Eternity Martis, an assistant professor at the Toronto Metropolitan University school of journalism and best-selling author, held a public lecture at the U of M on March 9. The talk discussed her 2020 memoir, They Said This Would Be Fun: Race, Campus Life, and Growing Up, as well as the issues faced by students of colour, queer and transgender students and female-identified students on university campuses.
Martis said that her talk focused on what being an equity-seeking student at a Canadian post-secondary campus means, and what issues need to be addressed for progress to be made, specifically at the U of M.
“What I’m trying to really get at and understand is, what here at the University of Manitoba has been done around racism and issues of racism, what has been done around sexual violence and what still needs to be done?” she said.
While there wasn’t a specific incident at the U of M campus that Martis wanted to address, coming to the university and hearing students’ stories highlighted problems that were familiar for her.
“The issues that were going on 10 years ago at Western [University] for me, the issues that I hear from other students at different campuses are the exact same issues that are happening on this campus,” she explained.
Martis noted that some of these issues include situations where students feel unsafe in their classes, professors making racist comments toward students while maintaining their positions at the university and a general uncertainty regarding how to access resources and how to help.
At the same time, Martis has been “really impressed by the amount of work and care and compassion that a lot of the faculty and staff here have for their students.” She said that while it is clear that many people are making an effort to support students at the U of M, there are still institutional barriers that need to be addressed.
She gave the example that if a student says something racist to another student, the student who experienced racism doesn’t have any recourse as there is no process in place to address such an issue. Something Martis hoped that students would take from the event is a sense that she has their backs.
“I’m obviously not an [Equity, Diversity and Inclusion] executive, I am not in a position of power to change things at this university, but I have seen things and I am able to call them out in the favour of students,” she said.
These experiences exist in the world of journalism as well. Martis explained that her journey into the industry started with her experience at Western University. She had always wanted to write about race and gender, but while studying journalism and working as an intern in the field prior to the Black Lives Matter movement her professors and employers discouraged her from doing so.
“They would say ‘well, you can’t write about this it’s not newsworthy, it’s inflammatory, we don’t talk about race,’” Martis said.
She was also told that she could not write about race or Black communities because she was Black and would have a conflict of interest.
“Which is really ironic, because white journalists are afforded so much proximity to every community that is out there, and they’re ill-equipped to report on these communities,” she said. “They go out to tell a story and they cause a significant amount of harm.”
Despite feeling discouraged at the time, Martis was motivated by the certainty that these stories were important ways to shed light on the widespread presence of racism in society and its negative effects, “even if the public didn’t want to hear it.”
“I just kept at it and I just hoped that it would change, and I was confident that it would change,” she continued. “And I was very confident that we were not in a ‘post-racial society,’ which is obviously true now more than ever.”
“It just took some time for the rest of society to catch up, and the newsroom to catch up,” she said.
They Said This Would Be Fun: Race, Campus Life, and Growing Up is available at major retailers.