said,

    May 31, 2006 @ 7:35 pm

    Oh? The one non-white? Are you surprised? If so, shame on you and wake up!

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