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September 27, 2001 Our views on campus tolerance were aired at Durban



Nisha Sajnani and Rocci Luppicini

Nisha Sajnani and Rocci Luppicini

by Barbara Black

Two students from Concordia’s 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 master’s 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 rights.

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 of recommendations.

“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 wasn’t impressed, either, by Hedy Fry, Canada’s secretary of state for multiculturalism, who was the senior government representative, because she didn’t 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.