Assumptions can harm cultural interaction

Durham College students at the Indigenous Centre in the CFCE during a beading workshop. (From left) Marisa Richardson, Makayla Vienneau and Michelle Holland. Photo credit: Dakota Evans

It’s a phrase said by many: “Don’t assume, it makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and me,” but is it practised more than it is preached?

Durham College is in the midst of International Education Week and one presentation revolved around assumptions and how socially aware people are around others with different religious backgrounds, beliefs, and practices,

The presentation was dubbed “How “Woke” are you?” and drew a small gathering of eight people in a classroom in the Gordon Willey building Monday.

The term “woke” means to be socially aware of differences among people and how to ask questions and approach others without offending them.

That was the message sent by Shauna Moore, student success coach at the Office of Student Diversity, Inclusions, and Transitions, during the presentation.

The event had a mix of faculty and students participating, asking questions and listening to Moore, as well as Peggy Forbes, an Indigenous Coach at DC’s First Peoples Indigenous Centre, who spoke about Indigenous beliefs and assumptions.

(From left) Leesa McLeish-Diaz and Shauna Moore of Durham College's Centre for Diversity, Inclusions and Transitions, with Peggy Forbes (right) from the First Peoples Indigenous Centre. Photo credit: Dakota Evans

The group heard assumptions are a large part of social interaction among individuals, whether it be in a community, a classroom, or an entire campus.

“I know having worked with students sometimes misunderstanding about individuals comes from a cultural perspective, (for example) it’s not that people are lazy or aggressive, it’s that it’s not their approach,” says Moore. “They have come from a different culture.”

Simple approaches to others – without starting with preconceived notions – can alter how individuals look at people, says Moore. For example, she says, people may come across as aggressive but may come from a culture where their time is money, so their approach may feel assertive.

Different religions and backgrounds have different ways of approaching how the world or human interactions are perceived, adds Moore.

For example, in some cultures individuals may refer to people in authority as “ma’am” or “sir,” Moore says. However, in Canada we often refer to people in authority through their first or last names.

As part of the presentation, Forbes sat down with the group and spoke about how Durham College sits on the lands of the people of Mississaugas of Scugog Island.

As well, she greeted the group with a ‘Land Acknowledgement’ in her national language which allowed everyone to connect with the roots of the land.

One student who attended the event asked Forbes “what is the proper term to identify Indigenous people?”

Forbes informed the group the correct way is “Indigenous,” pointing out that other references are offensive.