The last several months have been marked by an urgent call to action and increased commitments to foster equitable, inclusive, and safer spaces for members of marginalized groups, including Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Colour (BIPOC). 

We, the authors of this post, aim to stand in solidarity with these marginalized groups. As white settlers, we have not experienced racial violence or systematic oppression because of our race or ethnicity, and we recognize the importance of addressing the privilege that we possess. Through writing this post, we intend to amplify the voices of BIPOC and bring awareness to racism, specifically in post-secondary settings, with the hope of promoting continual self-reflection and anti-racism action in both our readers and ourselves.

While we will continue our process of education and reflection, we encourage readers (especially folks identifying as BIPOC and/or with other marginalized groups) to share their feedback and criticism with us. If any terminology, information, or resource we share in this post does not properly reflect the realities of racism and/or anti-racism work, please feel free to reach out via email ( We will update this post as we continue learning about and combating racial injustice, and as society continues to shift towards racial justice.

Conversations about Racism: Terms to Know

The murders of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other BIPOC have stimulated global action to oppose racial injustice and brought widespread attention to various forms of racism present in our society. Understanding the language used in conversations about racial justice is an important first step in working towards anti-racism. Here, we attempt to define some key terms and provide concrete examples based in the Western, post-secondary context: 

Racism: a multi-faceted, overarching definition encompassing countless factors contributing to racial oppression [1]. A commonality within all forms of racism in a Western context is the aim to maintain the belief that white people are superior to any other race, and to legitimize the discrimination towards and the injustices faced by BIPOC (i.e., white supremacy) [2]. Racism may occur in various forms within a community, including the following:

  • Overt Racism: can be thought of as “old-fashioned racism” and involves obvious, conscious and deliberate acts of discrimination perpetrated by white individuals or groups. Examples within a post-secondary context include white students in blackface/brownface/yellowface/redface, verbal and written racial slurs, and nooses hung on campus property [3], such as those found at Stanford University and the University of Illinois in 2019 [4, 5].


  • Covert Racism: a subtle, indirect, and/or “disguised” form of racism. Those who endure covert racism may struggle to identify the negative impacts. Even so, the effects are damaging, and lead to reduced positivity, increased stress, decreased mental and physical health, as well as identity confusion among BIPOCs [6]. This form of racism includes, but is not limited to, subconsciously avoiding people on campus or not interacting with them publicly because of their race, as well as microaggressions.
    • Microaggressions: subtle acts of both purposeful and unintentional racism towards BIPOC seen in day-to-day, commonplace environments [7]. The negative impact of microaggressions accumulate within BIPOC victims over time, resulting in multiple adverse outcomes for them, including self-doubt, reclusion, and mental exhaustion [8]. Examples of microaggressions in post-secondary settings include racial humour and comments, segregation in shared spaces, constant staring, dismissive gestures, and minimization of racism by white people [9]. 


  • Individual/Interpersonal Racism: “bigotry and biases shown between individuals through word and action” [10].  Individual racism can occur at both a conscious and unconscious level [11]. It also does not exist in a vacuum but instead stems from society’s beliefs and ways of understanding and functioning [11]. Examples of this in an education setting include teacher refusal to educate a BIPOC, and/or BIPOC being physically pushed by white students [12]. 


  • Systemic Racism: “ongoing racial inequalities maintained by a society” [10]. It occurs when a society is prominently understood to be using systems that offer fair and equitable treatment, but in reality, consistently discriminate against and harm BIPOC in direct and indirect ways [13]. While keeping in mind that systemic racism extends to all corners of society, concrete examples of systems in which it appears today include education, criminal justice, government, and postal systems [13].  
    • Cultural Racism: ingrained attitudes and ideas within a culture endorsing white superiority [14]. This can be seen in the presumption/requirements, stemming from historical colonization, for Indigenous students to assimilate in Canadian universities today [8].
    • Institutional Racism: “discriminatory policies and practices within organizations and institutions” that perpetuate white supremacy [10]. Institutional racism in post-secondary education can look like a curriculum focused primarily on research from Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) societies, as well as a lack of support and resources offered to BIPOC students and faculty.
    • Structural Racism: inequalities that are rooted in the system-wide operation of a society that prevents a significant number of people from particular groups from participating in major social institutions [11]. An example of this appearing in post-secondary institutions is in the disproportionate acceptance and drop-out rates of BIPOC [8]. 


Anti-Racism: a framework striving to rid society of all existing racism with the intention of reaching racial justice [1]. Education and reflexivity (along with empowerment, alliance building, non-stigmatizing language, and advocacy) comprise significant portions of the anti-racism framework [1]. 

  • Racial Equity: a term similar to racial justice; both describe the presence of societal efforts to support oppressed BIPOC in addition to the absence of racism [15]. This will exist only when an individual’s race no longer affects life outcomes, which can only be achieved if extensive change occurs at the systemic level [16]. Racial inequity is perpetuated by the Color-Blind Racial Ideology, or the belief that colour/race is not, and should not, be important [17]. This ideology stems from beliefs of society as fair and just, and therefore dismisses and fails to capture the real impact of racism on BIPOC’s everyday lives. In order to work towards racial equity, it is therefore essential to first and foremost acknowledge how different the lived experiences of BIPOC are in contrast to those of white settlers [17]. 
  • Education: brings the realities of racism to light and explains the implications of white privilege to those who hold that privilege [1].
  • Reflexivity: an individual’s awareness of privilege and willingness to explicitly change behaviour to reduce racial injustice [1].

Systemic racism will continue to exist without an increase in reflexivity among the privileged population, as the privileged are inherently responsible for racism. The connection between education and reflexivity is direct; without education, reflexivity among the privileged will not increase, and systemic racism will persist [1].

How Prevalent is Racism in Canadian Universities? 

Post-secondary education, just like the larger Canadian education system, is heavily westernized and thus complicit in many ways with white supremacy. Despite claiming to be spaces of growth, support and opportunity, post-secondary institutions do not always provide BIPOC university students with a sense of security and safety, which is fundamental to the fostering of students’ psychological and academic well-being [18]. In reality, many BIPOC students experience an overall sense of unwelcomeness in post-secondary education that is often brought about by, for instance, minimal interaction with the white majority, limited support or resources from the university system, and interpersonal isolation [8, 9, 12]. 

Whether it is overt, institutional, or in the form of microaggressions, experiences of racism are far too common in the Canadian post-secondary context. In fact, educational settings in Canada are often described by Indigenous students as being the most racist environments [12, 18]. In one Canadian study, 80% of Indigenous university students reported experiencing racial discrimination, and 67% reported being racially victimized on more than three occasions [18]. Indigenous students who identified more with their culture’s traditions also reported experiencing significantly more racism than those who did not openly identify with such traditions. Unsurprisingly, many of these students ultimately reported feeling more comfortable in avoiding the disclosure of their Indigenous culture altogether [18].

Just like Indigenous students, Black and Asian students are also significantly impacted by racism in Canadian post-secondary education. Black and Asian students experience recurrent, and diverse forms of oppression in university settings [12].  Notably, they often experience interpersonal and institutional racism, such as (1) overt discrimination, (2) assumption of intellectual inferiority, (3) assumption of criminality, (4) invalidation or denial of prejudice, (5) treatment as second-class citizens, and (6) the myth of meritocracy (i.e., achieving higher social status based on one’s own merits, regardless of current social status, is likely unattainable in a capitalist society despite the opposite being widely believed) [12, 19, 20]. Given that lower academic achievement, as well as higher incidences of stress, drop-out and mental health struggles have been shown to strongly correlate with experiences of racism [9], it is abundantly clear that racism is a pressing issue in the current Canadian post-secondary context.

How can we Foster Accountability in Post-Secondary Settings?

Despite the overwhelming prevalence of racism in universities, research aiming to identify effective strategies for implementing anti-racism practices in post-secondary institutions is sparse [21]. However, as universities are being increasingly criticized for their lack of accountability in perpetuating white supremacy, more and more research is being conducted on ways to actively dismantle racism in post-secondary education settings. According to a recent meta-analysis on the relationship between diversity education and students’ racial biases, increasing the proportion of course content dedicated to diversity-related topics is strongly associated with more positive outcomes for marginalized students in post-secondary settings, especially when the diversity-related content is incorporated throughout students’ regular classes rather than focused in one “diversity” class [22]. Furthermore, experimental research has also demonstrated that a short video on racism can increase awareness of race and of white privilege in white university students [23].  Incorporating diversity education and anti-racism content into post-secondary instruction therefore appears to be key to facilitating a widespread understanding of white privilege and racial biases as well as what it means to be anti-racist.

Call to Action

As psychology students ourselves, it is disappointing to see that post-secondary psychology classrooms have yet to show a significant increase in diversity and anti-racism course content [24]. When surveyed on their attitudes towards teaching diversity-related content, psychology educators across the United States reported “time constraints” as the most common barrier preventing them from incorporating anti-racism and diversity education into their psychology courses [24]. Fear of misspeaking and offending culturally diverse students were found to be additional roadblocks [24]. Yet, it is important to understand that by hesitating to apply these necessary changes to the curriculum, instructors often partake (likely unknowingly) in creating a hostile environment for BIPOC students, whose alienating experiences are likely to play a determining role in whether or not they choose to pursue a career in psychology or in any other academic field [22]. Having a more racially and ethnically diverse faculty is an important step towards creating a safer space for BIPOC students and addressing systemic inequity [22]; and so, it is essential for post-secondary institutions to hold themselves accountable not only by implementing strong campus-wide anti-racist policies but also by improving the anti-racism training provided to instructors in their departments. In doing so, universities would remove several barriers preventing departments from incorporating a diversity-related curriculum across courses. Ultimately, these concrete and meaningful actions are essential first steps in reducing BIPOC experiences of racism inside and outside post-secondary settings.   

Educational Resources on Racism and Anti-Racism

Whether you are a post-secondary student, instructor, or member of the general public, it is imperative that we each assume the responsibility of both educating ourselves on racial injustice, as well as learning how to be anti-racist on a day-to-day basis. As evidenced by the murders of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other BIPOC, both on camera and behind closed doors, much work remains to be done before true racial justice is achieved in our society.

In striving to educate ourselves and confront our innate privileges as white settlers, we compiled several resources (by no means an exhaustive compilation) used by the Risky Behaviour Lab members. We encourage readers to prioritize furthering their knowledge on anti-racism through using resources like those shared below.

For some resources on the topics discussed in this post, please click here


[1] Corneau, S., & Stergiopoulos, V. (2012). More than being against it: Anti-racism and anti-oppression in mental health services. Transcultural Psychiatry, 49(2), 261-282. 

[2] Saloojee, A. (2003). Social inclusion, anti-racism and democratic society. The Laidlaw Foundation.

[3] Lewis, K. R. (2018). Racism, Black college students’ mental health, and the efficacy of diversity and inclusion initiatives: A case study. [Doctoral dissertation, University of South Carolina]. 

[4] The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. (2019, July). Noose found hanging from a tree on stanford university campus.

[5] The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. (2019, September). Noose found in a residence hall on the campus of the university of illinois.

[6] Noh, S., Kaspar, V., & Wickrama, K. A. S. (2007). Overt and subtle racial discrimination and mental health: Preliminary findings for Korean immigrants. American Journal of Public Health, 97(7), 1269-1274. 

[7] Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. M. B., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007b). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist, 62(4), 271–286. 

[8] Bailey, K. A. (2014). Racism within the Canadian university: Indigenous students’ experiences. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 39(7), 1261-1279.

[9] Harwood, S. A., Huntt, M. B., Mendenhall, R., & Lewis, J. A. (2012). Racial microaggressions in the residence halls: Experiences of students of color at a predominantly white university. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 5(3), 159-173. 

[10] Morgan, J. D., De Marco. A. C., LaForett, D. R., Oh, S., Ayankoya, B., Morgan. W., Franco, X., & FPG’s Race, Culture, and Ethnicity Committee. (2018, May). What Racism Looks Like: An Infographic. Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

[11] Tator, C., & Henry, F., 1931. (2006). Racial profiling in canada: Challenging the myth of “a few bad apples”. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. DOI: 10.3138/9781442678972

[12] Canel-Çınarbaş, D., & Yohani, S. (2019). Indigenous canadian university students’ experiences of microaggressions. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 41, 41-60. 

[13] de Plevitz, L. (2007). Systemic racism: The hidden barrier to educational success for Indigenous school students. The Australian Journal of Education, 51(1), 54-71.

[14] Dominelli, L. (1992). An uncaring profession? An examination of racism in social work. In P. Braham, A. Rattansi, & R. Skellington (Eds.), Racism and antiracism. Sage Publications.

[15] National Education Association (2018). Racial justice in education. Human and Civil Rights. 

[16] Center for Assessment and Policy Development (2019). Glossary. Racial Equity Tools. 

[17] Neville, H. A., Lilly, R. L., Duran, G., Lee, R. M., & Browne, L. (2000). Construction and initial validation of the Color-Blind Racial Attitudes Scale (CoBRAS). Journal of Counselling Psychology, 47(1), 59-70. 

[18] Currie, C. L., Wild, T. C., Schopflocher, D. P., Laing, L., & Veugelers, P. (2012). Racial discrimination experienced by Aboriginal university students in Canada. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 57(10), 617-625. 

[19] Sue, D. W., Bucceri, J., Lin, A. I., Nadal, K. L., & Torino, G. C. (2007a). Racial microaggressions and the Asian American experience. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 13, 72–81. 

[20] Sue, D. W., Nadal, K. L., Capodilupo, C. M., Lin, A. I., Torino, G. C., & Rivera, D. P. (2008). Racial microaggressions against Black Americans: Implications for counseling. Journal of Counseling and Development, 86, 330–338. 

[21] Larson, G. (2008). Anti-oppressive practice in mental health. Journal of Progressive Human Services, 19(1), 39–54. 

[22] Denson, N., Bowman, N. A., Ovenden, G., Culver, K., & Holmes, J. M. (2020). Do diversity courses improve college student outcomes? A meta-analysis. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. Advance online publication. 

[23] Soble, J. R., Spanierman, L. B., & Liao, H. (2011). Effects of a brief video intervention on white university students’ racial attitudes. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 58(1), 151-157. 

[24] Prieto, L. R. (2018). Incorporating diversity content into courses and concerns about teaching culturally diverse students. Teaching of Psychology, 45(2), 146-153.