Commentary  50 Shades of White

McGill's Student "Diversity" is Rooted in Colonialism

As a new generation of McGill students settles in and begins their classes, many will no doubt start to realize that the student body at McGill isn’t always what it is advertised to be. McGill prides itself on being Canada’s “most international university,” as claimed on their admissions website, with students “from over 150 countries.” Yet to me, like many others, arriving at McGill was an underwhelming experience. Walking along campus, on unceded land traditionally occupied by the Kanieníkeh·:ka, all we see is white. White people, white statues, white students, white faculty members. So where is McGill’s advertised “diverse, international population?” It takes some time to realize you’re staring right at it.

So where is McGill’s advertised “diverse, international population?”

Like most universities in North America, the international student body at McGill is astonishingly white. International students from white majority Western countries vastly outnumber those from non-white countries, at every level of study. An infographic (see the end of the article) made by Timour Scrève depicts the relationship between the countries McGill accepts its students from and these countries’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It dramatically visualizes the correlation between a country’s wealth and the presence of its nationals at McGill. There is without doubt a clear imbalance in the international admissions at McGill, with students from richer countries being much more likely to attend the University than others. Moreover, the GDP of these countries is heavily influenced by a history of colonialism and neo-colonialism, which still affects international students to this day.

Common colonizers have notoriously included the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands, among others. These countries continue to also be major neo-colonizers, along with nations such as Canada and the United States. By using their power to control and influence others, neo-colonialism is another way in which rich Western countries continue to exploit and harm developing countries. Interestingly, these Western countries are also the ones overwhelmingly represented in the student population at McGill.

McGill’s standardized testing and curriculum requirements for international students does not deviate at all from the oppressive admission standards Western universities have set. These requirements are often much more accessible for applicants from richer countries. They necessitate a high level of personal financial means, but also infrastructures, like testing centres and extracurricular activities, that poorer countries are not always able to offer. McGill admission standards do not take into account the unequal opportunities that countries offer to their students. However, this dichotomy between rich and poor overlooks the fact that most wealthier countries also have both colonial roots and white majority populations. McGill engages in neo-colonial behaviour by ensuring that only a certain privileged demographic is able to attend the university.

McGill engages in neo-colonial behaviour by ensuring that only a certain privileged demographic is able to attend the university.

What’s more, by accepting the majority of its students from wealthy countries, and neglecting to address the biased standard of admissions, McGill perpetuates the racist idea that people from rich white countries are somehow inherently more intelligent, more deserving and more interested in higher education than people from poorer countries.

As a result of colonial control and propaganda, colonized populations often experience a trend known as “colonial mentality” in which they begin to believe that the colonizers are indeed superior to them. This in turn leads to racial power imbalances and the continued oppression of people of colour. As a result of colonialism white people are often seen as more trustworthy, knowledgeable, and well-mannered. This racist belief is perpetuated by an overwhelmingly white faculty body, even in courses specific to the experiences of people of colour.

McGill continues to employ “diversity” as a major selling point in the marketing of the university to prospective students, only to accept way fewer people of colour than one might expect. The international people of colour who do matriculate are often faced with a disappointing reality. The diversity of the student body, as well as of the programs of study at McGill, are boasted about.
However, the faculties and professors that teach these classes are often white, and focus on course material by white theorists and writers. Faculties such as the Islamic Studies and Cultural Studies are notoriously saturated with a white student council and white professors, reproducing the neo-colonial concept that white people are the most qualified to teach and theorize on all topics, including those foreign to them. While McGill certainly isn’t the only institution neglecting to address its pervasive history of colonialism, it nevertheless is more vocal than many others about its quasi-diversity.

McGill continues to employ “diversity” as a major selling point in the marketing of the university to prospective students, only to accept way fewer people of colour than one might expect.

We need to hold McGill accountable for its neo-colonial practices and the damaging implications it has for its student population. McGill must acknowledge the colonial foundation for the correlation between admissions and GDP in order to start making changes towards allowing admission opportunities for students from less wealthy countries. The undergraduate admissions website still advertises having “30% of students from 150 different countries,” yet a closer look at our University reveals exactly what kind of international students McGill wishes to select.