Last week Nicole Peters started a petition on change.org to discuss the appropriateness of paying for parking at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) for Secwempec students.
The fourth-year TRU social work student was inspired by the October 2019 announcement of the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) to grant free tuition to local Indigenous students and decided to choose a social action research route for the final social policy assignment. At UNBC members of the Lheidli T’enneh Nation can now earn an undergraduate degree at no cost. It’s a common misconception that all Indigenous students in Canada get free tuition (CBC, 2019). The Northern Promise Partnership was described as “a meaningful response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to make education more accessible for Indigenous people” (Nielsen, 2019, para 2). UNBC’s Prince George campus is Lheidli T’enneh territory.
Instead of focusing on the free tuition, Peters in the petition asked TRU to stop charging Secwepemc students parking fees. The campuses of Thompson Rivers University are located on the traditional and unceded territory of the Secwepemc Nation within Secwepemcul’ecw. By eliminating parking fees for Indigenous students, TRU can strengthen its efforts to indigenize its campuses and promote reconciliation.
The petition in one week received more than 400 signatures and gathered media attention that resulted in both Kamloops Matters and Kamloops BC Now writing articles about the petition. Unfortunately, the media coverage also resulted in many inappropriate comments that the online community expressed towards the petition. Nicole shared with Doug Herbert from CBC Daybreak Kamloops: “[People are] posting comments that are just blatantly racist. Some of the things that are being said [are] awful. Christopher Foulds wrote an op-ed in Kamloops This Week and wondered why “people who would otherwise not even think of uttering such offensive garbage face to face find the courage behind the social media screen to vomit forth the most vile filth imaginable”?(Foulds, 2019)
It is incredibly disappointing to read comments that show disrespect, lack of awareness, and inability to engage in meaningful conversation. It is critically important that those who post online will not hide against their screens and use inappropriate language to allow meaningful dialogue to occur. Online commentators should engage in open dialogue, ask questions, stay curious and learn about challenges that Indigenous People face in Canada instead of posting hurtful comments. When I connected with Nicole we discussed some ways to move forward, and we need your help:
- Please share/sign the petition: https://www.change.org/p/thompson-rivers-university-stop-charging-secwepemc-students-parking-at-thompson-rivers-university-80b6116b-7ec6-47c9-923f-1e0968cb5788
- Please help Nicole to find an organization (e.g.TRUSU Equity Committee) that can take this petition to the next level. It is incredibly overwhelming and discouraging when voicing concerns to receive disrespectful responses.
Please feel free to add other ways to promote respectful dialogue that values diverse opinions and allow the exchange of ideas using social action writing tools (petitions, op-eds, letters to the editors). Students should feel safe to express their views in public and not being silenced when they raise points that they are passionate about researching. Having diverse voices helps to create adequate, accessible, affordable, acceptable social policy in Canada for groups who historically have been excluded from the decision-making process.