Mathematics lecturer Parviz Haggi on unearthing the reality of workplace discrimination
Authors’ note: To learn more about Parviz’s experience of racism at Dawson, it is encouraged that readers peek at the article written last May titled “Unacceptable, Unapologetic, and Unaddressed Bullying of Teachers,” published by The Plant.
Khadija Fatima & Ezra Bucur
Copy Editor & Staff Writer
In recent years, there has been a growing movement to end workplace discrimination, pioneered by the work of Civil Rights leaders in the 1950s and 1960s. They protested for desegregated schools and laws that would protect marginalized groups—including women and racial minorities—from employment discrimination. This activism was marked by legal battles, hearings, and the establishment of new legal precedents, urging those in power to address these injustices.
Today, many businesses pride themselves in their inclusive hiring practices as well as the fair treatment of marginalized employees. Dawson College presents itself as an example, with their webpage claiming that “everyone who comes to work, attends class or visits the College campus has a right to not only a safe and healthy environment, but to be treated with respect and civility.” The College also outlines anti-harassment policies and procedures meant to address such incidents. However, the effectiveness of these guidelines depend on those in power to enact them, meaning that there is no guarantee of their enforcement. This hierarchy-based system creates a bureaucratic nightmare, where complaints, especially those involving high-ranking members of the workplace, often get dismissed due to exploitable loopholes. Dawson College, despite its public commitment to inclusivity, is no exception.
Communication is the lifeblood of the workplace; the conduit that enables organizational functioning. It allows information flows through, employees share ideas, collaboration emerges, trust establishes, and problems are solved. However, when effective communication breaks down, it has obvious negative repercussions that go beyond an organizational level and impact the individual lives of the faculty members. Dawson’s workforce, too, is an organization that relies on effective communication and should advocate for the rights and well-being of its constituents. A breakdown in communication within the workforce, namely the Dawson Teachers’ Union (DTU), can hinder the ability to address discrimination and support individuals like Parviz Haggi-Mani, a lecturer and member of the Mathematics Department at Dawson College.
Parviz has been subjected to discrimination in the workplace for the last 10 years. Moreover, the absence of open dialogue concerning this issue has driven him into isolation from his department – “[he does not] even go to [his] office anymore, [he meets his] students at Alexis Nihon or at the Upper Atrium for office hours,” he explained in an interview conducted by The Plant. The isolation has taken a toll on his mental well-being, job satisfaction, and career prospects.
Furthermore, the breakdown in communication raises legal and ethical concerns as it violates the “Policy to STEM Violence, Discrimination, etc.” which states that “Dawson College will take all reasonable measures to prevent incidents of harassment and abuse of power.” In fact, since his arrival at Dawson, in the then newly formed DTU, he has been referred to as a murderer and a scumbag by fellow teachers and been threatened to have his child taken from him. When these negative comments were made about him, no one dared to stand his side. He has brought this up to Human Resources (HR) to no avail for years and rewritten a formal complaint last May concerning Dawson College’s violation of its own policies, which has been declared as inadmissible by the HR.
His countless attempts to communicate those instances of discrimination having been dismissed left him feeling unsupported and marginalized. This absence of dialogue, especially in STEM fields, inhibits the resolution of workplace issues and fosters a toxic workplace culture, ultimately damaging the institution’s reputation.
Complaints within the Union reveal a troubling pattern,leaving us wondering how all these complaints have been deferred, without second thought for the last 10 years. To shed light on this, it is crucial to grasp the intricate hierarchy at the core of Dawson College's institutional structure. Parviz's case falls under the jurisdiction of the "Policy to STEM Violence, Discrimination, etc." This policy involves a close partnership between Human Resources (HR), the Board, and the Dawson Teachers' Union (DTU) to oversee its admissibility. However, a lack of clear directives exists on how complaints should be handled when involving multiple organizations.
What further compounds the issue is that, according to Parviz, he was not consulted during this process. When a teacher files a complaint, it is channeled through the DTU, where the Grievance Officer is responsible for filing a grievance with the College. But what transpires when the Grievance Officer is the very individual against whom the complaint is lodged? No specific provisions have been established to address such a scenario, which equally troubled Parviz.
After several years, Parviz managed to make some headway, securing a mediator for his case. However, even mediation proved futile. According to the policy, when mediation fails, an investigation committee must be formed. Strikingly, Parviz claims he was never informed about the existence of such a committee and raises concerns that it will likely include individuals against whom he had filed complaints. This labyrinthine bureaucracy not only complicates the process, but also hampers the pursuit of justice and accountability. “In the end, this is about all the ‘equals’ who are treated unequally, and it's about the enormous potential that we possess—a potential that could be harnessed to improve society—all gone to waste while we grapple with discrimination and its consequences”, explains Parviz.
Bullying damages one’s relationships with themselves and the world around them, even if it occurs during an individual’s most formative years, such as on a playground. If school teachers can turn a blind eye to bullying between peers, it is entirely possible for executives and administrative deans to not only ignore, but perpetuate those very same actions.
In a work oriented society, bullying can have much stronger consequences. For one, much of adult life is dedicated to advancing one’s own career path, climbing up the ranks to secure a comfortable enough position. It is impossible not to work and, depending on the current job market, it could even be impossible to quickly change jobs without risking living in some level of precarity. Bullying can make it harder to even show up to work and do it well, and it will damage any future connections that could be created through the workplace.
This work culture emboldens the bullies as they feel more motivated to continue harassing their victims. If they manage to ascend to higher ranks, they take advantage of their situation, working for themselves and their own self interest. Ultimately, their goal is no longer to prevent bullying, but to perpetuate it. Both parties know the importance of being employed, and the bullies know that they can control the very livelihood of their victims.
Parviz’s situation outlines just this. As mentioned earlier, he barely visits his office and his fellow teachers will only address him when they can make sure that no one is around. During the interview, he stated that the DTU executives who are bullying him ensure that these issues are swept under the rug and that nothing is amended. The people who have targeted him are fully aware of the impact they have over his very own livelihood, and choose to completely ignore any accountability concerning the threats of taking away his child, who was at the time only one year old . To this day, he does not know whether these threats were empty or would have ever materialized into real action. Nevertheless, this incident has deeply affected how he views his own relationship with his family.
As a single father, he cannot afford to consciously resign from his job because of this harassment, a fact that has been exploited by his bullies in order to avoid any accountability. Since he is forced to come into work, they lack a compelling reason to cease the vitriol thrown towards him. Parviz has also expressed that he has not enjoyed a single day since this harassment against him began and that he simply wants the situation to somehow be resolved. He cannot find any allies too, as they are scared that their source of income ill in turn become a living nightmare. As a result, he believes that some top executives DTU treat the College as “their own backyard,” mimicking in the most crude way kids who used to pick on one another, yet also embodying the power of the principals and the school teachers who chose to not pay attention to any of it.
When The Plant asked about any diversity in the DTU, Parviz responded that he was not certain of the racial makeup of the executive branch. However, he did mention having a conversation a black staff member regarding any experiences of racism. He told The Plant that said teacher had experienced racism at Dawson College, but DTU executives were there not to follow “their rules”, but rather “the rules”. In this context, they would refer to the broader system of discrimination that has always existed in Canada. These would be the rules instituted by the White ruling class, ensuring that they alone kept the control and the power over the operation of these systems, and that no one could affect the status quo.
Parviz compared the racism he experienced in Sweden to Canada, saying that his experiences in the former were more “explicit” and that Canadian culture seeks to “promote their own people.” For him, this is best highlighted by the nonsensical paper trail that his complaints followed and by the fact that he attempted to run for a DTU executive position as well. Unfortunately, his attempt was shut down and he believes he was “punished for speaking out”.
These experiences reflect a broader problem that The Plant became aware of when they discovered the letter put in Parviz’s personal file after the release of the previous article discussing this very situation. The letter threatened him to not bring this issue to light any further. Despite this, he still believes that students have the right, if not the duty, to speak up about the College. If the students, including this newspaper, decided to not publish anything relating to his situation anymore, it would be showing the College that their threats carry weight, and that they can influence censorship among the students. This would further perpetuate their lack of accountability and would set a precedent in regards to their ability to censor students. However, The Plant holds the belief that Parviz Haggi-Mani deserves to have his voice heard and that censorship is exacerbating issues, rather than offering a solution to any of his decade-long problems.