The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union Race and Ethnicity Caucus has asked the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902 to take action against racial violence and harassment on campus.
The caucus sent the letter on February 6. CUPE 3902 represents contract academic workers at U of T, including sessional lecturers and teaching assistants.
The letter outlined three instances of racism last semester.
One of the incidents cited was the case of Michael Marrus, a former Senior Fellow at Massey College who used an anti-Black racial slur against a Black Junior Fellow at the college. Marrus later resigned his post in the wake of the controversy.
In the letter, the caucus wrote that “the cases of racial violence at hand, and the lack of appropriate response on behalf of the university, have culminated in an environment of emboldened racism and white supremacy at the U of T. We are thus calling on our local to uphold its responsibility to ensure the health and safety of its members.”
Other incidents include posters that popped up on campus in November that read, ‘It’s Okay to Be White.’ They were reportedly planned for Halloween via an alt-right, white supremacist post on the website 4chan.
The letter also made reference to an incident of anti-Black racism in the Faculty of Applied Sciences and Engineering, in which three non-Black students used the n-word in a group chat. The Black Students’ Association later organized a town hall in response, along with with the Black Liberation Collective and the National Society of Black Engineers.
The caucus said the incidents have created a “toxic workplace environment for U of T employees” and asked CUPE to address the issues.
CUPE 3902 published a letter in response on February 15. “The rise in instances of racism, especially anti-Black racism, as well as the administration’s slow response, in some cases, and conspicuous silence, in others, have not gone unnoticed by our executive committee,” wrote CUPE 3902. The local will develop an anti-racism campaign, lobby the university for a safe space, and hire an anti-racism consultant to look at the local’s own policies.
In an interview with the Toronto Star, U of T Vice-President of Human Resources and Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat said that “the issue is a top priority for us. By no means are we naïve to the issue, and we feel that it’s something we have to work hard on, and it’s something that we have to continue conversations on.”
Editor’s Note (February 25): This article has been updated to clarify that the letter was sent by the UTGSU’s Race and Ethnicity Caucus.