Editorial: Beyond solidarity — The Varsity advocates for action against anti-Black racism

Calling on U of T, governments, journalism community to eradicate anti-Blackness in the midst of global protests

Editorial: Beyond solidarity — <em>The Varsity</em> advocates for action against anti-Black racism

The Varsity stands in firm solidarity with Black communities at U of T in the ongoing global struggle against police brutality and anti-Black racism.

We urge the U of T community, governments, and the journalism community to take action against anti-Blackness. Go beyond solidarity statements and do the work that needs to be done in order to erase anti-Blackness in our own local contexts.

Protests erupted in the United States following the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man. These protests have been echoed in Canada, with the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, an Afro-Indigenous woman, on May 27 in Toronto. Even more recently, Chantel Moore, an Indigenous woman, was killed by police in New Brunswick. These deaths are among dozens of Black and Indigenous lives that have been lost to racial injustice in recent memory. 

In general, white folks and non-Black racialized communities must act in ways that support our Black communities. That includes donating, signing petitions that demand justice for lost Black lives, and educating ourselves on how to challenge anti-Blackness in our communities and organizations. Allies must ask themselves what they are willing to put on the line and give up — including time, resources, and labour — in order for Black lives to truly matter and flourish.

Acknowledging anti-Blackness in our own backyard 

We must first challenge the belief that Canada is unlike the United States with regard to police brutality and systemic anti-Blackness. We are not a post-racial society. We need to confront these issues.

The protests in Toronto are not simply in solidarity with the American protests; they are a reaction to Canada’s own reality. We must not forget, for example, that Canada was also historically complicit in exploiting enslaved African labour.

To actualize a better future for Black people, we must acknowledge the historical connections between anti-Black racism, settler colonialism, and policing on this continent. In the United States, policing has roots in slave patrols, which surveilled enslaved African people. Similarly, Canada’s first prime minister created what would become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for the very purpose of dispossessing Indigenous peoples off their land. Today, Indigenous peoples constitute nearly one third of those incarcerated in our federal prison system. 

According to a 2018 report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Black people are 20 times more likely to be shot and killed by police in Toronto compared to white people. When Black people are disproportionately harassed, carded, arrested, and murdered by police, it is not an unfortunate side effect that can be absolved with simple policy and reform; it is the system functioning the way it was designed.

Canada needs to step down from its egalitarian pedestal — a pedestal that can only stand because we actively disregard Black and Indigenous pain. We must take ownership of our violence and create new systems of justice, education, health care, and more that will benefit all. That change can start here at the university. 

U of T must invest in anti-racism education, collect race-based data

At this watershed moment, we cannot accept platitudes or empty statements from those in power. We cannot be satisfied by the performance of Justin Trudeau and police officers kneeling, or U of T statements about “stand[ing] in solidarity” that lack substantial, concrete plans of action. Some of our leaders fail to even do this much. Before backtracking on his words, Doug Ford diminished the existence of systemic racism in Canada.

U of T may point to the targeted hiring of Black faculty, the Black Student Application Program in the Faculty of Medicine, and the Black Future Lawyers program as evidence of progress. These are important developments but they do not go nearly far enough.

U of T should seriously consider concrete demands to invest in Blackness through its academic policy. Right now, the UTM Black Students’ Association is circulating a petition to implement a mandatory anti-racism course at the university. In 2016, the Black Liberation Collective called for a standalone African and Caribbean studies department. These efforts are indicative of a greater issue in U of T’s education: the lack of courses available that unearth the Black community’s experiences and history in Canada. 

The Varsity calls on U of T to use education as a tool to illuminate the oft-neglected history of Black folks and facilitate the conversation of what the road ahead should look like. 

U of T must also address a more fundamental issue: the lack of race-based data collection. 

In response to the #BlackonCampus movement in 2016, the university made a commitment to collect race-based data on its students. Without this data, there can be no substantial steps made to quantify gaps and elevate Black presence and success at the university.

The Varsity calls on the University of Toronto to provide a progress report on its collection of race-based data and dedicate itself to becoming a champion for the collection of race-based data nationally.

Governments must collect data, consider defunding the police  

The lack of data collection also extends to the country at large. This failure leaves the public in the dark about the reality of the country’s race relations.

That is why the Canadian and Ontario governments must also adopt race-based data collection, as is currently advocated for by the federal New Democratic Party. Such data is instrumental to identify gaps in social outcomes, undertake informed policy measures to improve the lives of Black and Indigenous peoples, and hold governments accountable in cases of inaction.

Governments, both municipal and federal, must also listen to Black activists’ demands when it comes to defunding the police. 

It is time to evaluate how justified the Toronto police’s $1 billion budget — the largest item in the City of Toronto’s operating budget — is, relative to other services. To do so is to reimagine public safety. 

Rather than fund policing and enforcement practices that, researchers say, do not address the root causes of violence, it is critical to increase public investment in social services and support structures that can actually rectify public safety challenges and uplift vulnerable communities. 

In circumstances of people experiencing mental health crises, for example, we must invest more in mental health care workers who can de-escalate these situations and provide appropriate care to those in need, rather than rely on police officers who are ill-equipped and often resort to violence. In recent memory, several Black people with mental illnesses, like D’Andre Campbell and Andrew Loku, have been killed by police in the GTA. 

In its own context, U of T must also rectify the ways in which campus police have exacerbated harm, rather than ensured safety for students. For example, last fall, a UTM student who was experiencing a mental health crisis was allegedly met with force and handcuffed by police, rather than handled with appropriate care.

While calls to radically alter the structure of police may seem ambitious, they are neither unsubstantiated nor unprecedented. Following Floyd’s death, the Minneapolis City Council announced its intent to work to disband its police. A 2017 report showed that New York experienced 2,100 fewer crime complaints when its police department reduced its presence and curtailed aggressive enforcement tactics.

We can enact similar change in Toronto. After all, this is the time to be ambitious. 

Confronting anti-Blackness in the journalism community 

The Varsity also recognizes that media organizations must challenge their own anti-Blackness.

Consider, for example, how the CBC had overlooked Black Lives Matter activist Sandy Hudson for an interview when she wanted to discuss police defunding, or conveniently edited out footage of police brutality during a peaceful protest in New York. 

Consider how the National Post irresponsibly provided a platform to Rex Murphy, a political and social commentator, who claimed that Canada is not a racist country. 

Consider how The New York Times produced a headline on their cover legitimizing Trump’s calls for violence against the protests and published an opinion piece that supported the use of military force against protesters.

The media’s attempt to pretend that there can be debate, neutrality, and balance when it comes to anti-Black racism is dangerous and irresponsible. By doing so, the media ensures that Black journalists remain unsupported and unheard, state violence is not held to account, and the reality of race relations remains obscured. 

In this context, we must understand the ways in which Black journalists are doubly burdened, as Black people must professionally cover the stories of violence that affect them so personally. 

Earlier this year, the Canadian Association of Black Journalists and the Canadian Journalists of Colour released a list of calls to action in order for the media “to be equitable and truly representative of Canada’s racial diversity.” We call on all journalistic organizations in Canada to look inward, make empowering spaces for Black journalists, and take concrete action to more accurately and fairly cover racial injustice. 

The Varsity’s plan of action 

We recognize that student newspapers like The Varsity must also take such action. To begin, we must openly take responsibility for our failings. We recognize that our masthead and contributor base lacks sufficient representation from Black and Indigenous communities. We recognize that, in our past, we have failed the Black community at U of T by publishing material such as a story in our 2007 satirical issue that featured blackface.

We take full responsibility for these actions, and we are committed to continuing and extending our efforts to change The Varsity as a newspaper. 

This past year, we have undergone masthead-wide diversity training addressing Indigenous cultural competency, racism, and gender and sexual diversity; produced an equity guide to ensure responsible content; expanded our coverage of equity-seeking communities, including our first Black History Month issue; and implemented our first internal demographic survey. 

However, these measures alone are not sufficient. We commit ourselves to propelling further equity-based changes at The Varsity.

Moving forward, we are instituting an equity board on our masthead to coordinate our equity measures in a systematic and centralized way. We intend to apply our findings from the demographic survey to guide our outreach and recruitment efforts; acquire community feedback to further develop our equity guide; reinforce diversity training; build and strengthen relationships with equity-seeking community leaders; and hold our masthead accountable with regard to equitable content. 

More immediately, in light of the unique mental health challenges faced by Black journalists at this time, we have also made the small effort to donate $200 to the Black Journalists Therapy Relief Fund. We call on all student newspapers to similarly donate what they can to causes surrounding the protests. 

Ultimately, we endeavour to continue to do better when it comes to the quantity and quality of coverage that affirms Black and Indigenous life. We want to ensure that we make more space for Black and Indigenous students to be here, to move up, and to flourish.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

UTGSU strikes Executive Elections Investigation Committee to evaluate validity of 2020 elections

Two candidates alleged that defamatory email violated election bylaws, influenced results

UTGSU strikes Executive Elections Investigation Committee to evaluate validity of 2020 elections

During the May 19 council meeting of the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU), members voted in favour of striking an Executive Elections Investigation Committee (EEIC) to investigate the validity of the recent 2020 executive elections.

This decision follows an appeal by two unsuccessful candidates, Adam Hill and Jesse Velay-Vitow, who alleged that an email circulated to UTGSU members defamed them as racist and sexist candidates. Hill and Velay-Vitow allege that the email violated UTGSU election bylaws and potentially caused them to lose the election.

A motion to strike the EEIC was first discussed at the April 28 meeting of the UTGSU, though it was not on the agenda. The UTGSU had a special meeting on May 16 to vote on the motion, but the UTGSU tabled it until the next meeting on May 19, when it was passed. 

We have spent altogether too much time trying to strike a simple investigatory committee,” Velay-Vitow wrote in an email to The Varsity, referring to the three meetings during which versions of the EEIC motion were discussed.

At the June 1 meeting, the council decided that the four members of the committee will be chosen randomly from all UTGSU members, excluding members of the UTGSU council. There will be one member from each of the four academic divisions, and each member will receive a $100 stipend. The UTGSU chose this process in an attempt to ensure members do not have conflicts of interest.

According to the motion that struck the EEIC, the committee will investigate “the impact UTGSU bodies may have had on the fairness and legitimacy of the election.” The EEIC will not have the power to overturn the results of the elections or replace current executives, but it could potentially give recommendations on how to change UTGSU bylaws and practices surrounding executive elections in the future.

The EEIC is set to report at the June meeting of the UTGSU. 

Claim of defamation

Hill and Velay-Vitow submitted a complaint to the Elections and Referenda Committee immediately following the elections. Initially, the Elections and Referenda Committee denied the claim on the grounds that there was not enough evidence to prove that the email and subsequent Facebook posts affected the election results.

Hill and Velay-Vitow then submitted an appeal to that decision. They claimed that an email sent to UTGSU members entitled “GSU election: vote today to defeat racist, sexist candidates,” which asked members not to vote for Hill and Velay-Vitow, constituted defamation. They also cited similar Facebook posts from candidates and others involved in the UTGSU.

The appeal suggests that the UTGSU’s Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Caucus may have distributed the defamatory email, though the BDS Caucus denies involvement in writing or distributing the email. 

Op-ed: Dear Trinity College, do better — address anti-Black racism now

Black students on facing persistent exclusion, aggression at Trinity College

Op-ed: Dear Trinity College, do better — address anti-Black racism now

As three Black women at Trinity College, the anti-Black environment at Trinity has robbed us of a positive university experience. We have faced years of silence and isolation, and have witnessed a gross lack of action. It’s finally time to change, Trinity College. The voices and experiences of Black students will not go unheard anymore.

Let us start with orientation. For many U of T students, orientation is considered to be among the best weeks in one’s undergraduate experience. However, for many Black students like ourselves, it is the opposite. We have heard of orientation leaders yelling at and humiliating Black first-year students. 

It is rare to find Black first years at Trinity orientation events. Orientation is often catered to the students living in residence — which is unfortunate as we’ve found that many Black first-years at Trinity are commuters. In addition, Black students face a chronic lack of welcome when we do choose to participate in events, as other students avoid socializing with us. From the start, we were all aware of how pervasive anti-Blackness was and is at Trinity College.

We have had non-Black students question our place at Trinity — arguing that the college prides itself on having a low acceptance rate and attracting only the ‘brightest’ students. This is racist. 

Students have made comments about our Black features, suggesting that our natural hair must be “unwashed.” This is also racist. 

We have been followed around the Trinity College campus by our own peers for supposedly trespassing. This is definitely racist.

There are Trinity students who use the n-word with the hard ‘r’ as an ostensible joke, looking for a reaction from their peers. This is very racist. 

We have found Strachan Hall, our main dining space, to be an anti-Black environment. We have experienced denial while using meal services and have been accused of not being Trinity College students. The staff have even falsified restrictions in an attempt to get Black students to leave. This, too, is racist.

Our years at Trinity have been tiring and a source of continual stress. It is not an exaggeration to say that our mental health has been affected by the anti-Blackness at Trinity. When sharing our experiences with non-Black friends, their first and only response is shock. It is evident that students are unaware of the magnitude and prevalence of anti-Blackness at Trinity.

The Trinity administration is complicit in upholding anti-Black racism. Going to the administration for support means expecting empty consolations, free chocolates, and being silently stared at as we cry. 

Confiding in the administration that your skin colour is hindering your efforts to make friends means hearing the wellness director say something along the lines of “You should give them a chance. For so many of them, it is their first time being around diversity.” Seeking help from the administration means pouring your heart out to them but seeing no changes being made to challenge anti-Black racism. 

While the administration may hear what we have to say, it does not care enough to realize its actions and inactions uphold an anti-Black environment. The Trinity administration has continually failed Black students over the years, and it truly makes one wonder what it ever did with all the reports they have undoubtedly received over the years. 

Our club, the Trinity College Multicultural Society (TCMS), posted a statement on June 1 standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and condemning anti-Black racism. We noticed that the student heads and other Trinity groups were silent. 

Given that we founded this club to promote diversity and inclusion at a predominantly white college, we knew it was necessary to make a statement and raise awareness. Being met with silence from the student heads who are meant to represent us and the fellow Trinity groups around us was frustrating, to say the least.

What happened to George Floyd is not only relevant to Black people but to every single individual. It is not the responsibility of Black students to start this conversation; had we not posted our statement, no group or representative at Trinity College would have addressed this worldwide transformative moment.

Immediately, Trinity students engaged with our posts. We were grateful to see our friends show their love and support, as it took a lot for us to share our experiences. However, our student leaders failed to acknowledge us. The student heads organized a town hall without consulting us. In doing so, they failed to recognize that town halls have been fruitless in the past. 

Our community needs action, not endless consultation. We have voiced our concerns at town halls in the past, only to be met with a few personal messages of support from previous student heads and no real action. 

Nonetheless, countless students have reached out to us since our statement, committing to doing better and engaging in self-reflection. Some students have even denounced their role in groups that are rooted in hate and further the exclusion of Black students at Trinity. Our hope is that these students follow through with their statements and continue to practice accountability. 

And yet, many still choose to remain silent. Others have even been defensive. Some of the main culprits of these incidents of anti-Black racism are avoiding apologies by claiming they would be seen as “performative.” 

We believe, after experiencing this culture at Trinity College for years, that people are choosing to protect their own images rather than acknowledging their faults. These are individuals who vehemently upheld groups associated with anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, homophobia, classism, and more. Without their voices in this effort to dismantle the racist structure of Trinity College, we fear that this conversation will soon be forgotten. 

Unfortunately, these students have failed to see things from our perspective. This disappointingly shows that many students are unaware of the extent of institutional racism, and their positionality prevents them from trying to understand the complexities of race relations and discrimination.

Your positive experiences do not invalidate our negative experiences. How can we progress when students are not willing to acknowledge that Trinity has serious issues regarding anti-Black racism?

We have reached out to the Student Services team and the Provost’s Office regarding various issues, most notably the significant lack of support for Black Trinity students. Their response was disappointing, but not surprising. 

Members of the administration have sent us the same empty replies while focusing their efforts on addressing concerns with non-Black student leaders. Moreover, the provost released a public statement before responding to our emails, without asking about our well-being, and without acknowledging what was going on in the community. 

How can Trinity College promote diversity and inclusion when the administration cannot acknowledge the very anti-Black racism rampant in the dining hall, the quad, and on the front steps of their own offices?

Given the current context worldwide, now is the time to address anti-Blackness in our institutions. From our understanding, this is the first time Black students have collectively voiced their experiences with racism at Trinity College on a public platform. Moving forward, the administration at our college must prioritize addressing this issue. 

Implementing anti-racism and anti-oppression training for paid staff and student leaders is long overdue — yet it remains a crucial step in making Trinity both equitable and inclusive. As a start, these workshops must address the unique challenges that impact Black and non-Black students of racialized groups. They must also be largely designed and delivered by racialized professionals. 

These workshops must target the persistent prejudice and biases still held by Trinity College staff members and representatives. This is especially important for those who come into regular contact with students, such as dining hall staff, employees at the Student Services Centre, and student leaders. Our interactions with them help shape our experience at Trinity as a whole. 

For Trinity to begin to address these concerns, we ask that you truly listen to your Black students. There’s no justification now to silence our voices. Trinity College must step up and finally take these issues of anti-Black racism seriously.

Lydia Angarso is a fourth-year physiology, global health, and immunology student at Trinity College. She was an executive for the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) during the 2019–2020 school year, and is a co-founder and president of the TCMS. The TCMS aims to create a space celebrating diverse cultures at Trinity and in the broader Toronto community.

Martha Taylor is a third-year health studies, Portuguese, and German student at Trinity College. She is currently an executive for the ASSU and is a co-founder of the TCMS.

Shantel Watson is a third-year international relations, German, and French student at Trinity College. She served on the Trinity College Board of Stewards in 2019.