Hat High students protest in Friday walkout

·3 min read

Students at Medicine Hat High School walked out following classes Friday in protest of alleged mistreatment of international students.

Protesters allege international students have faced discrimination and racism both within school and homestays, which they believe negatively affected the students’ mental and physical well-being.

Ladi Bil, protest co-organizer, hopes to draw attention to aspects of the international student program she feels needs to be reformed, such as requirements homestay families must meet before hosting an international student and penalties international students face if they break the program’s code of conduct agreement.

“The exchange program has a lot of flaws,” said Bil. “We know nobody’s perfect, but there are too many flaws that people can’t sit idly by and allow to happen.

“We want more support offered to a lot of these international students as to all be treated properly. Something I can get away with, they can’t and it’s completely unfair. What’s really the difference between me and them?”

International student Angy Izquierdo, who arrived in August 2021, also took part in the protest. Izquierdo says she didn’t feel she had enough support from administrators when issues arose.

“Home support in the past is horrible and school support and mental health,” Izquierdo told the News. “They don’t really like if I go to the administration, which is the one in control of this thing. They don’t really like trying to help you. They just say, ‘Go to a counsellor and talk with them.’ They just don’t really get involved with the student.”

While officials from MHHS and the Medicine Hat Public School Division didn’t engage with students during the protest, which was primarily situated off school property, protesters and officials did meet immediately prior.

“I support their right to engage in protests and to express themselves,” MHPSD superintendent Mark Davidson said. “What I urged them to do (upon meeting), was to be careful they didn’t defame people … and not to say things which are untrue, because it’s harmful to others and certainly damaging to their own credibility.”

Davidson admits issues concerning MHHS international student homestays arose throughout the year, but says he has no knowledge of claims regarding discrimination or racism in homestays or school being brought forward.

As for Bil’s request for program reformation, Davidson stands by the division’s existing verification process for homestay families — which includes vulnerable sector and criminal background checks — and penalties faced by students who break their code of conduct agreement.

“MHPSD had 137 students in the program this year and I would wager to guess the vast majority of their experiences were positive,” Davidson said. “Our hope certainly is every young person feels respected in our school. If we hear someone feels they were not, we engage in an open conversation about that, seek to find out why and do better if there’s change which needs to be made.”

Davidson says the division will soon be sending out regular surveys to both international students and homestay families for additional feedback about the program.

KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting