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University of Copenhagen
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Greenlandic students turn up for class, and face prejudice

Study environment — Two out of three Greenlandic students in Denmark encounter prejudice during their study programmes, according to a report from the Danish Institute for Human Rights. An Inuit from the University of Copenhagen explains how he takes care of himself.

Your people will never be free. Donald Trump should have bought you when he had the chance. Are you going to have a beer tonight?

These are a few of the sentences quoted in a new report from the Danish Institute for Human Rights, which examines Greenlandic students’ experience of student life in Denmark.

The report shows that two out of three Greenlandic students encounter prejudice in the Danish study environment. The comments are often aimed at Greenlanders as a group associated with alcoholics, addicts, and socially disadvantaged people.

Michael Bro is an Inuk, singular for Inuit, and lets out a deep sigh when we talk to him in the Arctic House in Copenhagen, because he recognizes all the stereotypes. He was born and raised in Nunarput [Michael Bro prefers to use this term for Greenland, ed.] and is currently taking a bachelor’s degree in Greenlandic and Arctic studies at the University of Copenhagen.

Almost half of the participants in the questionnaire answer that they hardly participate in social events and communities on the programme. The main reasons are that they don’t feel comfortable, or that they don’t like the alcohol culture.

Michael Bro himself has bad memories from various events on previous study programmes. For fear of facing stigmatising and racist statements about his Inuit background, he did not participate in the intro camp at UCPH last year to spare himself.

»It’s quite stressful to have to face this every time,« he says.

Mission decolonization

After studying in the US, Michael Bro moved to Denmark in 2009 to attend upper secondary school. Later, he took a bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration at CBS and became a cabin crew trainee at Air Greenland.

Today Michael Bro is vice-chairman of AVALAK — an interest group for Greenlandic students — in Copenhagen and spokesperson for the youth group Inuit Circumpolar Council, the Inuit communities’ international organisation in the Arctic Council.

In the future, he is considering moving abroad. He would like to work with the politics and rights of indigenous peoples, something that he would like to champion as a result of his Inuit background. So when talking about Danish colonial history, he finds it problematic that Danish viewpoints are favoured – also during his studies.

Eskimo is a derogatory and stigmatizing term, that can be quite unpleasant for someone with an Inuit background like me.
Michael Bro, student

He focuses, for these reasons, on colonialism and decolonization, especially when an instructor uses the word ‘Eskimo’ because he simply does not want to be associated with it.

»It is a derogatory and stigmatising term that can be quite unpleasant for someone with an Inuit background like me, because you are reproducing some offensive words that the Inuit historically have not used about themselves,« says Michael Bro and adds:

»It’s okay to use the word Eskimo in a historical context if that’s relevant, but I would prefer to receive teaching using a more accurate picture of indigenous peoples and Inuit.«

His programme changed its name from Eskimology to Greenlandics and Arctic Studies back in 2019. »If it hadn’t happened,« he says, »I would not have applied to the study programme at all.«

»Microaggressions« from fellow students and teachers

17 per cent of the participants in the report on Greenlandic students’ life in Denmark state that they have experienced fellow students treating them worse because of their background, while 13 per cent have experienced being treated worse by their teachers.

Michael Bro sometimes feels as if he has to tiptoe around a topic, because he »can’t always express himself freely about certain topics.«

When he forcefully argues against colonialism in his teaching, including the use of terms like ‘Eskimo’ about his own people, he has been met with what he calls »microaggressions« from fellow students and teachers, he says.

»People have hushed me, because people probably have a different opinion and don’t want to acknowledge racism and colonialism in Inuit Nunaat [the term Michael Bro prefers to call Greenland, ed.]. It sometimes has me keeping my mouth shut, to avoid a fuss,« he says.

By microaggressions, Michael Bro means »insensitive« statements, questions or assumptions aimed at »marginalized identity groups« like indigenous peoples.

The vast majority of the respondents in the report reckon that Danish young people have far too little knowledge of modern Greenland. This »limited knowledge is fertile ground for prejudice,« it states in the report.

When you are not taught from a »neutral point of view« about modern Greenland, according to Michael Bro, »it distorts the narrative«.