Is there diversity at UBC?

UBC Dialogues: Vancouver

UBC Dialogues: Vancouver - University of a Billion Chinese: Is there diversity at UBC?

UBC Vancouver is made up of students from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds, and is sometimes caricatured as a “University of a Billion Chinese.”

Although one-third of UBC’s undergraduate students identify in some way as “Chinese,” the category is broad. It mixes Canadians of (whole or partial) Chinese-descent with international students from Shanghai, Taipei, Hong Kong, the USA, Russia and Brazil, among others. But does this cultural mix define our identity? Is “race” really a factor or a helpful category in talking about the modern university? Or are factors like socio-economic class, rural/urban, religious identity, or international or domestic more relevant on an international campus?

A recent Maclean’s article originally titled, “Too Asian?” provoked a storm of responses (some outraged, some humourous), but certainly hit a nerve. As a leading global university, what should UBC’s student body look like? How do concerns about Asian-looking students resonate in a multicultural society like Canada?

Is a conversation about race at UBC even relevant? Can we explore this topic without reinforcing outmoded ideas about race? Can we explore them without offending each other?

On May 9th, 2011, we held UBC Dialogues: Vancouver about the nature of higher education in a culturally diverse society.

2011-12 Event Series Sponsor:

TD Meloche Monnex


We live-streamed the event as it was running. Here are some recordings from the panel:

Question & Answer session.

View the rest of the recordings here.


UBC Dialogues: Vancouver was held on May 9, 2011 at UBC Robson Square.



Moderator – Margaret Gallagher, CBC Journalist
Panelist Ray Hsu, BA (Hon)’01, MA’02, PhD’08, Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow, Creative Writing Program, UBC; Author, Anthropy and Cold Sleep Permanent Afternoon
PanelistTetsuro Shigematsu, BFA ’94, broadcaster, filmmaker, playwright, comedian, actor
Panelist – Erin Millar, BMus’05, freelance journalist; author; formerly editor of Maclean’s On Campus
PanelistPeter Wanyenya, BCom’10, Outreach Co-ordinator, Facilitator, Child & Youth Worker, Community Animator

Panelist Bios

Margaret Gallagher

Bio available here

Ray Hsu

Ray Hsu teaches within the Creative Writing program at UBC. He has written two books and had more than 125 poems published in a range of international journals. He has won a number of different awards for his work.

Hsu taught writing for more than two years in a US prison, where he also created the Prison Writing Workshop, and works on a number of collaborative projects. He is also deeply interested in new media.

Tetsuro Shigematsu

Tetsuro Shigematsu is an MFA student within UBC’s Creative Writing program, who came up with the idea of a humourous video response to the Maclean’s article originally titled “Too Asian.” He is also a playwright, an actor, and comedian. He has written for the CBC show This Hour has 22 Minutes, and reported for local and national CBC shows.

From 2004-2004, Shigematsu was the host of The Roundup on CBC Radio One. He then served as a pop culture critic for CBC Newsworld, and made an independent feature movie called Yellow Fellas.

Erin Millar

Vancouver-based freelance journalist Erin Millar writes for The Globe and Mail, Reader’s Digest, and The Walrus, among others. Her first book The Canadian Campus Companion: Everything you need about going to college and university in Canada was published in February. She formerly worked as an editor of Maclean’s On Campus, and contributed to Maclean’s university ranking editions for the last four years. She was president of Canadian University Press, and has spoken as an expert on university life on radio and television programs across the country.

Millar has a bachelor’s of music in jazz studies from Capilano University and has studied magazine writing and publishing at Simon Fraser University and Ryerson University.

Peter Wanyenya

Peter Wanyenya is a M.Ed student within the Human Development, Learning, and Culture program at UBC. Wanyenya is currently involved in the Youth Media Arts Diversity Education and Empowerment project, which aims to make B.C. schools and communities more inclusive, critically aware, and socially just. The tools of choice include critical yet engaging media, art, and heart based anti-oppression workshops in schools.

In the past, Wanyenya has been actively engaged in community education and work with young people in vulnerable and marginalized populations, in both Toronto and Vancouver. He continues to develop his intercultural learning by studying and travelling through North America, Western Europe, North and Eastern Africa.

Filed under: Events, Dialogues | Tags: , , , ,

10 thoughts on “Is there diversity at UBC?

  1. The population of Chinese people in Coquitlam and Richmond has increased tenfold in the last 20 years. Why is the federal government pushing this huge increase in immigration from China and India? Aren’t there any other nationalities that deserve to come to Canada? Do we have too much immigration in general, as we take in the same number of immigrants as the US with 10X the population. Are Vancouver and Toronto growing too fast with resulting deterioration of quality of life? What is the supposed goal of all this immigration? Its not to reduce the average age of the population as immigrants bring their old relatives. Why is UBC 2/3 Asian when the population is 1/3 Asian? Something is askew and nobody (in power) cares.

    • Make this issue even more contentious. Based upon the ever increasing influx of Asians to Vancouver we may well be asking ourselves in the future – “Why is UBC 90% Asian when the population is 2/3 Asian?

    • In response to ‘Lawrence’, shame on you for asking veiled racist questions. I thought it was obvious, but clearly xenophobia can blind people’s reasoning. UBC admissions at the undergraduate level is based strictly upon merit; i.e., grades, and immigrant families typically encourage education because that is one of the reasons why they immigrated: For a better life. UBC also accepts international students who pay handsome tuition fees to fund our programs; i.e., they give more than they take. That is why they are here. But why is it a problem that there are so many Asians and immigrants? That’s really only a problem for you if you are racist because there is nothing inherently wrong with it. The question you should be asking is why, with so many Asians in universities, their representation is culled when you go into professional programs at UBC such as medicine, which have a subjective admissions process comprised primarily of Caucasian admissions officers and interviewers? Or why most of the deans and department heads are White even though most of the students and many of the researchers are Asian? Or why when it comes to climbing the corporate ladders in law and accounting firms and other corporations, Asians are never promoted into the top levels. Or why Asians are almost never provided key roles in Hollywood films, but rather portrayed only as villians or the laughingstock of the film? Unfortunately there are many people who do not blame their failure on their own lack of diligence and ability, but instead develop ‘Angry White Male’ syndrome to blame their inability to find a good looking date or their inability to land a job on immigration and minorities. Get a reality check sir.

      • I thought this was a debate, not name-calling. Being the devils advocate is part of that process. I can ask whatever questions I want, this is not a Communist country. I am from a “minority” group too but have never used that as an excuse and don’t feel I’m “owed” anything from Canada. Don’t you see that “The Angry white male Syndrome” concept is exactly what you are accusing me of? I’m proud of my mixed heritage and Canadian citizenship. Canada and UBC are growing and changing so fast that maybe we need a quick rest stop and some discourse before we continue down a course that I am convinced most Canadians don’t want. A good debate is the beginning of that process. Whining and name-calling have no positive educational value to anyone.

        • I agree that forums are no place for name-calling and whining, which is exactly what I saw in your initial post. Forums are a place to ask questions based upon reason and not racism, especially a university forum. Your post implies that there are too many Asians; what, pray tell, does that mean? How would it look if I asked why there are too many Caucasians in Canada? And FYI, just because I am ethnic Chinese does not make me “Communist” as your response would imply. That is another racist remark that you’ve put up, implying that ethnic Chinese Canadians, even ones born in Canada are somehow foreign. This is no different from me insinuating that Caucasians are Nazis because they have some German blood. I don’t recall anyone complaining and suggesting a “quick rest stop” when there are “too many” Caucasians. Your remarks are offensive and they are racist. If calling you out on that makes me “Communist”, “whining”, or a name caller, then so be it; much better to be those things than a racist hypocrite. There is no place in Canada for racists.

        • Lawrence, university admission is merit-based so the system can admit students purely based on their grades, nothing else. That explains why some many immigrant children study hard as that’s pretty much their only way up in a country like Canada that is still relatively small (population-wise) and Eurocentric. This way, they won’t be judged by their accent, whether they like hockey or their skin colour. In many top organizations, private or public, many managers and decision makers are still Caucasian. Not that there is anything wrong but that really limits the scope of their vision and perspective. Just my humble two cents.

          • Also, Chinese as a ethnicity is such a broad, catch-all term. Chinese, both culturally, linguistically and ethnically are as diverse as, say, European. To lump every Chinese and imply them as communist because of Mainland China has been ruled by a communist party (in name only) is erroneous, border-lining ignorant. Even within Mainland Chinese, there are 56 ethnicity and huge regional differences.

            Also, I am somewhat perplexed by the fact that when there UBC was once Caucasian-dominated, there were rarely any public forum about it, cos it was ‘natural’, taken for granted.

            Also, diversity should be defined by cultural and language yardsticks, rather than skin colour. Many Chinese folks are from outside of Greater China. A decent number of them have been here for generations and is part of the nation building effort in Canada, especially for the west coast. To have comments like Lawrence’s, you can see the sense of entitlement and vulnerability, mixed with certain degree of projection of one’s insecurity in a fast-changing world. The fact that a public forum is being held on this is very telling. Any change to the merit-based system has massive implication and is extremely contentious. McLean’s article was published to sell magazines. I hope this forum has a better, nobler intention than that.

      • Lawrence, the name calling is uncalled for. I am not sure saying “Asians” is intended as a racist comment by anyone. Canada, and Canadians all of races and ethicities have a right to challenge immigration policies. Certainly, there are many unfair policies that are being applied and they do need to be challenged. Not all Asians are Chinese as you seem to be concluding in expresssing your assumptions. It seems to me that Filipinos are not given the same chances and opportunities that Chinese people are, for example. Also, it seems that there are many countries in Africa, Eastern Europe and South America that are not given the same opportunities as are those from India and China, and although I agree that there is absolutely no reason to make decisions based on skin colour or race, identifying the country of origin is indeed a fair way to discuss immigration issues. It seems to me that ‘money talks’ and that people who are poor, or who are from poor countries are less likely to be able to immigrate to Canada, and we may indeed be giving privileges to people with a lot of money at the cost of not allowing from sufficient diversity in terms of skills, the trades, etc. And, most importantly, we need to look more carefully at how ‘merit’ is actually being measured in this day and age when demonstrating marks is just as likely to be an indicator of how much one can pay to have their papers done for them, or how much time one has to study while parents do EVERYTHING for their young adult children such that they are indeed able to get the ‘marks’ but applying what has been learned is a different matter. The ‘merit’ and the ‘scholastic achievement’ are greater as far as I am concerned, in a young adult student who has to work for a few years in order to be able to afford to go to university at all, and then has to work part to full time while at university, than the ‘merit’ or ‘scholastic achievement’ of a young adult student whose parents have paid for everything, including the Mercedes being driven to the school by the student. Also, the allowances for poor English in papers by foreign students is unfair to the rest of the student population who are marked down for making any errors, while their foreign counterparts are given an unfair advantage. This is independent of race, and ethnicity and of course, Lawrence, the impact is felt equally by the children of Chinese Canadians and their parents, who have been here, paying the taxes (that subsidize the schools and universities) for decades with the rest of Canadians! And finally, Lawrence, for some Canadians, of all races, there is an issue about how the money was earned — I refer to the money that seems to ‘buy the way’ for some, both into the country and through the halls of UBC (and other universities). This issue is an undercurrent that has to be discussed in an open way before the meltdown that will otherwise occur if something is not done. It is a very well known thing that Canada hosts the heads of some of the worst criminal gangs in the world. The instances of same stare us in the face via the media and otherwise. When the children of these criminals use up the seats in our public and private schools and in our universities, bumping the children of parents who have both built and paid for these schools, I am sorry, but there IS an issue to be discussed. Other western democracies require people to be landed immigrants or citizens prior to allowing them to buy residential real estate and ownership of same is affecting school zones, etc.

  2. “Alumni Affairs” has a major error in the title of the MacLean’s article. The title was “Too Asian?” with a question mark. In leaving out the question mark you have totally changed the meaning.

    • We apologize for the punctuation error. It has now been corrected.

      We didn’t intend to change the meaning of the title at all. We should note that Maclean’s has since changed the title of the article to The Enrollment Controversy.

Comments are closed.

UBC Alumni Comment Policy

Comment Policy

We invite your comments on topics of interest to the UBC community. Comments are moderated and will be posted. We reserve the right to edit or reject comments on the grounds of legality, good taste and grammar. We will not post comments that are abusive or promote discrimination of any person or group. We accept comments that are critical of UBC or the Alumni Association, subject to the limitations stated above.