The first time Eternity Martis saw another black person on campus as she crossed a bridge, it brought her joy. She envisioned it leading to a long friendship. But when she was ignored, it opened her eyes to the plights of the BIPOC-student community, and how things were far from acceptable.
Eternity Martis, award winning author of They Said This Would Be Fun: Race, Campus Life and Growing Up, spoke to students about the need for institutional change in colleges and universities, based on her experience as a BIPOC student, on Thursday, Feb. 17.
The Toronto-based journalist experienced micro-aggressive as well as overtly racist behaviour throughout her time as a student at Western University, and said campuses are the biggest perpetrators of institutional racism.
While researching for her book – a memoir of her experiences as a BIPOC student – Martis realised these weren’t isolated incidents. Hate crimes and racism are common in educational institutes, and the BIPOC community is far more vulnerable. Most don’t complain as nothing meaningful comes of it.
The author is a strong proponent of mental wellbeing – she’s been in therapy since 2017 – and says having mental health services dedicated to the BIPOC community, staffed by BIPOC professionals and experienced in their issues is the need of the hour.
Martis believes that for institutional racism to change for the better, it also needs influential allies. “Power and privilege can be used for good,” she said. But the group you want to be an ally with must validate you as an ally.
It’s also important that experiences of students are validated. Her book debunks the myth that young people are having the time of their life at college. “It’s not like American Pie,” she said.
Her final piece of advice was that it’s false you need to be a certain age to have experiences that matter. It happens, and students are experiencing it regularly. Do not dismiss it.