Multiculturalism needs community involvement, panel says

Chris
Chris Quigley
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Corner Brook has made strides, speakers say, but challenges still exist

Nain native Jason Dickers, second from left, speaks during a multiculturalism panel Tuesday night at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland, which also included, from far left, Jose Lam, Crystal Young, and facilitator Shanda Williams.

“Infiltrate” should never be a word used to describe what those from other cultures feel they have to do upon arriving in Corner Brook, but unfortunately, it is quite often the case.

This and other issues were raised Tuesday night during a speakers panel at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland, which was formed around the question, “How do you build a multicultural community?”

Facilitated by Grenfell’s student program coordinator (international) Shanda Williams, the panel included Crystal Young, a second-year environment studies student from the Bahamas, Jason Dickers, an Inuit student of environmental studies from Nain; Jose Lam, a member of faculty in the business department originally from Costa Rica, and Zdenka Chloubova, a sociology professor originally from the Czech Republic.

The conversation varied between humourous anecdotes of harmless differences to painful encounters with racism, as each panel member recounted their personal experiences of arriving in Corner Brook and the cultural clashes that have sometimes arisen.

The key to cultural awareness being the understanding of the need for diversity was a general theme, and while Grenfell Campis itself was lauded for its advancements in that area, most seemed to feel the community at large could still make strides. Though friendly and welcoming, it was opined that the Corner Brook area offered very little for those looking to celebrate their own cultures and identities with the whole community.

A lack of a diverse multiculturalism history in this region was acknowledged, and it was recognized that any attempt to bring pieces of themselves and their background to the forefront would have to start small and build slowly. It was understood the onus lies with both those who live here and those who come here to adapt, as opposed to people with different cultural backgrounds being automatically expected to assimilate into their new surroundings. Panelists pointed to events like the Corner Brook Winter Carnival or the East Meets West festival as prime opportunities to celebrate and explore the different cultures that exist, perhaps now more than ever, in the area.

Corner Brook native Chelsea Pike, a first-year psychology student at Grenfell, attended the discussion out of “general interest.”

The 23-year-old feels eyes need to be opened to the challenges those coming from away feel in a new community.

“We need to be more cognizant of the difficulties other people are facing in order to better allow for them to fit in, in their own way, and maintain that level of individuality within our culture,” she said.

Pike was just one of seven people to attend the open panel, which she said was indicative of the underlying issue.

“I would like to see it be more community engaging,” she said of the discussion.

“I would like more active participants from outside the campus, to better allow the rest of the community to follow suit and explore acceptance and inclusivity.”

The panel was part of a week-long slate of events during Grenfell’s Multiculturalism Week, March 17-23.

Organizations: Memorial University of Newfoundland

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Bahamas, Costa Rica

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