Courage to speak up is strength
April 4, 2017
While knowing that her ears weren’t playing tricks, Dr. Laura Mae Lindo still couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
As a young student eager to enter graduate school, she would never forget the day in 1998 she walked into the office of the graduate program director in the University of Toronto philosophy department for a reference letter.
Though trying to sound as confident as possible, Lindo quickly sensed something wasn’t right.
“What?” the professor barked abruptly. “I am not writing a letter for you. You are not university material, especially considering the schools you think you will be applying to. There will be no letter coming from me.”
While trying to keep her cool and remain calm, a distraught Lindo said she prayed the tears that were welling up behind her eyelids would not pour out.
When she tried to explain to the professor, who had promised that he would write the letters, that the applications were due in the next week, he demanded to know why she wanted to enrol in graduate school.
“I want to become a professor and teach philosophy at a university,” she told him. “How can I do that if I don’t apply for graduate school? I am a straight ‘A’ student and I haven’t gotten less than an ‘A’ in any of the assignments in your classes. How much more do I need to do to be university material?”
The professor’s response cut like a sword.
“You are just not university material,” he reminded her. “Just because you got into an undergraduate program doesn’t mean you can successfully make it through a graduate program. You would not cut it there. If you want to try and get into graduate school, you will have to consider a lesser university such as…”
Lindo, by this time, had tuned him out.
She graciously thanked the professor for his time before leaving his office.
Already armed with an undergraduate degree in African Studies and philosophy, Lindo went on to complete a Master’s in Education and a Doctor of philosophy in education.
She recalled the sordid encounter while addressing an audience recently at an International Women’s Day celebration at Kitchener City Hall.
“I stand with you today as the Wilfrid Laurier University diversity & equity director,” she said. “And from this space, I feel I must juxtapose my story of ‘arrival’ in the academy with a simple note of caution. Today, we are living at a time when, more and more, tales of our pain are turned around and used in troubling ways. We are told that these negative experiences should be seen as ‘good’, as ‘integral to our growth’, as 'integral to our stories of arrival’ or a ‘sign of our resilience’. But I would not have to be resilient if the systemic change I sought was attained. Narratives of resilience, while moving and encouraging, also suggest that the world, the systems in which we live, will forever remain the same.”
The married mother of three children, who took five years off from school after securing her first degree to pursue music, said she has often been reminded of her success despite the barriers she faced.
“But look at where you are now, look at all that you have achieved in spite of your experiences of racism and sexism, look at how you have persisted and resisted despite barriers for women, despite glass ceilings, sticky floors and glass cliffs and look at all you have achieved in spite of your story,” she said people would often say to her.
“Presented as encouragement, I cannot count the number of times that I have heard these words,” Lindo noted. “But can we truly call this encouragement? Is the pain born of my resilience as a Black woman and your hatred of the same something that I must endure for the betterment of my ‘self’, of my ‘people’?
Lindo told the women at the event their ability to recognize problems in the system are their strength.
“I want you to now that your strength is necessary in this journey as we challenge those around us to do better,” added the talented singer/songwriter and creative consultant of Dr. Lindo Productions which was established in June 2011. “I want you to know that your courage alone to speak up in the face of social injustice is your strength and not your shame. I want you to know that this fight for equality of women’s rights is also our fight for the equality of Black women’s rights and that no matter how many times you are told that a ‘partial win’ on this front is still a win, that it is okay to say no. It is okay to say that, ‘I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own’.”
Prior to joining Wilfrid Laurier in July 2014, Lindo was a senior research associate at Ryerson University. In that role, she brought together varied approaches to equity, education, training and mentorship through her involvement in myriad projects and partnerships with stakeholders from diverse sectors.
Last week, Lindo’s office and the Office of Aboriginal Initiatives released a report on race and racism on Canadian university campuses that provides administrators with ‘call to action’ guidelines as they work collaboratively to address systemic racism on post-secondary campuses.
Establishing a sector-wide anti-racism task force to compile and analyze past and current reports on racism in post-secondary education, developing and delivering anti-racism training annually for senior administration and faculty, building a community of practice through an online portal that provides the post-secondary sector with anti-racism resources and implementing an anti-racism policy outlining accountability measures are the proposed guidelines.
“I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to work alongside my colleagues across the sector as we commit ourselves to bring racial justice to the post-secondary sector today and every day,” said Lindo, a former York University course director who did a post-doctoral fellowship and lectured at the University of Prince Edward Island before joining Ryerson. “We can choose to address racism on university and college campuses and, based on last year’s summit, it is clear that we are ready to do this work. All we need is commitment, collaboration and creativity.”
Nearly 150 delegates from 19 post-secondary institutions took part in last year’s inaugural race & racism on Canadian university campuses summit in Kitchener.