Michele Newton - Speaker - Expert - Advocate Logo

The power of representation

In my world, we often speak about the importance of representation. Seeing someone who looks like you, with similar lived experiences, has a strong impact on hopes, dreams and career success.

Throughout my entire school and university experience, I never had a Black teacher as a role model. I am not alone.

Rhiannon Hoover (they/she) of Barrie is completing her fourth year in musical theatre at Sheridan College.

“When I first started, there was one faculty member of colour teaching in my program. She was the first non-white teacher I’d ever had in 14 years of schooling,” she recalled.

Things have recently begun changing within the college. New IBPOC (Indigenous, Black and People of Colour) faculty members have been hired. Hoover is finally experiencing the power of representation.

“They bring such a new perspective and so much additional knowledge into the space and course content,” Hoover said. “Many of them care deeply about shifting the lens in which we engage with musical theatre, as opposed to simply teaching what has always been taught.”

The impact on Hoover is profound.

“It’s really inspiring to learn from artists with faces like yours that have found success in what they do. Studying with them unlocks a door of possibilities and opportunities we never thought were realistic for ourselves as IBPOC artists. It’s been an incredible year of unlearning harmful things we’ve been taught and stepping into a newfound confidence.

“I’d like to see more organizations in Barrie treat diversity, equity and inclusion as a priority. Doing this right will take a lot of extra time, research and money. It is not enough, nor is it safe, to hire more IBPOC bodies without first preparing the space for their arrival and ensuring that they have all the support and resources needed to thrive. They’ll need to be seriously committed and invested in doing the work required.”

People of diverse backgrounds and experiences must be given power, a platform and support to begin creating change within existing systems. Otherwise, the representation is performative, which further perpetuates harm.

“These changes will be difficult, and mistakes will be made,” Hoover noted. “The best approach is to always remain transparent, honest and receptive. The human in all of us must be prioritized.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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