“People really need to know that students are struggling,” says Deema Abushaban, recipient of the Wigham Family Professional Inquiry Project Award for her PSIII project, Tackling Racial Underrepresentation in Majority White Schools. Abushaban (BSc/BEd’21) was born in Canada but took most of her schooling in Dubai before returning and enrolling in the Education program at the University of Lethbridge.

As a hijab-wearing, Palestinian Muslim, she knows what it’s like to feel othered. “People were so unused to seeing individuals like me, they didn’t know how to accept me,” she says.

Abushaban, a Physical Education major, was not surprised to notice more Muslim girls joining sports during her practicums, and students from the BIPOC community in general gravitating towards her. “They felt represented by me,” she says. She was shocked, however, to learn that when they encountered racism, they felt safer turning to her than to other staff. “I was the only person of colour with a level of authority in the school. When they told me they couldn’t speak to anyone else, I realized the detriments of underrepresentation are very, very great,” she says.

Abushaban developed a website to help educators identify and address underrepresentation in their schools and classrooms. Intended as both a tool and a resource, the website is rich with information, surveys in several languages, and contact information for further dialogue. A key focus is increasing awareness of microaggressions, which are particularly difficult for students to deal with because they often come couched in laughter. Name alterations, jesting references to boat people, and being jokingly labelled a terrorist are microaggressions that are deeply impactful. Yet minority groups feel they have no choice but to laugh too. “Because of that sense of belonging that they really need to hold onto, they’re not going to say anything,” says Abushaban. “As teachers, it’s our job to make sure we never put these students in situations where they feel unheard, unloved, and uncared for.”

Do you have a memorable experience?
One experience that I often reflect on is a class I took during my PSII — the Social Context class with Dr. Greg Ogilvie. It was the first time I felt heard and acknowledged in the classroom, without the instructor being a representation of who I am. I felt so comfortable in his classroom, talking about my struggles as a non-white person in a very white environment. It was a very validating and reassuring experience. It really empowered me. I’m forever grateful to Dr. Ogilvie, that lovely individual.

Deema's website endeavours to help educators identify and address underrepresentation in their schools and classrooms: https://deemaabushaban.wixsite.com/underrepresentation

Writer: Elizabeth McLachlan
Photo courtesy: Deema Abushaban


Related story links to the Faculty of Education Professional Inquiry Project and undergraduate student research:
Undergraduate Teacher Research: Generating New Knowledge and Resources
The Faculty of Education Professional Inquiry Project
Wigham Family Professional Inquiry Project Award
Incorporating Blackfoot Values into Early Education: Kate Lawless (BA/BEd ’21)


For more information please contact:
Darcy Tamayose
Communications, Dean's Office
Faculty of Education
University of Lethbridge
Learn more about the Faculty of Education: Legacy Magazine (2008-2019)
Portfolio of stories (2019 to present)
Twitter: @ULethbridgeEdu Website: uleth.ca/education
BecomeaTeacher.ca | BecomeaTeacherAssociate.ca | EdGradStudies.ca