Author: Carli Gardner
At Glendon, researchers’ multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to complex problems provide solutions to current issues. In the context of COVID-19, we can see how the Social Sciences and Humanities are important to identify and unpack the societal effects of the pandemic, beyond the biomedical concerns.
Glendon researchers, Dr. Gertrude Mianda and Dr. Shirin Shahrokni each conduct research in separate disciplines to explore the effects of systemic racism and discrimination on specific racial groups in Canada.
Mianda is a full professor in Glendon’s Gender and Women’s Studies program who focuses her research on the experiences of discrimination lived by francophone immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa in Canada. The current director of The Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on Africa and its Diasporas at York University, Mianda works to expand the Institute’s membership to include francophones belonging to both African and West Indian communities.
Shahrokni is an assistant professor of sociology at Glendon. She is the Principal Investigator of a SSHRC-funded research project on the socio-professional trajectories and experiences of francophone immigrants in Toronto, through critical race and feminist perspectives. Shahrokni is also the co-investigator of a SSHRC-funded research project titled the “Racialization of Asian International Students” (RAIS) (Principal Investigator: Dr. Jean Michel Montsion). The project investigates the racialization experiences of international Asian students across five Canadian universities.
Though distinct in their research initiatives, Mianda’s and Shahrokni’s central concerns with the impacts of discrimination on racial groups provide insights and research data relevant to better understanding the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on racialized populations.
On the issue of equity in access to housing, health care, and employment, Mianda and Shahrokni acknowledge that COVID-19 has reinforced the presence of deep divides in social structures among racial and non-racial groups.
“COVID-19 has exposed white privilege and the marginalization of racialized individuals in the West,” says Mianda.
In her research studying the experiences of francophone immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa in Canada, Mianda exposes how systemic discrimination of this racial group leads to their overrepresentation in low income employment.
Mianda explains that because immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa are members of Canada’s Black population, a group marginalized by structural inequities, their place in front-line positions at the bottom of the occupational scale increases their likelihood of exposure and infection to COVID-19.
Like Mianda’s, Shahrokni’s research aims to highlight the mechanisms that produce racial inequalities across mainstream institutions and their effects on racialized individuals.
In the context of COVID-19, Shahrokni’s research provides relevant information about structural inequalities to understand specific challenges the pandemic presents to various racial groups.
Shahrokni points out that without recognizing the different effects of COVID-19 on racialized communities, inadequate one-size-fits-all solutions to challenges in housing, in employment and healthcare are proposed.
“We obviously have all been hearing and repeating to one another that we should ‘stay home’,” Shahrokni said, “It seems simple, effortless, but the ability to ‘stay home’ for a prolonged period with limited outdoor activities is not readily accessible to all of us.”
Shahrokni continues to outline inequities in social structures by highlighting the disparities in access to health care for racialized groups and Indigenous people. She also explains that while the issue of accessibility obviously heightens the impact of COVID-19 on these communities, the sense of distrust among their members vis-à vis the health care system is also a significant factor.
“Because of repeated experiences of racism within the health care system […],” Shahrokni says, “many members of racialized and Indigenous communities will tend to distrust and avoid recourse to the health care system even if their medical conditions require assistance.”
Without a discussion of the different impacts of COVID-19 on various racial groups, there is a failure to recognize the continued existence of systemic inequalities in contemporary society, and the lack of statistical data on race in Ontario plays a major role in this.
Mianda’s and Shahrokni’s various scholarly contributions on systemic discrimination in Canada further highlight the structural inequalities experienced by racialized individuals and communities, reminding us how such discrimination is exacerbated and dangerous in times of crisis.
The Research and Innovation Office is proud to support and to promote Dr. Mianda’s and Dr. Shahrokni’s important research programs on issues of racial discrimination in Canada that engage us all in ensuring an equitable and inclusive educational society.