Sadana: Connected to the World?
Updated: Sep 27, 2020
Both in Canada and here at Cape Breton University we pride ourselves on our multiculturalism, but exactly how multicultural are we?
This September, immigrants flooded the city of Sydney and all credit goes to Cape Breton University for enrolling students from all over the world. And if you were to take a walk through campus and a cursory glance around you, you might think of CBU as the very definition of multiculturalism. But if you take a closer look, you will see how groupism prevails and ‘Unity in Diversity’ may only be half true. Now you might be wondering exactly what groupism is; it’s not a word we use very often. Groupism, put simply, refers to a ‘group’ of people conforming to the opinion and practices of that selfsame group at the expense of individuals and cultural diversity. When speaking about CBU we a referring primarily to ethnogeographical groups, but the concept itself is not limited by this distinction.
And you may now be asking – what is offensive about sitting with people who share a common language, culture, and/or origin? And the short answer is nothing. The long answer is that by forming these groups, and speaking in a language that limits understanding outside that group, people may also be limiting themselves in terms of their experience abroad and with other cultures – important motivations for pursuing post-secondary education somewhere far from home. Students sitting in self-contained groups according to their home country are a common sight in the cafeteria and wider campus; some of these groups even conform to regional differences among people with the same nationality and shared language. At times it is representative of a model United Nations, but is that symbolic of unity or just diversity?
As much as we enjoy speculating on this phenomenon and what we think it means, we were more interested in what the students belonging to these groups thought of it themselves. We were a little bit surprised that, while these groups were separated along linguistic, geographical, and cultural lines, their answers were all the same. We asked whether they saw anything wrong with people dividing themselves along these cultural lines, and the answer was no – the reason provided was that, being far away from home, spending time with people from the same country gives them a sense of belonging. But while groupism allows these students to find a comfort zone, it does so at the expense of new experiences, and students far from home seem not to mind the trade-off.
The second question put to these students was: “What do you feel are the barriers to friend groups becoming more multicultural?” The accents and words used were different, but the overall feeling was the same. The students reiterated that certain factors such as perspective, language, and judgement contribute to an overall feeling of comfort when they are shared within a group. A few people, however, took an alternative view; they asserted that it was actually more about personality – some are introverts and some are extroverts – and it has nothing to do with nationality.
The third question was whether or not the students felt welcomed by other cultures. Ironically enough, everyone agreed that they did. They explained that when they talk, they don’t feel that they are being differentiated, but that bridging the gap between cultures takes courage and brings them out of their comfort zone.
Finally we asked what they felt could be done, either by the school or some other organization, to help make these differences more comfortable to bridge. Some said that there should be parties organised during the day, so that people travelling by bus can attend; they also suggested that classes for the day should be cancelled – a frequent wish from students across many different cultures. Some suggested the very interesting notion of combating groupism with groupism itself, by having the University host group games, wherein students from different countries would be paired with one another working towards a common goal. Others referred to events like China and Egypt Week, which should continue to be promoted, with students from all origins encouraged to participate. Most seem optimistic that with a bit of courage and effort, all students could be brought together under one roof.
So what will it take for CBU to represent both diversity and unity? Perhaps the answer lies in the suggestions we received, an Epcot-like gathering of cultures in some grand festival – or furthering the efforts of individual weeks such as the ones we have seen recently. As the institution that brought so many different people together, part of the responsibility for encouraging a melting-pot mentality lies with CBU itself. But CBU is at its heart simply a collection of people working and studying shoulder-to-shoulder, and at the end of the day the responsibility lies with students to put into motion the sentiments expressed to us. Cape Breton University is one of the best places to learn about new cultures, new people, new languages and new ventures. Let us come together, shake hands and make the whole campus feel like home.