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'Can I call you by another name?' A question that sparked an anti-stereotype campaign at Western

Western's Ethnocultural Support Services has launched a social media campaign to debunk common stereotypes surrounding minority groups on and off campus. They're goal is to educate and validate these experiences.

'I am not my stereotype' campaign has reached over 70,000 people online.

Fourth year student Anjana Chirayath chose to deconstruct the stereotype of the Anglicization of foreign names after for years she was frustrated by the lack of importance people gave regarding the pronunciation of her name. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)

"Can I call you by another name?" 

That's the question Western student Anjana Chirayath has been faced with her entire life. 

Her name hails from the ancient Sanskrit language and the pronounciation of it can prove challenging for anglophones.  (Her first name is pronounced AWN-juh-nuh).

"My name was a source of embarrassment," Chirayath said. 

"I used to trivialize this part of my identity and thought it was okay if people called me 'Angie' or if I mispronounced my own name because I didn't want to make other people feel uncomfortable." 

Chirayath's experience is just one of the stories that prompted the creation of the University Student Council's Ethnocultural Support Services social media campaign called "I am not my stereotype."

Debunking common stereotypes

CBC News London

2 years ago
2:27
Western University's Ethnocultural Support Services has launched a social media campaign to debunk common stereotypes surrounding minority groups on and off campus. They're goal is to educate and validate these experiences. 2:27

"We made this campaign to combat stereotypes that are often faced by individuals in minority groups," said Mubasshira Khalid, the student coordinator of Ethnocultural Support Services.

"[The campaign] lets students have a voice and explain the struggle of having to deal with that stereotype."

Khalid explains that the campaign, which has reached over 70,000 people online, also has an educational component.

Through telling the narratives of minority students and prejudice they've encountered, the campaign hopes to make people think about little things in their day-to-day lives that can really have an impact on people.  

This campaign really asks the student body and London as well to reevaluate the preconceived notions they have of people, which truly aren't defining.- Anjana Chirayath

Chirayath says for many years she felt frustrated when her name was not recognized or given importance in professional or academic settings.  People would apologize for 'butchering' her name, but never actually asked how to pronounce it. 

Her journey to reclaim her name took almost 20 years. 

One day some of her friends, who had names that were also difficult to pronounce by anglophones, were inquiring how to legally anglicize their names.  

"I realized then that I had to stay something and ... spread awareness to something people don't really think can affect you ... That's how we stop perpetuating stereotypes." 

"This campaign really asks the student body and London as well to reevaluate the preconceived notions they have of people, which truly aren't defining," she added.   

Anchal Dahiya, Allan Muriuki, Mubasshira Khalid, Anjana Chirayath and Matthew Dawkins were just some of the students who came up with the idea to create a social media campaign to help debunk common stereotypes. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)

The campaign includes the stories of over 15 students who have been affected by prejudice on and off campus. 

Some of the stereotypes the students are trying to debunk include 'black men are thugs,' 'Asians are nerds,' 'Hijabis are oppressed' and 'immigrants will steal your job.'

"These are discussions that need to happen," said first year student and campaign participant Matthew Dawkins. "It's important for all of us to engage in them and stop tip-toeing around subjects that may be harmful to minorities." 

As for Chirayath, she hopes the many people who feel they've had to sacrifice their name, know they're not alone. 

"You are heard, you are visible and you are recognized in this society," she said. "Your name is important. It's not a trivial part of your life, so reclaim it."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sofia Rodriguez

Reporter/Editor

Sofia Rodriguez is a reporter with CBC News in London. She is a graduate of Western University and Fanshawe College. You can email her at sofia.rodriguez@cbc.ca

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