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Core Themes


The video above gives an overview of the resource and an introduction to its key concepts surrounding the Core Themes of our study.


The purpose of this project and the creation of our website was to extend the critical work around race, racialized students' experiences, and conceptualizing safety across the pedagogy. Inspired by work before us, such as the RACE report led and authored by Roche Keane and Dr. Ameil Joseph, as well as the anonymous suggestion box, conceptualized by Glenda Vanderleeuw, our project looked to continue to collect the insights of students of colour's experiences within academics to sow seedlings for change. 

Racialized students have experienced systemic issues within curriculum, microaggressions in the classroom and in the field, conflicting definitions of safety, and lack of attendance to intersectional issues and the nuances of intersectional and racial identity. Recognizing these issues to be consistent and cyclical across academic disciplines, our project hoped to validate these experiences and create tangible avenues for change at the peer, instructional, and pedagogical level. Through obtaining diverse yet collective experiences from student’s of colour across academics, we discovered a consensus and unified voice across core themes that have dictated the student of colour's school experience.

It is from these core themes, that we have developed suggestions, resources, directions, and reflective points for your consideration, to aid in co-constructing safer spaces, across the continuum of academics, for students of colour at McMaster University. 

On This Page:

  • The Significance of Unrecognized and Uncompensated Labour
  • Experiences of Harm
  • Emotional, Social and Physical Health Impacts
  • Systemic Issues with Pedagogy and Instruction

The Significance of Unrecognized and Uncompensated Labour

The Significance of Unrecognized and Uncompensated Labour

Uncompensated and unrecognized labour is a salient and central theme in the narratives of racialized students' experiences in the classroom and pedagogy at large. Students consistently described the unfair and disproportionate onus and responsibility of having to educate faculty and their peers on racial issues, racial tensions, and elements of racial identity. This has taken the form of: 

  • Informal teaching responsibilities 
  • Consultation roles around racial experiences with white students
  • Being asked to occupy committee or peer support positions due to visible identity markers
  • Mediation and intervening in racist and harmful discourse in the classroom
  • Addressing microaggressions in the classroom 

Racial identity is a topic that has been treated as “taboo” in the classroom; creating opportunities for instructors and professors to avoid, gloss over, or, at times, misrepresent its intersectional components and need for attention in curriculum and in the classroom. This has left students of colour feeling responsible for ensuring that topics of race and racial identity are not erased, misconstrued, or misrepresented, thus forcing them into tense, harmful, and awkward positions of educating their peers and faculty. As racialized students have clearly detailed, the discussion of racial dynamics and race issues has consistently become experiences of stockpiling the responsibilities of mediation, facilitation, interpersonal work, feedback and curriculum development onto students of colour for free.

Experiences of Harm

Experiences of Harm

The impacts of uncompensated labour, microaggressions, and multi-layered systemic issues have come at a cost to students of colour. Interwoven into their responses were the direct experiences of harm that have been produced by centring and protecting whiteness in the classroom. Often taking the form of invalidation, challenging lived experiences, questioning race/oppression/elements of racial identity, and tokenism (to name a few), students of colour have been positioned to be the receivers of adverse reactions, emotions, and conversation from both students and faculty. 

Students of colour were clear in naming and explaining the catastrophic effects that repeated racist and discriminatory experiences have in their lives. Consistent amongst our findings and in literature is the manifestation of racial trauma, which is a form of PTSD/trauma and emotional reaction that comes from repeated and/or daily discrimination, racism, and marginalization. As students of colour consistently bump up against these experiences in academics, racial trauma begins to flourish in a multitude of ways that cascade into numerous areas of wellbeing:


  • Persistent feelings of anger, defensiveness, unprovoked crying, dissociation, sadness, withdrawal and social isolation, lack of concentration and attention, self-silencing 
  • Hyperarousal symptoms such as avoidance and numbing 
  • Perceived threat and harm
  • Mental Health concerns such as depression, PTSD, mood disorder, low self-esteem and sense of self, suicidal ideation 


  • Psychosomatic complaints: issues with sleep such as oversleeping or interrupted sleep, lethargy and lacking energy, brain fog 
  • Frequent migraines and headaches, muscle tensions and spasms, eye twitching 
  • Comorbid health issues: increased levels of stress and associated cardiovascular issues 


  • Disconnection from culture in order to assimilate or gain acceptance 
  • Having culture or spirituality questioned; attack on core sense of self 
  • Limited opportunities to connect with other members of own culture or spirituality due to lack of representation; limited and stringent culturally reflective supports
  • Discomfort in asking for accommodation to attend or engage in cultural and spiritual practices 
  • Tokenizing culture or spirituality  

Financial and Academic

  • Lack of attendance and engagement in course content and course at large
  • Divestment from schooling and grades, having to repeat classes/years of study
  • Bearing financial costs of counselling, supports, repeated courses and years 
  • Increased efforts in finding literature, scholarly evidence for experiences and assignments 


  • Distrust, isolation, loneliness, lack of peer support
  • Tainted image: student of colour often positioned as combative, aggressive, or distracting, furthering divide between students of colour and faculty/peers
  • Distance from school “community”, discomfort in attending school events and activities, difficulties navigating conversation with professors and peers  

The unified voice of students of colour was clear in stating that the manifestation of racial trauma and its perverse effects stem from a lack of sufficient and thoughtful attendance and support across all sectors of the pedagogy. This creates and reproduces unsafe experiences for students of colour that is present in interpersonal relationships with white counterparts in the classroom, in interactions with professors and faculty, in presentation and reception of curriculum and subjective knowledge across disciplines in a fashion that is harmful and laborious to all factors that contribute to sense of self, purpose and well being. 

Emotional, Social and Physical Health Impacts

Emotional, Social and Physical Health Impacts

What students of colour have consistently called for is intervention and advocacy in the classroom when interpersonal and systemic issues are identified. The acknowledgement and investment in safer spaces for students of colour should no longer be at the expense and labour of students of colour but is rather a responsibility of instructors, faculty, and administration to intentionally address. Students of colour were direct in detailing anecdotes and experiences where instructors could have proactively intervened in racist discourse and proceedings in the classroom but were met with claims of ignorance or discomfort in intervening. 

What this is indicative of is the centralization of protecting and pedestaling white identity in the classroom; choosing to ignore or minimize student’s of colours experiences of harm in the classroom is indicative of white preservation as one is consciously or unconsciously choosing to prioritize the protection, learning experience, and emotions of a majoritarian identity over a marginalized identity. The prevalence and persistence of whiteness in the classroom was found to: 

  • Create nuanced experiences of harm which has specific long term implications for students of colour as detailed above 
  • Make room for the persistence of microaggressions and racist discourse in the classroom through ideological liberal values of free speech, market, and freedom of expressions
  • Redressing of harms as learning opportunities
  • Maintain the fallacy of multiculturalism and race neutrality in the classroom 
  • Centre White epistemology and knowledge 

A lack of faculty and instructional support in creating safer spaces and intervening in harmful experiences targeted at students of colour is rooted in discussion around “intent versus impact." Administrators and faculty must be intentional about supplying educational and recurring tools and opportunities on how to mediate and navigate conversations about race from white positionality and becoming comfortable with seeing and addressing colour in the classroom. It is clear that a primary factor in creating safety and safer spaces in the pedagogy was creating space in the classroom for educational, proactive, and progressive conversations around race and racism that do not involve harmful rhetoric or uncompensated labour.

Systemic Issues with Pedagogy and Instruction

Systemic Issues with Pedagogy and Instruction

While the university proclaims campus-wide multiculturalism and diversity, the centralization of whiteness moves beyond interpersonal and instructional components in the classroom to all touchpoints of the pedagogy. Across the cumulative projects that have informed our site is the sentiment that students of colour need more reflection and representation in the pedagogy. A lack of representation in faculty, curriculum, administration, and social support programming and groups were some of the “places” identified to be missing racial and ideological reflection. Below, indicates some of the ways representation, reflection, diversity, and intentionality are lacking across the continuum of the pedagogy: 

In faculty: 

  • Lack of diversity amongst faculty and instructors
  • Lack of resources from white professors and faculty to pull from to support students of colour 
  • Lack of training and education around race dynamics and race issues inside and outside of the classroom 
  • Lack of mentorship around race-specific issues in the classroom 
  • Lack of guest speakers on topics of race or other topics white faculty feel uncomfortable addressing due to lack of personal and professional knowledge


  • Lack of representation and inclusion of literature, discourse, opinions and materials from the margins, 
  • Critical courses focused on race are not mandatory; allowing students to engage optionally 
  • Lack of interrogation into social location and whiteness beyond flower power exercises 
  • Lack of attendance and recognition of the socio-economic and socio-political contexts that students of colour are living in and surrounding events 
  • Performative advocacy: ie. surface-level, lofty land acknowledgments, brief statements of racial issues in community with lack of intentionality
  • Educational tools on race often involve “trauma porn” ie. heavy violence on people of colour and other depictions of traumatic present-day and historic events 


  • Lack of diversity amongst administration and university leadership 
  • Lack of conflict resolution pathways for students of colour 
  • Lack of partnership with racialized communities and lack of partnerships for supporting students in the community 
  • Lack of intentional intervention when racist discourse happens publicly on campus; under the guise of free speech 
  • Knowingly employing and supporting community members known to be discriminatory and racists to people of colour, furthering lack of safety on campus 
  • Lack of intentionally crafted/dedicated and funded physical safe spaces on campus for students of colour and caucus groups and clubs
  • Lack of diversity in school marketing, design (ie. wall of whiteness), and awarding/recognitions

Siloed Social Support Programming: 

  • Lack of formalized peer support 
  • Few opportunities to collaborate with other racial caucus groups across disciplines and faculties
  • Lack of support, financially and personally, from faculty to ensure successful group 
  • Lack of intentionality around connecting group to additional resources, rooted in identity 
  • Lack of diversity among student representatives on core committees and in meaningful faculty conversations 

Altogether, the lack of representation and support creates instances where students of colour need to learn, meaning make, navigate conflict, and heal in isolation. Acknowledging a lack of representation also involves acknowledging the lack of supportive pathways that assist students in working through and unpacking these harmful experiences and manifestations of marginalization. This feeds into larger systemic issues such as lack of conflict resolution pathways, accessible counseling and resources, and pedagogical support; significant gaps that need to be filled in order to create and maintain safety in the pedagogy in formalized ways. 

Insufficient or underdeveloped conflict resolution pathways, accessibility when dealing with racial trauma, and pedagogical support

Insufficient or underdeveloped conflict resolution pathways, accessibility when dealing with racial trauma, and pedagogical support

As the effects of harmful discourse, unsafe environment, and lack of representation infiltrate the emotional, physical, spiritual, and academic lives of students of colour, racialized students continue to feel a lack of support. Insight from students of colour shows that these feelings stem from insufficient information around navigating and addressing these experiences in a white-dominated institution. Often having to search for support and resources independently, students of colour describe the disappointment around limited options available to assist with these complex experiences and the added labour of having to mediate these things alone. 

Unfortunately, the institution does not currently have a crisis or counselling pathway specific to students of colour that can speak to, acknowledge, and address their intersectional experiences. Having spaces for consistent academic and emotional counselling around experiences of racial trauma has been named as a resource that would be highly beneficial to students of colour to aid in unpacking harmful experiences, externalizing them, and developing critical consciousness, and assisting in maintaining their academic journeys. 

Additionally, students reported the need for conflict resolution pathways that would assist in navigating the uncomfortable and intimidating terrain that students of colour avoid or feel silenced in when having to address racist discourse in the classroom from students, offer feedback to faculty and instruction around feelings of harm in the classroom, and have tangible change/solutions implemented when these situations arise. The reality is that students of colour are one of few in classroom spaces. Fear around being labelled as aggressive or uncooperative, having no vocalized peer support or advocacy, and consequences on grades become considerations when students of colour seek to resolve pedagogical conflict. Coupled with a lack of understanding for the nuance and presentation of the situations amongst faculty and department administrations, students of colour end up continuing to feel unsupported, silenced, and misplaced. Formalizing conflict resolution pathways and crisis resolution pathways to racial harm and race-based trauma that becomes precedent, institution-wide, is a need, not a want.