“As I was beginning to think about writing the opening statements for this event I was overcome by a sense of anger. Anger because I have become aware more and more everyday that this university is a space of violence that is deeply inequitable in its entire existence. The implication of this awareness for me as a diasporic, woman of colour from a low-income family is that I have to teach myself how to navigate this violence everyday, while attempting to resist and contest the identity of “otherness” that this university has mapped on to my body with its policies, Eurocentric curriculums and symbolisms. What this means for me and other members of marginalized communities is a proliferation of the already existing barriers of being able to access and complete degrees within a post-secondary setting.
I am currently enrolled in a course entitled “Making Knowledge as if the World Mattered” that is supposed to teach me to appreciate “subjugated” or “discarded” knowledges as they are created by oppressed groups. Earlier this week, we were discussing education as a method of empowerment when I offered my thoughts on this idea. Ironically, my idea that post-secondary education in its current forms and policies and in how I experience it my not always be empowering, was totally discounted by a white professor whose only advice to me was to ignore the systemic violence of the university and focus on attaining its “tools” for success – whatever that means.
How can I bask in the idea that post-secondary education is empowering when people from my community and LGBTQ, racialized, economically disadvantaged, disabled, Native Canadian, single-parent, and immigrant backgrounds cannot access this so-called “empowerment”, and when our histories, cultural narratives and ways of knowing are ignored? As we all know the continued oppression of these groups and identities is not an individualized process, it is institutional and systemic, so, I, as an individual cannot be made to feel empowered and successful until my entire community and historically oppressed groups can have the option to easily access, inclusive and accountable post-secondary education. This is precisely the reason why we are here today—to challenge this notion that education is empowering, attainable and accessible for all people. That is not the case—and the university has proven this time and time again with its ongoing attack on the Transitional Year Programmme (TYP).
Some Background Information on TYP: The Transitional Year Programme at the University of Toronto is the best access to education programs in our current time. Since its inception in 1970 and for the past 43 years it has been providing a path for people from historically underserved and oppressed communities to study in the Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Science without all the formal qualifications to do so. The program has ensured students success with its unprecedented level of student support and through the appreciation of the multiple and complex lived experiences that inform our everyday lives. Most of us have been pushed out of schools through poverty and other factors embedded within colonial, imperial and capitalistic systems that continue to permeate our communities and inhibit our academic success.
The unbelievable dedication of the staff and faculty and their implementation of equity-based pedagogies is critical to our success. They are our teachers, friends, academic advisors and counselors and they continue to do this work despite being underpaid and overworked. TYP is a space of decolonizing knowledge; it is a space in which minority needs are articulated in the representation of racialized staff, it is a space in which our socio-environmental stressors are taken into consideration; it is a space in which our identities are celebrated and acknowledged as opposed to being ignored elsewhere.
Our autonomous space at 49 St. George Street allows us to build community and acts as shield to this bureaucratic, money-hungry institution. TYP has found a winning formula for success that has been demonstrated in countless reviews of the program. Unfortunately, the provost office and the university continue to be relentless in their attacks on TYP. This time they are attempting to coerce us into amalgamating with Woodworth College and eventually stream us into the college’s far less successful “Academic Bridging Program”. The university has already employed the tactics of flat-lining the budget despite the increasing program operational costs. They also refuse to renew staff contracts and refuse to approve the budget for the following year. As it stands we can potentially lose professors Stan, Jill, Leonie and Rosalyn.
Let me just quickly reflect on why this is a potentially destructive move for TYP: First and foremost, upon moving, we would lose our status as an independent faculty, thus being subsumed as merely a programme at the will of Woodsworth College’s decision-making process. This means that faculty and staff will have limited powers in terms of program and design and would only have the final approval over major curriculum matters, which can fundamentally damage the equity based pedagogies that have been critical to our success.
Currently, there is an offer being made by the provost office that entails that the program is to ONLY have the equivalent of 2 1/2 full time staff, which is far less than the 6.5 full-time equivalents we currently have. TYP would be competing with the other programs and colleges in the Faculty of Arts & Science for funding, so that means that the labour of staff will go into showing the value of the program and constantly demonstrating its legitimacy instead of emphasizing student support. With the estimated budgetary proposals the staff would be even more underpaid then they already are, this is just another way that the university relies on people of colour to do work without adequate resources.
The learning environment in TYP consists of a dialectical relationship between the curriculum, staff and students that is invested in the process of decolonial knowledge making; this dynamic is unique to TYP – the proposed policies would be disruptive to this sort of pedagogy. We are currently in a state of precariousness in terms of the future of TYP, we have not been given clear answers and our concerns have not been addressed. Essentially our knowledges, subjectivities and identities are incommensurable with the dominant politics of oppression that is embodied within various spaces in the university. We represent resistance and disruption of violent spaces – this is something I think the university cannot handle.
The Transitional Year Programme has been under attack several times throughout its 43-year history. The Transitional Year Programme Preservation Alliance (TYPPA) and the Equity Studies Student Union (ESSU) and allies have been campaigning in an attempt to foster a respective dialogue between the provost office and the TYP community. Unfortunately, our efforts have not been met with success as the silencing of our voices and concerns continues to characterize the provost’s response to our resistance. The provost office and the university continue to delegitimize our experiences.
Specifically, this issue is embedded within racist hegemonic ideologies that constantly call into question the worthiness of marginalized communities in relation to the university’s “benevolent” acts of charity. The language of efficiency, budget-saving and cuts to the fundamental services that ensure our success is a testament to the endemic deployment of a neoliberal order that prioritizes the accumulation of capital over social need. Neoliberal rationality privileges individual rights and advocates for the destruction of the welfare state; this means cutting back on school services, which leave disenfranchised communities to fend for themselves—this kind of thinking sadly permeates the university.
This is the system of terror that continuously thrusts marginalized communities into a state of social and material impoverishment. The university as one of the oldest institutions in Canada needs to be accountable to the historical injustices that the Canadian state has been complicit in administrating—education has long been a tool of colonialism used to assimilate and destroy the cultures, languages of indigenous people and historically oppressed groups . The university needs to be accountable for the intergenerational affects of poverty, racism, sexism, classism and homophobia.
What is really disheartening and violent is the university’s constant boasting about the so-called diversity of its campus. The boundless campaign explicitly states, “The University’s commitment to accessibility and excellence has helped to create a diverse and vibrant community”. And they claim that supporting students is a “top priority”. The whole notion of diversity as is used here is a joke. It appeals to a colour-blind discourse of multiculturalism that works to main white normativity and privilege in accessing education because it strategically masks the structural injustices that characterize this school. The university needs to reconceptualize its use of the term “access” – access is not just a matter of physical access to the university or saying that anybody can attend. Rather it is the broader struggle to create structural conditions that encourage the dismantlement of the many forms of institutional oppressions that affect marginalized communities; they must work to transform these institutions with the political agenda of ensuring that historically oppressed group have the tools to succeed in post-secondary institutions.
I think it really says something that despite the ongoing resistance of the TYP community to the university’s constant attacks they have not heard us and will continue to question our legitimacy and our belonging within this space. Within a violent space like U of T we are taught to shed our experiences and our forms of knowledges to become disembodied, transparent, “good” student who do not challenge its hegemonic ideals – as a TYP alumni, I can attest that we do not do that. It is our response as marginalized people to resist, we have resisted the attacks in the 70’s and the attacks now and we will continue to do so until our demand of a long term, permanent solution that adheres to the pedagogical principles of our program has been fulfilled. The university is not blatanly saying that they want to destroy TYP because we are valuable to their pristine image. They engage in covert not overt forms of silent marginalization that relies on its power as foundational apparatus—this is how the colonial body operates.
When I think of education, the old saying that “knowledge is power” comes to mind, but I also think of attaining education as necessary to my survival and the survival of my community. Unfortunately, justice is an ongoing thing that constantly needs to be struggled for and continuously created! Access to education programs as implemented through equity-based frameworks is one way to ensure that justice for the systematic oppressions we continue to resist is happening. I am deeply disturbed by the climate of violence that this university continues to foster. There needs to be a revolutionary movement that distances itself from the empty political rhetoric of diversity to one of real social justice practices! We need to rethink our educational system and I urge you to all do that as we listen to our wonderful speakers today…”
ENAS ABDALLA. As a Transitional Year Programme alumni, Enas Abdalla, will be entering the final year of her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, double majoring in Women and Gender Studies and Criminology. Throughout her studies, her interests have focused on the intersections of race, gender and class and the production of subjectivities through the criminal justice system. Particularly, she is interested in the implications this has for people of colour, specifically black bodies, as it relates to the prison industrial complex. In the last two and a half years, Enas has been active as a student organizer at the University of Toronto as an executive on the Women and Gender Studies Student Union, and now as the Vice President Finance on the Equity Studies Student Union. Unapologetic and unafraid to speak her mind, Enas hates first and second wave feminism. She loves to listen to 90s R&B while she’s studying.