New anti-racism website started local and grew

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Rachel Gurofsky was working late one night, trying to meet a deadline. In the morning she was going to jump on the TTC and meet her boss at Union Station on Front Street in Toronto and hand over the research she was doing.

Although it was only partly finished, she knew that the new anti-racism website plan was going to be a great resource. She had sifted through hundreds of similar sites that dealt with issues relating to racism and diversity, and what struck her most about these sites was how un-user-friendly they were, how difficult to navigate, and how information was often not well organized and scattered across numerous sites. She promised herself that the website she had in mind would be better.

The boss she was meeting that morning was me. The site we later launched became The Anti-Racism Resource Centre.

We wanted the website to be a clearinghouse of information related to ending hate crime, racism and discrimination in Peterborough and surrounding areas. The impetus for this website came from a series of racially motivated attacks on Asian-Canadian anglers in southern and central Ontario in the summer of 2007, attacks which continued into the summer of 2009.

It is a user-friendly site designed for educators, employers, students, and the community-at-large. Although the site is hosted and updated by a local institution, Community and Race Relations Committee of Peterborough, the information is applicable across many sectors and provinces.

The site organizes anti-racism resources for web users under six headings:

Racism 101: Where users are provided with a no-nonsense plain language explanation of issues and terms. An extensive glossary of terms is also provided,
What are My Rights?: Employee rights and human rights are explained,
For Employers: Information and resources are provided to help employers better understand and implement anti-discrimination and diversity policies in the workplace,
For Educators: Useful educational resources for teachers and students are provided,
Global Issues: Provides an international context for issues regarding race and racism,
Youth Strike Back: Action orientated activities are profiled showing how a younger generation are responding to issues of racism.

As the co-ordinator of the CRRC, my job was to outreach and organize around issues pertaining to race and racism. In the fall of 2007, my board of directors instructed me to make an online version of the resources that we offer through our local office. Little did I know that a few years later we would launch this significant resource -- made possible from a grant from the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. It far exceeded our original intentions.

At first, the goal was simple: to make a website that would serve Peterborough only, but after Gurofsky presented her findings, which showed that the web lacked a good site aggregating useful information regarding racism, we both knew that we had a chance to make a site that could have a much bigger scope, bigger potential, and be able to serve both users in Peterborough and outside. The need seemed great.

We then sought out a web designer to help us organize the content for the web. We knew what we wanted, and we had an idea of how the information should be organized, but the hard part was knowing how to visually realize that in a user friendly interface.

But it wasn't as straightforward as we first thought.

"It is easy to design something specifically for youth, or for employers, or for employees, but it is another thing to design one site that can do all those things at once, and do it well," said Teena Aujla, who was eventually brought in as the designer.

"For example, a worker looking for information regarding their rights might need specific workplace information. But then in another section, for youth, the user might just want to find out about more general issues regarding racism for a school project. Younger users might be interested in finding out about a cool YouTube videos, but an employee looking for info on workplace issues won't be interested. You have to keep in mind you're serving multiple types of users... It was a balancing act."

Since we launched we have been getting around 600 unique visitors a month -- a good start. Interestingly, and as we expected, the majority of users are from outside the Peterborough area, with 10 per cent coming from the United States, and five per cent coming from other parts of the world -- including Singapore, The Republic of Korea, South Africa, Uganda, and Mexico.

It shows the need for such a resource.

Michael C.K. Ma is an activist scholar who researches and works on issues pertaining to social justice, ethno-racial politics, community activism, and immigrant resettlement. He teaches in the department of criminology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, B.C.


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