Missing: Women of Colour Educators

Written by: Niroshini Mather

A teacher is often defined as a figure who helps students develop knowledge, virtues and morals.

In primary education, they play an immeasurable role during a child’s most impressionable years. This persists in post-secondary education, where professors often act as mentors to bridge the intimidating jump into the workforce. In my 16 years of schooling, from elementary to what is now my second year of university, I have had three teachers who were women of colour. And even then, I am one of the lucky ones.  

There is a gross underrepresentation of women of colour within the educational field. It is no secret our education system has and continues to revolve around a Eurocentric system. Learning about the oppression of Indigenous people or Canada’s history of slavery is often glossed over in preference of our more celebrated contributions that align with our stance as an “equitable” country. Neither is it a secret that BIPOC students often find themselves to be the only person of colour within their classroom. This sense of “otherness” was only exacerbated when, upon being subject to microaggressions, no one to ask, no one to explain or no one to sympathize with. While I never doubted my teachers cared they could never relate to the struggle of growing up as a woman of colour within a euro-centric world at the end day.

The “teacher diversity gap” is a recognized issue however, it has rarely been addressed in conversations surrounding educational reform. In Toronto, while more than half of our population consists of visible minorities, the only ⅕ of educators are non-white (Turner Consulting Group, 2014). This unfortunate trend persists into post-secondary institutions. Of the 2285 research chair positions across Canada, only 15% were held by visible minorities, and only 1% was held by those who identified as Indigenous.

Educators arguably play one of the most pivotal roles in childhood development. They introduce students to different fields of possibility and impress on their values and morals, including those regarding diversity and inclusion. Furthermore, they often act as role models themselves and foster the growth of trust in the educational system itself. The lack of BIPOC educators deprives BIPOC students of the necessary authenticity, dedication and inclusiveness they deserve in their academic careers.

How can BIPOC students trust an education system that fails to hire people like themselves? How can BIPOC students feel included in the community where there is no one to relate to?

How can BIPOC work towards a field in which they see no one like themselves?

And yet, amidst this adversity, women of colour students have continually been breaking boundaries in a historically underrepresented field. So just imagine how much more we can achieve if given the necessary mentorship and resources by BIPOC leaders during our most impressionable years.  

The educational system is one of the most imperative systems in our country, and yet it has failed to evolve with our evolving society. Building a diverse educational staff is only one step of a larger, and much-needed decolonization process. When discussing the education system’s diversity gap, the discussion must focus on what is going to be done, how it will be achieved and when. 

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