An interview with Priyanji Mediwake, RRC’s Diversity and Inclusion Specialist
B.S. Hi Priyanji! I understand that RRC students and staff are invited to an upcoming virtual event that tackles the topic of racism in higher education. First, can you tell us more about your role at the College?
P.M. I am the Diversity and Inclusion Specialist for the College. I am part of the Human Resources Services team supporting and overseeing work relating to the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) portfolios. My focus is on building an accessible, safe, welcoming and inclusive campus environment for our students and staff. It has been my privilege to work alongside Red River College’s Anti-Racism Steering Committee to organize this event.
B.S. In what way is racism related to wellbeing?
P.M. Here in Canada we know that racism still exists within our communities. Racism can occur on a structural/institutional level (education, government, etc.), at the individual level, or through the process of macro- and micro-aggressions. Experiencing or internalizing racism can have significant impacts on one’s mental and physical wellbeing.
Feeling a sense of belonging, whether that may be at work, school, or in the general community, contributes to good mental health. Experiencing racism really prevents that positive sense of belonging. Further, research has shown us that experiencing racism negatively affects mental health and leads to increased risk factors for dying by suicide or developing depression, anxiety, problems with substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, when people experience stressful situations such as discrimination, their body moves into a state of fight or flight. When this system is frequently engaged, it causes inflammation that can lead to chronic, long-term health problems.
Racism also fuels intergenerational trauma, leads to harmful internalized beliefs, and contributes to feelings of helplessness or avoidance behaviors.
B.S. What can an RRC student or staff do if they’re experiencing racism?
P.M. If you or someone you know is struggling with issues related to racism, please reach out to us. If your mental health is being negatively affected by this, there is a suite of supports available within the College for students and staff, including Counselling Services, Mental Health Supports, and Elders in Residence.
If you are seeking BIPOC-specific mental health resources within Winnipeg, please refer to the BIPOC Mental Health Workers Resource List.
B.S. What do you want staff and students to know about the upcoming event?
P.M. Our upcoming virtual panel discussion, Anti-Racism: A Dialogue about Transforming Higher Education, takes place Wednesday, November 18 at noon on WebEx.
The discussion will unpack the ways in which racism and discrimination present themselves in our society. Panelists will discuss how each of us can be a stronger ally and anti-racist on and off campus. We will delve into ways to safely talk about race and discrimination, and explore how post-secondary institutions can transform themselves into more inclusive spaces for staff and students.
This panel is presented in partnership with the RRC Students Association. Ginger Arnold, an Instructor in Social Innovation and Community Development, will moderate the discussion.
Please join us in starting this important dialogue at the College!
B.S. How can people participate in the event?
P.M. You can visit the link below to learn more and register! Once you register, you will be sent a WebEx link to join us on November 18 from 12 noon to 1 pm for this panel discussion.
B.S. Thank you Priyanji. I hope many students and staff will tune in for this important event.