April 1, 2021

Class assignment empowers undergrad to advocate for municipal action around anti-Asian discrimination

Alicia Revington’s letter to city council pushes for public education to stem racism
Alicia Revington
Alicia Revington

Arguably, one of the most enduring gifts an educator can give a student is an awareness that their voice matters. Alicia Revington is a third-year undergraduate student in the Law and Society program in the Faculty of Arts’ Department of Sociology. A recent project assigned by instructor Dr. Dawn Rault, PhD, transformed her perception of herself as a change-maker — and may impact municipal action to mitigate anti-Asian racism in Calgary.

Revington’s mother is Cambodian — a war refugee from the Khmer Rouge who, says her daughter, “has often felt oppressed by discrimination but never in a position to push for social change.” Revington and her trailblazing sister Jessica — an alumna of the Faculty of Nursing, past Students’ Union president, and recent recipient of a UCalgary Women’s Resource Centre award for her advocacy in women’s health — are likewise familiar with the marginalizing sting of racism.

“Growing up, I attended a predominantly white school where there wasn’t a lot of consideration for kids with working parents or people of diversity,” says Revington . 

At the beginning of the pandemic, she and some of her Asian friends were startled to notice an uptick in microaggressive behaviours from their fellow students — everyday instances of subtle racism, intentional or not, that communicated discrimination.

“It may have been for other reasons, but there was a sudden, constant pattern of classmates deviating away from sitting with us and it didn’t feel right.” Last fall, when Rault asked students to create an annotated bibliography and advocacy letter on a social justice issue of their choosing, Revington knew exactly what she wanted to do.  

In her December 2020 letter addressed to Ward 7 City Councillor Druh Farrell, Revington calls attention to violations of sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that would protect individuals from discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin and colour. She writes that “throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been insufficient discourse on the physical, verbal, virtual, and implied acts of racism inflicted upon and experienced by East Asian Canadians.”

Revington believes The City of Calgary has “been quiet” on the issue of racism directed at East-Asian Canadians in association with COVID-19 and proposes that The City urgently adopt “a public education approach to dispel racist, anti-Asian sentiments… If we allow the acts of blatant racism towards East-Asian Canadians to fade into the background without a trace, there will be no deterrent for this behaviour, and it will continue to recur.”

Rault calls Revington's letter “eloquent and powerful in the way she wove in her personal narrative.” Rault designed the course to engage students “who are having a rough time right now with COVID, feeling detached” and hoped the assignment would inspire them “to recognize that they can be ethical practitioners and that advocacy can be a signature aspect of their practice.”

While the assignment didn’t require students to send their letters out into the world, many did and, says Rault, “they were floored by the personal responses they received from government representatives who took interest in their research.”

Revington was delighted in January to receive a note from Farrell who confirmed that Calgary is, indeed, experiencing “more frequent and more blatant racism, not just as a result of the pandemic but also because of the current disturbing political climate.” She forwarded Revington's 20-page document to The City’s newly formed Anti-Racism Action Committee and wrote that she thinks the group would benefit from Revington’s experience.

Revington hasn’t heard anything further from The City but remains hopeful and is galvanized by the feedback she’s received after sharing her letter widely on social media. “People said I had inspired their own advocacy letters, and several asked to use mine as a template.” That, she says with pride, “is exactly what I was hoping for.”