“Initially there was talk that the COVID-19 pandemic was impacting people equally, only to find out that’s not the case” says Dr. Sandra Dixon, assistant professor in the University of Lethbridge Faculty of Education. “Research coming out now is showing that non-dominant groups—people of African descent, Filippinos, Asians and so forth—are disproportionately impacted, primarily because a lot are frontline workers.”

Dixon, a multicultural counsellor and registered psychologist in Alberta who teaches in the Master of Counselling and MEd Counselling Psychology programs, notes that even before the pandemic mental health issues among immigrants and racialized populations were of concern due to adverse circumstances and biases.

A lot of these individuals are traumatized in different ways,” she says. “Some are working two or three jobs simply to put food on the table and maintain a reasonable standard of living in Canada. The pandemic has been an awakening for all of us to recognize that racism and racial disparity do exist, and that something needs to be done.”

Dixon is hopeful as she witnesses growing efforts at grassroots levels to draw attention to the problem and create a narrative of change. A board member of the Psychologists’ Association of Alberta and the Alberta Network of Immigrant Women, she has facilitated webinars with the African Centre as well as Black Canadian Women in Action. And she keeps informed by attending online provincial and national seminars on the social and economic impacts of COVID on immigrants. “Here in Lethbridge, Group United Against Racial Discrimination organized a past rally at City Hall. It was motivated by the dehumanizing death of George Floyd in Minnesota who died as a result of police brutality. Although warranted, this rally was sadly a reactionary measure to protest against racial discrimination, which is an unending fight in our society,” says Dixon.

We need to see more of that kind of advocacy and allyship, not only for the black community, but for all communities—Indigenous and other People of Colour."

“Faith-based initiatives are important,” adds Dixon, drawing on her research into the role religious communities and spiritual practices play in helping newcomers to Canada reconstruct their cultural identities. She notes one recent immigrant from the Caribbean who knows the challenges faced by non-dominant populations and the solace church communities can offer. “I have two master’s degrees and I was a school counsellor,” says the woman, who is currently pursuing a doctorate. “In Canada I haven’t been able to work in a field that’s commensurate with my academic qualifications.” An employee with a Children’s Services organization, she serves as a frontline worker, required to be on site each day. When the pandemic closed schools she worried about not being home to supervise her children and help them with their educational needs. She’s anxious about carrying the virus home to her family and admits to feelings of guilt and inadequacy as a parent. “Those are some of the barriers we face as immigrants trying to put food on the table, meet the needs of our families, and at the same time work and contribute to society and the economy,” she says. “The church provides an important social organization for a lot of immigrants. That’s where many of our friends are. We can talk about our experiences of being in Canada, the challenges we face, and the challenges our kids face. Our kids are able to interact with other kids who can speak their language; the rationale being cultural continuity and preventing language loss.”

African-born social advocate and pastor, Dr. Daniel Zopoula, seeks to provide similar supports for people of all ages, faiths, backgrounds and nationalities at the Miz City Church in Lethbridge. “The more I talk with people of various ethnic backgrounds, the more I realize how similar we are,” says the extensive traveller and founder of Bridges of Hope International, which oversees more than fifty charities worldwide. “I believe deeply that we are all connected—black, white, yellow, green, whatever you call it. In our connection there is comfort. When COVID hit we made sure everybody got a phone call and we used online ways to connect as well.”

Zopoula is active in promoting social change. After the death of George Floyd he posted an appeal on Facebook for people to stand together and not respond with violence. Since then he has participated in peaceful unity marches. “I want to be a connection point for people of all backgrounds and all faiths, to celebrate the fact that we are one, that what unites us is more than what divides us.”

This is not a white or a black or an Indigenous thing,” sums up Dixon. “This is a Canadian issue."

Because we live in a multicultural society, it’s going to take all of us coming together collectively for changes to happen.” As such, Dr. Dixon provides some key strategies on how one can become an agent of change in their community.

How to be an Agent of Change

Allyship: Aligning oneself in a supportive capacity with marginalized or mistreated groups to which one does not belong. Through allyship, work to provide community-based solutions, such as antiracism action programs.

Help build an inclusive society that moves beyond equal opportunity: to generate equal conditions for all people by creating allyship with groups that tackle health, social inequity, systemic racism, and other social injustices.

Acknowledge the need for, and participate in, race-based research: that will facilitate a deeper understanding of the public health issues impacting racialized groups.

Avoid concepts and labels like visible minority and cultural-ethnic community: which serve to “otherize” and covertly highlight whiteness over racial inclusiveness.

Advocate for the development and promotion of: equity-oriented and strength-based mental health supports in collaboration with the racialized groups who will benefit from them.

Recognize that trauma caused by colonization and oppression are mental health issues. Rather than relying for understanding on the often-flawed perspectives of the dominant culture, turn to Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) for their views concerning the cultural dynamics, historical forces, social structures, and racism that affect their daily lives.

Writer: Elizabeth McLachlan | Photographer: Rob Olson


To contact Dr. Dixon and related links to this story:
Sandra Dixon Ph.D., R.Psych., Assistant Professor
University of Lethbridge, Faculty of Education
Publications here
Webinar Dixon, S. (2020, July 18). Destigmatizing counselling for non-dominant groups during COVID-19 pandemic. Hosted by African Centre, Edmonton, Alberta. (Invited Speaker) here

African Centre here
Black Canadian Women in Action here
Alberta Network of Immigrant Women here
Psychologists' Association of Alberta here
Miz City Church here
Dr. Daniel Zopoula (Pastor of The Miz): 403-393-6533
A Conversation with Bishop Daniel Zopoula on Racism here

Mental Health apps - calm.com; Headspace; Abide; pray.com; Dwell


Related story links to Faculty of Education Graduate Studies and Research:
A Generative Approach to Leadership for All Educators
Bridging Neuroscience and Education: Riley Kostek (BSc’09/BEd’11)
Teaching and Assessing for Life Beyond the Classroom: Dr. David Slomp
Five questions with Shining Graduate Rita Lal (BSc/BEd '01, MEd '20)
Teaching Multiple Literacies in Canadian Classrooms: Sarah Gagnon (BSc/BEd’11, MEd candidate)
Wellness is About Writing: Teri Hartman (BA/BEd '02, current MEd student)

Related story links to the Faculty of Education Wellness Initiative series:
The Faculty of Education WELLNESS INITIATIVE: Supporting a Focus on Health and Well-Being
Wellness is Feeling Productive: Sally Leung (BA/BEd '17)
Wellness is About Writing: Teri Hartman (BA/BEd '02, current MEd student)
Wellness is Spending Time Outdoors: Dana Visser
Wellness is Stillness: Jane O'Dea (dean emerita)
Wellness is Coping with Stress Through Art and Music: Jenn Pellerin
Wellness During the COVID-19 Experience, PSII, and Staying Connected: Kelsey Shoults
Wellness is Being in the Moment: Kenneth Oppel
Wellness is About Having a Consistent Routine: Alex Funk (BEd '17)
Wellness is the Great Outdoors with Family: Beth Cormier (BA/BEd ’94)
Wellness is Spiritual: David Slomp
• Wellness is Ranching: Danny Balderson
Coping with COVID-19: Harnessing our Natural Stress Response
Coping with COVID-19: Loneliness

For more information please contact:

Darcy Tamayose
Communications Officer
Dean's Office • Faculty of Education
University of Lethbridge
Learn more about the Faculty of Education: Legacy Magazine (2008-2019)
Twitter: @ULethbridgeEdu Website: uleth.ca/education
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