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“The time for empty solidarity statements is over”: U of T academics join Scholar Strike for Black Lives in Canada

Two day strike includes list of seven demands for universities to implement
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A panel discussion with Beverly Bain, Desmond Cole, and Min Sook Lee. HANNAH CARTY/THE VARSITY
A panel discussion with Beverly Bain, Desmond Cole, and Min Sook Lee. HANNAH CARTY/THE VARSITY

U of T professors and students joined the nation-wide Scholar Strike for Black Lives in Canada, pausing their work from September 9–10 to participate in a teach-in and sponsor a list of anti-racism demands for universities.

The scholar strike originated in the US in solidarity with the WNBA and NBA, which striked in protest of police violence against Black people such as Jacob Blake — who is now partially paralyzed after being shot by police.

Beverly Bain, a lecturer in the department of historical studies at UTM, along with Ontario College of Art & Design University professor Min Sook Lee, decided to organize a Canadian counterpart to the US strike. In an interview with The Varsity, Bain expressed that the strike is about concrete action and moving beyond the statements of solidarity that universities often release. 

“In this particular time, it’s not enough for all universities to just put out a statement on ‘anti-Black racism’ and ‘Black lives matter.’ ” As part of the teach-in aspect of the strike, Bain moderated a discussion with journalist Desmond Cole called “Abolition or Death: Confronting police forces in Canada.”

Over 170 U of T community members signed onto the list of demands, which includes disbanding campus police at universities, supporting CUPE 3261’s petition to end the outside contracting of caretaking services at U of T, and hiring more Black and Indigenous faculty members. 

However, Bain added that “it’s not enough to just hire people in secure jobs.” 

“You also have to create an environment that allows them to stay and work without violence in that environment.” Bain also explained that universities, through campus police forces, become an “extension of the carceral state.” Bain referenced an incident last year where a UTM student was put in handcuffs while seeking mental support, noting that campus police only escalated the situation.

Bain was one of the signatories on a recent open letter asking U of T President Meric Gertler to abolish Campus Police.

Bain described the importance of disbanding Campus Police in the greater context of police violence at this time. According to Bain, Campus Police are “participating in a larger network of carceral practices and policing practices that are actually becoming much more intensified, particularly in this climate where there is a lot of anti-Black racism, a lot of anti-Indigenous racism.” 

Stephanie Latty, a PhD student at the Ontario Institute in Studies in Education, wrote to The Varsity that, “as a Black Ph.D Candidate, educator and scholar, it’s important to participate because I know that this is truly a life or death moment for Black and Indigenous people.” 

Latty echoed the need for U of T to implement some of the central demands of the strike, such as removing Campus Police, hiring Black and Indigenous faculty, and making education more affordable. “U of T is not exempt from these demands for action, and the time for empty solidarity statements is over,” she said, noting that academic institutions need to grapple with how they can be harmful spaces for Black and Indigenous people.

“As scholars we are being called to make our work more meaningful and to join demands for justice,” she added.

Zoë Wool, an assistant professor of anthropology, said that she wanted to participate in the strike in solidarity, and she sees it as a learning opportunity for scholars to come together and use their skills to support anti-racist work. In addition, she expressed that scholars can use their platforms to enact changes in academia such as legitimizing Indigenous forms of knowledge, which have historically been devalued.

On the importance of scholars striking, Wool said, “it’s really important to acknowledge the role that scholars have in perpetuating these structures, and the possibilities that are available for scholars to help dismantle them.”

“We’re not in some kind of bubble apart from the rest of the world when it comes to issues of racism, colonialism.”