An open letter being circulated by the Black Public Health Students’ Collective (BPHSC) is calling for U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health (DLSPH) to take action following what the group has called an instance of anti-Black racism from Marcos Sanches, an adjunct lecturer at the DLSPH.
On Twitter earlier in March, Professor Rinaldo Walcott, director of U of T’s Women & Gender Studies Institute, posted a photo of a wine glass with the caption, “A toast to the people who do not want to be called white. Cause they are white. Cheers.” Sanches replied, “Do you like to be called an ape? Because you are an ape. We all are. I dont [sic] use this fact to call people an ape. You have the right to be offensive, but by being offensive you make it more difficult to reach understanding.”
Sanches since deleted his Twitter account.
On March 22, the DLSPH released a brief statement on the incident.
“There is a clear and well documented history on the usage of ape as a slur against people of African descent,” reads the BPHSC open letter. “We are writing to express our disapproval of these remarks, which are unacceptable from any member of this university, but especially from a DLSPH faculty member. His anti-Black racism should not go unaddressed.”
The letter, made out to the school’s interim dean, Adalsteinn Brown, requests that the school hold Sanches accountable for his actions.
“He must seek out continuous education and training on anti-oppression and anti-racism; he must make a meaningful apology that centres issues of race, power, and privilege; and he must reflect on his actions, and change his behaviour in the future. This process must include and be accountable to Black students at DLSPH, and we request a formal report on Mr. Sanches’ progress on the above demands in six months time,” reads the letter.
In an email correspondence with The Varsity, Sanches said he would be “happy to attend” specific trainings so that he can “learn more.”
“What I did was stupid,” said Sanches. “I have taken responsibility for the harm caused by my comments and proactively looked for ways in which I can better myself in order to play a positive role in our society.”
The letter also outlines eight demands of the DLSPH in order for it to “be accountable to its students.” Among the demands, the BPHSC requests that the school develop “an open process” to respond to and address anti-Black racism, hire new full-time staff to “fulfill any recommendations” set forth by the school’s Diversity and Equity Committee, and introduce new courses “focusing explicitly on the relationship between racism and health.”
Michael Escobar, Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs at the DLSPH, did not specify whether the school intends to follow any of the demands made in the open letter, but he told The Varsity that it would “seriously consider the suggestions.”
Escobar said he was “horrified” when he saw the tweet, but declined to say whether he believed Sanches’ comments constituted anti-Black racism.
“This whole situation is horrible,” said Escobar. “We need to have a dialogue with the students. We’re a community. We need to figure out a way to heal.”
“The incident involving Marcos Sanches is not an isolated event,” said Nishan Zewge-Abubaker, a DLSPH student and co-head of the BPHSC. “It is a continuation of anti-Black racist sentiments that occur regularly at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health (DLSPH), and the University of Toronto at large.”
The letter has accumulated hundreds of signatures from students, faculty, campus groups, and others outside the U of T community.
Neither Walcott nor Brown responded to The Varsity’s requests for comment.