Statistics Canada data suggests that persons with disabilities, Indigenous and racialized identities are vastly underrepresented in workforces in Canada. To help marginalized students and alumni seek employment, the Student Success Centre launched the Career Access Program for Students, a suite of services offered in collaboration with the Student Accessibility Centre and Maccess.
CAPS focuses on skill building and career development through career advising, strategic goal setting and personal branding. Students also work on creating an employment action plan that is customized to meet their needs.
The program is for students and alumni that identify as persons with disabilities, First Nations, Metis and Inuit persons, members of racialized communities, First Generation students and LGBTQA2S+ students.
Students and alumni can book one-on-one appointments through OSCARPlus, participate through events, or utilize online resources to learn about financial accommodations for students with disabilities, wellness support services, a transit accessibility initiative and campaigns to promote diverse practices.
The SSC also introduced a new position.
Katherine Hesson-Bolton started her position as the diversity employment coordinator in July 2018.
Her initial goals were finding her way around campus alongside first-year students, reading reports, developing a network with faculties, students, campus services and partners and identifying service gaps and needs.
Hesson-Bolton’s role places her in a unique position as a connecting link between McMaster and the greater community.
She regularly meets with employers in hopes of coming away with jobs and opportunities for students while also having conversations around diversity hiring and removing barriers.
She then is able to provide employers with on-campus and external resources, such as ones coming from Pride at Work Canada, to help them address diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
“It’s really about having a conversation with the employer to hear what their needs are, what McMaster students’ needs are, and then finding that fit… So it’s really about relationship building on both sides,” said Hesson-Bolton.
“It also comes back to reaching back to those campus partners, whether it’s student accessibility services or Indigenous services,” said Hesson-Bolton. “I also work a lot with and involve students on campus because it’s really important to get students’ perspective and their feedback.”
Hesson-Bolton also strategizes with employees on branding. Some employers have identified that they want to focus on inclusion, but do not know how to identify and address the needs of new employees.
“You may have employers who will want to hire students with disabilities. And the question back is ‘have you thought about how your workplace is set up? What are your policies, procedures, your staff education, so that the new employee feels included?’,” said Hesson-Bolton.
Hesson-Bolton starts the conversation by discussing meeting the needs of new hires, whether that be identifying the accommodations that would allow persons with disabilities to work, establishing prayer spaces or recognizing that always having social events in establishments that serve alcohol may exclude some individuals.
Hesson-Bolton also has important conversations with students and alumni around disclosure in the workplace and accommodation plans.
She also provides a space for students to talk about their frustrations, experiences with discrimination, while also connecting them to mentors and peers with similar lived experience.
There is a strong need for university services to support students entering the workforce and address the barriers to diversity and inclusion. The CAPS program and the role of the diversity employment coordinator are just getting started.
The McMaster Campus Store came under criticism this week for controversial choices in costumes available for sale. The store offered Halloween costumes for the first time this year as part of its expanded merchandise.
But not all the costumes went over well with McMaster students.
The selection of costumes available included racially offensive offerings such as “Sexy Indian Princess” and “Eskimo Cutie,” both designed for women.
Photos of the costumes were published in executive editor Jemma Wolfe’s editorial on The Silhouette’s website on Oct. 25, in response to the offerings in the Campus Store and cultural appropriation during Halloween. The images were circulated online, bringing the attention to the wider McMaster community—and provoking a major outcry.
Donna Shapiro, Director of the Campus Store, explained that the organization had not anticipated such a response.
“We didn’t really even suspect this angle as we started down this road,” Shapiro said. “I guess it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a party store to look at what costumes are available.”
Upon hearing of the available costumes, fourth-year Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour student Alan Rheaume started a petition asking that the Campus Store immediately remove the costumes, calling them “obscene and offensive towards Indigenous students at McMaster and aborad [sic]” and arguing that they violated the MSU’s Anti-Oppression Policy.
“I started the petition…so we could end this offensive business practice that has no place in an institution of higher education,” said Rheaume, who is a member of the McMaster First Nations Students Association.
“My goal was not only to get the costumes removed from the bookstore, but also to spread awareness about the widespread cultural appropriation inherent in Halloween celebrations.”
Rheaume’s petition, started on change.com, was established hours after the photos surfaced on Friday, Oct. 25. He was seeking 500 signatures; by the time it closed later in the weekend, 543 people had signed.
The Campus Store pulled the racist costumes less than 24 hours after complaints were made, removing them from sale before the store opened on Saturday.
Even through the controversy of the selections, observers praised the store’s swift response.
“I was happy on that front…for the [Campus Store] listening and being willing to respond like that,” said MSU President David Campbell of the quick remedy.
While the removal of the costumes was a welcome response, the problems associated with the sale of the costumes still resonated in the Mac community.
“Inappropriate Halloween costumes are not specific to McMaster, however we are concerned when such costumes appear within our own campus community,” wrote the McMaster Indigenous Studies Program and Indigenous Services in a comment to The Silhouette.
“[This] has been an embarrassment to the entire McMaster community, and hopefully these events can spark a dialogue on critical thought and informed decision making.”
The release referred to a third costume that was also deemed offensive for its endorsement of rape culture. In addition to the racially insensitive costumes, the Campus Store sold a football-themed costume marketed to women with lettering on the shirt saying, “tackle me.”
“The issue of costumes at the McMaster Campus Store extends beyond the problematic representations of Indigenous peoples, and Indigenous women specifically, as there were other costumes that were also offensive to other groups that condoned rape culture.”
The costume in question was pulled in the afternoon on Oct. 26, shortly after the original two were removed from sale.
The store had pursued Halloween costumes as a way to boost sales in October.
“Things slow down in the course materials area [in October], so we have some transitional space,” explained Shapiro. “Halloween was just a good fit because it happened to fit the timeline.”
The idea to stock costumes came from Deidre Henne, McMaster’s Chief Financial Officer and Associate Vice-President (Administration), who worked with the Campus Store to help boost revenue. The store has faced declining profits in recent years from decreased textbook sales, seeing a drop of 10 to 20 per cent per year, but is still mandated to contribute its profits, usually roughly $1 million, to the Student Affairs and University Operating budgets.
“They would not have sold costumes…had I not suggested it,” said Henne, who described the decision to stock them as “an innocent one.”
As proposed by Henne, the Campus Store sought a partnership with Party City, a New Jersey-based retailer. The company traditionally establishes a bunch of “pop-up” stores across North America seasonally for events like Halloween, but used their deal with Mac as an opportunity to pilot selling stock in a campus setting.
Party City rented the space from the Campus Store, and stocked the same selection of costumes that is available in their regular locations.
“There was nothing in front of that for vetting their costumes,” said Shapiro.
Considering the reaction, Henne concluded, “on-campus screening is probably necessary.”
“Hindsight is 20/20,” she said. “I think by bringing [these costumes] onto campus, it put a different lens onto it. I think in fairness it’s a good lens to put on it, it’s just about what appropriate actions the Campus Store should take when those things are arranged.”
It remains to be seen whether the Campus Store will continue to sell costumes in future years.
"Sexy Indian Princess" and "Eskimo Cutie" are words I never thought I'd see in a university campus bookstore. And yet under their new-and-improved Campus Store moniker, McMaster's bookstore is now selling Halloween costumes - and very offensive ones at that.
Every year I see cringe-worthy concoctions in line for TwelvEighty’s ever-popular Halloween club night. Aside from the revealing choices of many club-goers and the frequent rude joke outfits (ahem, six-foot-tall penises), the worst offenders continue to be the racist and culturally insensitive.
Perhaps it’s a tired request: dress with some respect on Oct. 31 and the party days that surround it. But based on the “costumes” that continue to proliferate the last week of October, and the merchandise being sold on our very own campus, it’s clearly a conversation worth rehashing.
First Nations costumes are probably the most common of the most inappropriate found around this time of year.
Donning the traditional dress of First Nations peoples because you like moccasins and hipster clothing ads have made it cool to wear feather headdresses is not okay. Doing so stereotypes and appropriates the culture of a diverse group of peoples, erases their identity, and ignores the history of colonization and genocide that is regrettably intrinsic to their relationship with Caucasian settlers (and that includes you, even now, even “after all these years”). Their culture and practice is disrespected through parodic – and always hypersexualized – costuming.
Apparently this is news to Campus Store, who offer three sexed-up First Nations costumes for women: Indian Princess, Sexy Indian Princess, and Eskimo Cutie (complete with a disgusting "faux chocolate popsicle").
Many other Othered and marginalized groups also get “put on” for a day every October. Under no circumstances is sexualizing and insulting Indian, Mexican, Arabic or Asian cultures an acceptable thing to do. Not even for a day, not even if you “mean it as a joke,” not even if you have one <insert ethnic group here> friend who thinks it’s really cool/funny/acceptable.
An ignorant celebrity culture helps normalize this kind of overlooked racism. In recent history when Paris Hilton dressed as a scantily-clad First Nations woman, Heidi Klum as Hindu Goddess Kali, NHL player Raffi Torres as Jay-Z (complete with blackface) and Chris Brown as a Middle-Eastern terrorist, it made cultural appropriation and stereotyping seem totally passable.
A great campaign put it succinctly last year with posters that read, “We’re a culture, not a costume. This is not who I am and this is not okay” along with people from marginalized groups holding pictures of people in costumes of their heritage. The examples it gave of costumed people in blackface, or mustached with sombreros, or wearing turbans – all inappropriately boiling a peoples down to one stereotypical image – were powerful, albeit oft-parodied since.
All it takes is a quick stroll down a costume aisle at a big-box party store to see that these costumes are as popular as ever, are readily available, and are clearly not being questioned or criticized enough to create change. Even here at McMaster, in 2013, on an educated and progressive campus.
This isn’t about being “politically correct,” or any other kind of buzz-word rhetoric. This is about being a decent human being. And it’s a perspective and mandate we need to wear and internalize this Halloween – and every other day of the year.
The Campus Store has since removed the "Sexy Indian Princess," "Eskimo Cutie" and "Tackle Me" costumes discussed in this article. A full story on the developments will be published in this week's edition of The Silhouette. This article is updated from the editorial originally published in print on Oct. 24, 2013.
With its close proximity to the Six Nations of Grand River, Canada’s largest population of First Nations, and an independent ISP with a sizeable number of First Nations students, McMaster should be considered an accessible campus for Aboriginal students.
But is our student population aware of the issues that Aboriginal students experience in accessing their education?
At the Feb. 6 SRA meeting, Huzaifa Saeed, MSU VP (Education), introduced a new position paper that the MSU has drafted on Aboriginal Students. The paper proposed a set of 12 recommendations that primarily urged the provincial and federal governments to increase their funding allocation and remove the barriers to education that indigenous students face.
Saeed prepared the position paper in consultation with the Indigenous Studies Program and using data from focus groups held through OUSA, the MSU’s provincial lobbying body.
“In the MSU, there is a tendency to forget about groups within the larger student body. And according to OUSA and CASA, certain underrepresented groups, such as Aboriginal Students, need to have their issues better addressed.”
In light of the recent Idle No More rallies, Saeed felt that the educational challenges facing indigenous students have been relatively underrepresented in the mainstream media.
The paper also emphasized how, historically, educational institutions have not acknowledged the legitimacy of Indigenous knowledge and systemically discriminated and alienated Aboriginal students. Another recommendation proposed providing more resources to Aboriginal student services to help to improve student transition and experience.
The paper outlines how federal funding, through the Post-Secondary Student Support Program, has been capped at an annual two per cent increase since 1996.
Jennie Anderson, Aboriginal Recruitment and Retention Officer at McMaster, described how the federal cap on funding presented a problem for Aboriginal students because it does not accurately reflect the growing Aboriginal youth population, and it is not set to inflation.
Federal funding is distributed to Aboriginal students from their band councils in their respective communities. However, because the funding comes from a set amount, Aboriginal students will experience increasing difficulty accessing funds for post-secondary studies.
“Communities face tough decisions in priority sequencing. While we already work with students to find alternate means of funding, this will only increase [as funds continue to dwindle relative to the population],” said Anderson.
Brandon Meawasige, a third-year Communications and Indigenous Studies student of Ojibway, heritage explained how in his first year he studied at Laurier Brantford, he struggled to complete all the necessary paperwork because the university process was overly complex.
“At Mac, I filled out one form, sent it in and it was processed right away by Student Accounts and Cashiers. I didn’t need to qualify how I was Aboriginal or have a back-and-forth conversation with my band council to prove my status, like I had to at Laurier.”
The Indigenous Studies Program is currently housed in the basement of Hamilton Hall, but unlike other programs, its student services is just another part of their program but does not have separate employees or independent funding.
The program will soon be receiving an enhanced office space in the new Wilson Building, and program staff have been enthusiastic to promote the introduction of a full four-year Bachelors in Indigenous Studies.
Tara Campbell, Program Administrator, remarked upon the positive impact of the new MSU position paper.
“It was the first time in a few years that we were approached by the MSU, and I was pleasantly surprised by the knowledge [of Indigenous issues] that came up. This is a mutually beneficial relationship, and we hope for more allies like the MSU so it isn’t always just us knocking on doors.”
Saeed also re-iterated the importance of strengthening the relationship between the MSU and Aboriginal students and creating more awareness among the student body of educational disparities.
“The MSU should have a repository on all significant PSE issues to build for future years to detail our stance. I hope my successor will vote for CASA to continue lobbying on behalf of Aboriginal issues.”