Eternity Martis explores Canadian university life through the lens of race, gender and privilege
Eternity Martis is a Toronto-based journalist, author and senior editor at Xtra. Her work focuses on issues of race and gender. In 2017, she was a finalist for the National Magazine Awards' best new writer, she was the 2018 winner of the Canadian Online Publishing Awards for best investigative article and CBC Books named her a writer to watch in 2020.
As one of few black students during her time at Ontario's Western University, Martis dealt with many instances of racism. Her debut book, They Said This Would Be Fun, is a memoir about that time and the challenges of navigating through white spaces as a student of colour.
"I had no idea what university was for. I didn't know the difference between college and university or what a major or minor was. My mom's side of the family is from Karachi, Pakistan, so I was the first to go to a Canadian university. I decided, on a whim, to go to Western and to go to university at all because my friends were going.
I had no idea what university was for.
"It is a beautiful school in London, Ont., which is about two hours from Toronto. It reminds a lot of people of Hogwarts all the time, a lot of old buildings covered in ivy. It's very well known for its business school and very well known for partying. That was one of the draws for me, as someone who was sheltered as an only child."
"I found people very kind and always willing to chat, a very different pace to what I was used to in Toronto. There was a lot of racism that was implicit or explicit. Or very subtle sometimes: from things like, 'I've never seen a black person before' or, 'Black people are so funny.'
"Then it started getting a bit more malicious, where I would go out and people would call me the N-word or they would call me Beyoncé or any kind of black celebrity they could find.
There was a lot of racism that was implicit or explicit.
"I found this so very draining on my mental health. When I went back home to Toronto, I would tell friends and I would tell family about it and they were like, 'No this can't be happening.'
"My family are immigrants and they were like, 'We encountered this in the 1970s, so how can this be happening again?'
"I started writing down the things that would happen. In my second year, I went to a Halloween party and three white students were dressed in blackface and dressed as cotton pickers and approached us. It was the stuff that you never really think is going to happen to you or that still exists. I was very shocked.
"In my second and third year, I met other students who were going through similar things. We formed this friendship of people of colour, who had our insular group away from what was happening outside of us and that's how we kind of got through it."
Eternity Martis' comments have been edited for length and clarity.