Police students get glimpse into life as a minority
January 30, 2020

An initiative to ensure future police officers have an appreciation for other cultures and ethnicities has taken off at the Orillia Campus.

Dr. Eleanor Gittens spearheads an optional trip to Barbados for third- and fourth-year Honours Bachelor of Police Studies students every other year, with the goal of showing them the parallel issues that each country faces, as well as giving them first-hand experience of being a minority.

“Here in Canada, black people are a minority and in Barbados, white people are a minority. The country is between 90 and 95 per cent black,” says Eleanor, who is Barbadian and came to Canada initially in 1994 to do her undergraduate degree, left, and then moved back to Canada permanently in 2009. “Because Barbados is warm and welcoming, there isn’t friction. So, they don’t have that friction that maybe other societies have, but it is also impactful when you realize immediately that you are a minority.”

Common Issues

Not only do the students experience what it feels like to be part of a minority, they have an opportunity to talk about common issues the two countries have, such as drugs, gangs and human trafficking.

“The students definitely have that appreciation (of being a minority), but in having that appreciation, they see some of the same overlapping social issues, like poverty, food scarcity and homelessness, and criminal issues, so there’s an appreciation that despite racial differences, these issues are continuing in different communities,” says Eleanor.

Group of students in front of bus
Group of students on beach

The first stop of the trip is Police Headquarters where a senior police officer greets them and they have a round-table discussion about current policing issues in Barbados. Students start to use some of the information they’ve learned in class around causes of criminal activity and strategies to overcome them, as well as different aspects of policing. Throughout the week, between some fun free time, they also tour urban and rural police stations, the Regional Police Training Centre and watch the Barbados judicial system in action at the Supreme Court.

Eleanor was hired as a full-time professor at Georgian’s Orillia Campus in 2014 and brought 15 students to Barbados in 2016. In 2018, there were 12 students on the group trip and this April, there will also be 12 students going. Only students in their third or fourth year of the Police Studies Degree program are invited to go through the rigorous process to apply.

Resume builder

“We wanted to try to focus on more mature students and also students that would be getting ready to apply to become police officers soon because one of the questions you get when you are a reference for a student is, ‘speak to their understanding of diversity and if you’ve seen them acting in a diverse environment,’” she says. “Taking them on this trip allows us to be able to speak to that directly.”

It seems that police services across the province want to see this type of experience in their recruits. Eleanor reports that most of the students who have gone on the Barbados trips have been hired as police officers.