Sights and sounds: The July 6 conversations about the anti-Asian racism report for the York district school board

By Perry King
July 13, 2023
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All images by Perry King/OISE

As the July 6 event exploring the details of anti-Asian racism in the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) report came to a close, many in the room understood that the report – filed by Dr. Mary Reid, an associate professor at OISE, and Dr. Ardavan Eizadirad, assistant professor of the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University and an OISE alumni – was merely one step forward in dismantling hate.

Hosted by Dean Erica Walker, with opening remarks and an engaging Q&A session, the event was a way to actively engage with the report – rather than have it gather dust in a library.

On June 15, York Region District School Board received a landmark report regarding anti-Asian racism in the YRDSB from the two OISE-affiliated researchers. That report was warmly received by the YRDSB.

Dr. Reid and Dr. Eizadirad consulted Asian educators, students, staff, and community members across the YRDSB and developed a series of recommendations aimed at ensuring YRDSB schools are identity-affirming learning and working spaces for Asian students and staff.

The report included four objectives:

  • Amplify the voices of Asian educators, students, staff, and community members across that school board;
  • Legitimize struggles, barriers, discrimination, and racism experienced by these members;
  • Create more equitable and inclusive school environments through commitments to action; and
  • Identify systemic barriers faced by these community members, envisioning the elimination of these pervasive obstacles through a series of recommendations.

Below are just some of what was said during the enriching conversation. The responses have been edited for length and clarity.

To view the report, visit this link.

See below to watch the event, in full.

Opening thoughts

“It wasn't until my adult years when I realized that this 'keep your head down' mentality no longer works. We need to speak up! Staying quiet and remaining invisible is counterproductive, and it works against our rights for equity, diversity and inclusion. So today, we're rocking the boats. I'm going to be amplifying my voice or more importantly, our demand.” – Dr. Mary Reid

“Many are present here, and many couldn't make it, but hopefully you will watch the live stream. Working together to capture perspective of students in grades seven to 12. teachers, administrators and committee members ­­– boldly and bravely sharing their pain, trauma and frustrations. So, matter of fact, as much as you give us the highlight to be here today, it is them we should be thanking for speaking up their truths. There's a responsibility as researchers to handle their truth with care, and we hope we paid homage to that. And as listeners and as leaders, there is a responsibility to not dismiss their truth but rather indulge in it. Listen to what they're trying to tell you. Listen to all your senses. Because an improved education system from an equity approach mitigating anti-Asian racism is an improved education system for all #LetsChopItUp #LetsBreakBread love, respect and gratitude.” – Dr. Ardavan Eizadirad

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A Q&A conversation followed the researchers' opening remarks.

Hello. I'm a student teacher. I'm hoping to graduate next year and I think a lot of these ideas like really hit home. I've seen racism from teachers and schools from a practicum and I was wondering, how do you think we as educators can bring these ideas into school? 

Dr. Ardavan Eizadirad: For me, I think it goes back to relationships in navigating hierarchies of power. Unfortunately, in most of our institutions, there is an order. So, you've got to figure out who's going to be on your team.

When I started teaching, they told me that the two most important people in the school are the custodian staff, and the office folks – they can make their life miserable, or very easy. So, you want them as allies. You also have to build relationships with administrators, and find community, hopefully, at your school, if not, online is a great place to find a community of like-minded people. 

“A lot of times, the system wants us to conform to get opportunities. So, maybe you bend a little bit, but don't break your values, and then use it to create change and amplify the voices of those who also care. It could be students at your school who feel that way. So instead of inserting it through yourself, if it comes from the students – and if it comes in numbers or with other staff as allies – I think it carries weight. A lot of times, we talk about what we should do but we don't spend enough time talking about how to strategically do it. I think that piece is a big part of actually getting the result you want.”

Dr. Mary Reid: “Thank you. I'm also going to say leadership matters which is why we need systems that diversify leadership roles. And we found that there was significantly not enough Asian representation in vice principal, principal, and superintendent roles, and there was this real bamboo ceiling.

“We need to ensure that Asian voices are at the table when it comes to decision-making policies and procedures, and leadership really matters. Once we get more leaders that represent the diversity of Asian voices and perspectives, I think it's going to be easier for new teachers and youth to come on board and feel safer – to be their authentic selves.”


How many recommendations have already been taken up by the YRDSB, and how can I as a parent make sure that the school board really executes the recommendations?

Dr. Reid: “I  have some good news. So we delivered a very important workshop. And they reviewed the recommendations and really put their heads together to figure out how these recommendations can come to life, instead of just sitting on the shelf collecting dust.

“There are already some recommendations that have already been started. And part of the recommendation is to measure them and revisit them on a cyclical basis.”

Dr. Eizadirad: I would just say now that you will have to do to advocate. We try to do the advocacy through writing, and we'll continue it. But, email the report to your principal and email it to your school trustee. If 10 people do that, that's going to move up as a priority item in terms of being discussed at the next meeting. If the report comes and goes after today, then it might collect dust.

I'm not saying it will. But the more you amplify it, the more you legitimize it, the more likely it is accepted – which is why I say it goes back to all of us, it's not on the leaders, it starts with us to say, you serve our needs, and this is a need does not address.

We have to continue to make that an issue and work with people in power who can help amplify it. 

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