Part 2, Open Discrimination: Carleton University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology Mental Health Failures and my Suicide Attempt.
There are two in class incidents at Carleton University that were significant in contributing to my attempted suicide. Both happened in two separate graduate classes I parcipated in. The first class was by Jacqueline Kennelly where she invited Jayne Malenfant and Dr. Naomi Nichols to speak about their experiences conducting field research on November 12th, 2018. Both were working with an organization in Montreal who worked with homeless populations.
Both PhD speakers were anglophone, one didn’t speak any French while I the other had a limited grasp of the language. The organization they wanted to work with was exclusively French speaking. As they recounted their experiences, they spoke derisively of the organization because of their hesitancy to work with the pair because they couldn’t communicate effectively in French. Both went on to briefly topics like Bill 101 and more generally the emphasis Quebecers place on their language. It was quite clear to me that through their tone and biases they expressed as they shared their experiences that they believed Quebecers were racist because of the measures they, we, have undertaken to protect our language. Professor Kennelly smiled and nodded throughout their presentation.
It was upsetting and I felt isolated. I spoke of this to a number of people, but nothing ever came of it. I wish I had spoken up but I didn’t want to cause a scene, I didn’t think picking a fight right out of the gate as a I started grad school would be helpful for my career or more generally “make friends”. Had I known what it would continue to weigh on me and contribute to me trying to take my own life, maybe I would have. I wish I did.
The second incident happened in a class taught by Aaron Doyle and Michel Vallée. Ayesha Tak, a fellow graduate student during the course of a discussion declared that “All Quebecers are racist” and then went on to argue the point. Neither Professor Doyle, nor Michel Vallée, or anyone else in that class saw it necessary to argue against that position. I wish I had, but again, in a misguided attempt to avoid further alienating myself I said nothing. I did voice my displeasure to both professors after the class but nothing ever came of that. Professor Doyle did express regret long after the fact saying he “should have said something”.
Having roughly 30 “fellow” graduate students and three separate professors say nothing to counter prejudiced and discriminatory comments against Quebecers had a significant negative impact on my mental health. It made me feel completely isolated. The fact that nothing was done even after I called out the second very public instance of discriminatory behavior was crushing. I felt angry and completely powerless.
This feeling of hopelessness I felt was compounded by other separate issues I encountered in the department. If no one was willing to take my side here, why would I for a second think anyone would stand up for me elsewhere? My depression started to snowball at this point and less than two months later I tried to take my own life.