Former student recalls years of racial abuse as reports find evidence of explicit racism in Surrey schools

Janaye Majer says she was bullied and targeted with racial slurs during her time at Surrey's Queen Elizabeth Secondary. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Janaye Majer says she was bullied and targeted with racial slurs during her time at Surrey's Queen Elizabeth Secondary. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Flipping through her high school yearbook doesn't spark nostalgia in Janaye Majer.

"Memories I don't miss at all," she said of her time at Queen Elizabeth Secondary.

Majer, who is Black, says she was bullied and targeted with racial slurs at the Surrey, B.C., high school. Over the years, she says she was subjected to the N-word and told "really derogatory racial things about myself."

"I was told to kill myself and just very terrible things that I had to go through."

Majer says, in her case, teachers and administrators failed to stop the bullying.

"I felt so alone. I didn't know I had support. I didn't know where to go. I would sit and eat lunch in the bathroom because that's how badly I was bullied."

WATCH | Majer recounts her years of experiencing racism at school:

Majer's experience is one of many documented in two reports commissioned by the Surrey School District that found evidence of explicit racism in its schools, citing the "discomfort" of school staff and administrators in trying and failing to address it.

The reports, the result of 39 listening circles conducted by an outside company, also highlighted a lack of diversity among the leadership.

One looked specifically at Queen Elizabeth Secondary, and another examined the entire district.

The Surrey School District says it is committed to tackling racism within the school system and created a new committee that made its own recommendations, which include creating a new racial equity department and developing a five-year racial equity plan.

"This isn't a five-year plan where you'll only see the results in five years," said district spokesperson Ritinder Matthew. "A lot of these recommendations can be implemented immediately."

Rina Diaz, president of the Surrey District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC), said in an interview on CBC's Early Edition Tuesday that it often receives inquiries from parents about how to file a complaint against a teacher.

"Their child has come home telling them that they do not feel comfortable sitting in their classroom ... not because of the subjects that are being discussed themselves, more so about the views that the teacher has expressed," Diaz said.

She recounted a recent report from a parent who contacted the DPAC.

"The child of this parent came up to this parent and said, 'You know, I think my teacher is actually teaching hate,'" said Diaz, adding that the DPAC agrees with many of the changes that the reports suggest.

For Majer, who is in her second year at Simon Fraser University studying psychology and education, the changes can't come soon enough.

"I held my voice for so long because I was so scared, and I was always the one being punished," she said. "But I think I always speak out because at the end of the day, the truth does come out, and the truth is out now."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.