by Barbara Black
Two students from Concordias Graduate Students Association (GSA)
went to Durban, South Africa, this summer for the World Conference Against
Racism. While they were there, they presented a study they did this summer
on the level of tolerance at Concordia, and what a cross-section of the
university community feels about the subject.
In fact, said GSA president Rocci Luppicini, we were
the only representatives of a North American university to present a project.
He went with GSA vice-president external Nisha Sajnani, who originated
the idea for the study last year.
Sajnani, who is a practicing psychotherapist currently doing a masters
in community economic development, conceived the study as a GSA project,
not for academic credit. That appealed to Luppicini, who is doing his
doctorate in educational technology and was looking for an outlet for
his background in psychology and philosophy, and his interest in human
They worked for a year on TAG (Tolerance, Acceptance and Growth), basing
their survey questions on a model developed by the United Nations for
the coming racism conference.
We interviewed the dean of students, Rector Lowy, the student councils,
a Palestinian group, a random group of students and faculty members,
Luppicini said. They taped the responses, transcribed them, and grouped
them by theme. When they wrote up their project, they included a number
What surprised us was how far the respondents went beyond the idea
of tolerance. They said things like: We deserve more than tolerance
we deserve respect and acceptance.
The racism conference, which took place Aug. 26 to Sept. 1, was a huge
and tumultuous event. It got a lot of media attention around the world,
much of it negative. The issues that grabbed the headlines were opposition
to Israel and its support by the United States which caused the
American delegation to walk out and demands for reparations for
slavery, much of it centuries past.
Luppicini finds it hard to simplify his reactions to the conference. (He
and Sajnani attended the Youth Summit and the NGO Forum, which ran parallel
to the official UN conference.)
The experience was gruelling, full of logistical glitches such as long
waits, sudden changes in schedule, unwieldy procedures, poorly assembled
panels and a disappointing lack of true dialogue. Many panelists would
only answer questions based on their own grievances, and discussions degenerated
into yelling upon yelling. He wasnt impressed, either,
by Hedy Fry, Canadas secretary of state for multiculturalism, who
was the senior government representative, because she didnt answer
most of the questions put to her, and fell back on generalities.
On the other hand, he was exhilarated by some events that got overlooked
by the media, including a wonderful peace march, and a panel
discussion with charismatic participants, including U.S. leftwing intellectual
Angela Davis, Winnie Mandela, and aboriginal leader Matthew Coon Come.
The students trip was financed partly by the GSA and partly out
of their own pockets. They are hoping to get some funding after the fact
from other sources at the university.