BSA organizes in response to racism in Faculty of Engineering

Town hall held November 28 after recent incidents of racial harassment

BSA organizes in response to racism in Faculty of Engineering

The Black Students’ Association (BSA) organized a town hall on November 28 in response to a recent series of racist incidents in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering.

Dozens of students and faculty members gathered at the Sandford Fleming Building to share their experiences with anti-Black discrimination, find ways to eliminate racism on campus, and create a sense of community. U of T’s Black Liberation Collective (BLC) and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) attended and co-organized the event.

In September, an international student in her first year of engineering approached the BSA with screenshots of two group chats in which three non-Black students repeatedly used the n-word and sent a picture depicting blackface.

One of the group chats consisted mainly of engineering students attending an orientation for incoming international undergrads. The racist remarks were initiated by one of the orientation leaders. The other group chat was a first-year civil engineering group.

In response to an email from the BSA, BLC, and NSBE outlining the racist incidents, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering Cristina Amon met with the respondents — the three students implicated in the anti-Black racism — to inform them that the incidents had been brought to her attention. Shortly after, an official investigation was initiated.

The email was also sent to Vice-Provost Students Sandy Welsh and the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office.

According to BSA President Anyika Mark, the three investigated students subsequently reached out to several Black students in hopes of finding the student who filed the complaint. Mark said that she is concerned about the safety of the complainant, especially with the recent white supremacist posters on campus.

“We’ve literally had to create a safety plan for her,” she said. “She’s the only Black student in her class so, sometimes we walk with her from classes and tutorials.”


Criticism, calls to action from the BSA

The BSA called for the expulsion of the three respondents, in addition to a $500 fine and 25 hours of community service, which are stipulated as possible sanctions in the Code of Student Conduct. Mark believes that there must be serious consequences in order to set a precedent for anyone who thinks that racial harassment is acceptable.

Other demands include an independent Black studies department, funding an anti-Black racism campaign on campus, funding NSBE, and a higher recruitment of Black faculty and staff members in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering.

Mark also added that they were told that the investigation may take up to a year. She believes that this process is long, bureaucratic, and intended to tire people out. “It’s meant to derail conversations about real social change,” she said.

The duration of Code of Student Conduct investigations varies on a case-by-case basis, according to U of T’s Director of Media Relations, Althea Blackburn-Evans. More complex cases may last up to 18 months, but resolutions are usually reached much sooner.

“The goal is to have a fair process in a timely manner if possible,” said Blackburn-Evans.

The BSA contested the language of the Code of Student Conduct, stating that the inclusion of specific terms such as “anti-Blackness” and “anti-Black racism” was crucial. U of T keeps its definition of discrimination very broad.

Blackburn-Evans emphasized that, because of the university’s diverse campus, its policies must remain broad in order to include all kinds of discrimination. “We make these broad references to ensure that our very diverse community is included in those policies.”

Another concern raised by Mark was the lack of policies that specifically address cyberbullying. U of T’s Code of Student Conduct does not include any mention of online harassment. Blackburns-Evans, however, stated that the legal terms used in the code may also cover online harassment.

Students at the town hall shared their experiences with anti-Blackness, expressed their frustration, and urged the university to support its Black students, faculty, and staff.

“Black representation in STEM matters,” said Mikhail Burke, a PhD candidate at U of T. He believes that anti-Blackness in the science community is due to a lack of representation. “We need to tackle one in order to tackle the other.”

Chimwemwe Alao, Vice-President Equity of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) was present at the event, but not in his capacity as a representative of the union.

“There’s been a lot of conversation about racism on campus that I experience every single day,” said Alao. He said he was supporting his community and engaging in an “important conversation.” As a Black student, he said that racism is a daily experience and includes anything “from microaggression and small interactions to very overt incidents of anti-Blackness.”

Despite no official UTSU presence at the town hall, UTSU President Mathias Memmel said that anti-Blackness is a systemic problem. “The BSA’s efforts to counter anti-Black racism are important, and we support them.”

Op-ed: Reconciliation at Massey College

An Indigenous Junior Fellow shares her story

Op-ed: Reconciliation at Massey College

A few years ago I was approached by a lovely, incredibly talented graduate student through my role on the Native Students Association (NSA) here at the University of Toronto. We were walking through Queen’s Park on a brisk fall afternoon after a class we shared that combined undergrads and grads. I was the infectiously optimistic undergrad who had big dreams and a million projects on the go to work towards positive changes for First Nations in Canada — notably, our youth. As a mature student, I was elated at the countless possibilities for collaborations, projects, student groups, and jobs available within the university community. My plan was to try to advocate my cause in as many forums as possible.

As we swayed through the park with no urgency or regard for time, the student told me about the Walter Gordon Symposium being organized at Massey College. The theme was reconciliation through policy with respect to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action. The committee wanted to consult with Indigenous student groups on campus and have members join them in their work. Though I had never been to Massey College, I agreed to go meet the committee and hear more about the project.

Once I got past the gatekeeper, I was mesmerized by the land and space hidden behind the outer walls. A quaint water bed lay still collecting Mother Nature’s brightly hued leaves, benches lined the courtyard yearning for company, and best of all, I was warmly greeted by the few faces I saw. ‘Not bad at all,’ I thought to myself when I approached this tiny doorway in the left corner that led me into what they called the round room. The room was impressive. The walls echoed with secrets that whispered softly. I could feel the presence of some very interesting stories being told here. I looked around and found the smiling face of my friend, who eagerly invited me to sit next to her.

It was here in this fateful moment that I was introduced to Massey College. From that day, I have built meaningful relationships with some of the kindest, smartest, and warmest group of students — Junior Fellows — I have met so far. Through my collaboration on the symposium, I learned more about this community.

The committee, and notably, their fiercely organized and extremely dedicated Chair, delivered a great symposium filled with meaningful and engaging topics, which gave birth to new ideas and the urgency for change and action on this idea of reconciliation. This word has been used loosely since the TRC, but here, I felt it was dissected and given context; more importantly, feasible steps and actions were discussed in order to begin the process.

The best part of this process was the ability to work with a man that I highly respect due to the outstanding changes he is a part of within our First Nations in Ontario: the Regional Chief Isadore Day. The symposium began with an address from Day that took place in the upper library at Massey College, and was loaded with facts about the Treaties with First Nations and its very complex history, along with some contemporary examples of where we are today. The room was filled to the brim, every chair was occupied, and the walls were lined with an attentive audience. At the end of the symposium, I left feeling very hopeful that the audience was inspired to take action and gained a greater understanding of the complex issues facing First Nations in Canada.

After some time had passed, my new friends had approached me to apply to become a Junior Fellow. I was invited to meet the Dean and Head of Massey Hugh Segal for lunch. During lunch, they warmly welcomed me to join the community, approaching me with humility and honesty. These attributes deeply affect me as an Indigenous woman because they are embodied in the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers and a foundation for the governance of the NSA. That lunch was key to my engagement in the college’s community.

I have witnessed and participated in the diversity of Massey College through orientation events, high tables, low tables, lunches, and of course meaningful conversations. I am now a second-year Junior Fellow, and though my experience at Massey has been very pleasant, this is only one story — a story from a student who has faced tremendous adversity at an institution that has caused my family great pain.

My mother is a residential school survivor. When we speak of her experience, she always tells that the Creator has a plan for us all: through the dark times there is always light and a purpose. I am still avidly working on my purpose, and I face challenges and barriers daily. When I feel lost, my mother tells me a story and my Elders tell me stories; through that gift, I wanted to share mine with you.

What happened to the Junior Fellow who experienced racism at the College recently is terribly sad and incredibly painful. I still bear the scars of inappropriate remarks and outright hateful speech. I know how damaging it can be. We are a community, and that community has the responsibility to create safe and inviting spaces for all. Moving forward, I hope that my story is mirrored by new faces and of course encouraged by the Senior Fellows. Miigwech — until next time.


Audrey Rochette is a second-year Junior Fellow at Massey College. She is the Crane and Governance Leader of the Native Students Association.

Op-ed: The importance of forgiveness

A former Don of Hall reflects on moving forward from conflict at Massey College

Op-ed: The importance of forgiveness

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” These days, Charles Dickens’ words might apply to Toronto’s Massey College. While its alumna Julie Payette was installed as Canada’s Governor General, distinguished senior member Professor Emeritus Michael Marrus was being pushed out the college door.

As a graduate student in computer engineering, Payette entered Massey College in 1988 with sparkling eyes, remarkable energy, and delightful eagerness to serve on the social committee and to converse with everyone around the dining room table. She lent her clear soprano voice to college events and quietly advanced academically in ways that would prepare her to later soar into space in 1999.  

Before Payette arrived at Massey, Marrus was already a Senior Fellow and had recently published a book with Oxford University Press titled The Unwanted: European Refugees in the Twentieth Century.

Now this distinguished historian is a refugee himself. His community of Massey scholars is driving him out after he made a single tactless and remarkably insensitive reference to slavery to a Black graduate student.

The irony is great. On October 2, Payette spoke to the packed audience in Parliament’s Senate Chamber about how Canada is “rich in values, openness, tolerance, mutual cooperation, and compassion.” But there is little tolerance or compassion for Marrus, who has unreservedly accepted responsibility for his remark, denounced it as wrong, and attempted to apologize. The victim of the offensive remark is apparently unwilling to meet with Marrus to receive his apology.

By what code of conduct is this banishment appropriate? The Hebrew Scriptures tell the story of Jacob, who wronged his brother, Esau. Esau’s willingness to receive Jacob restored life to his penitent brother. The encounter prompted Jacob to declare, “To see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favourably.”

What code of conduct permits a person to refuse to receive favourably a community member who wishes to apologize? The New Testament speaks of the duty to offer forgiveness to the repentant — Matthew 18:21–22 reads, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?  Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’”  

The young scholars who reside at Massey College represent some of the best of their generation. Smart, industrious, knowledgeable, and diverse, they will change the academic enterprise to benefit us all. But they must be fair, and they should develop wisdom.  

If these students are fortunate, then they, too, will grow old. If they are lucky, then they will live in a community where the young protect the elderly against the merciless advance of age that can cause disinhibition. If they are blessed, then they will spend their last years among people who are kind.

In her years at Massey College, Payette lived the adage she recited in Parliament: “We can always do better together than on our own. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” The obvious task of Massey College members is to put the parts back together. The very inscription on the college wall challenges the students to “make of worth the fellowship to which they belong,” inviting them to be the change they wish to see.

The road back to collegiality will not be easy; it might best be guided by a university chaplain. But all who value the collegiate enterprise must embark on that journey. Who among us is so unworthy as not to be forgiven?

Perhaps one day, great Canadians will gather again in the Senate Chamber to welcome another Massey College alumna — a new Black female Governor General. She might speak of her difficult challenge in moving from hurt to forgiveness. She might say that the day Payette became Governor General was a great day, but the day Massey College chose compassion and generosity was its finest hour.


Juliet Guichon is an assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. She served as Massey College’s Don of Hall from 1989–1990 while Julie Payette served as a college Fellow.

Condemning hatred in Charlottesville is just the beginning

Media organizations and educational institutions must avoid equivocation when encountering white supremacy

Condemning hatred in Charlottesville is just the beginning

It has been about two weeks since the Unite the Right rally took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, where far-right white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered in support of a Confederate monument and clashed with anti-racist counter-protesters. The violence that ensued culminated in a car crash that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injured 19 others.

Although the events of Charlottesville may feel geographically distant, we need not look further than our own backyard to see hatred manifest. In light of recent events here in Toronto, it is important for media organizations like The Varsity and institutions such as U of T to take a strong stance against racism and white supremacy.

Back in July, self-described “white nationalist” Paul Fromm spoke at a rally organized by U of T-based group Students in Support of Free Speech. In the same month, the Toronto Public Library permitted members of neo-Nazi groups to hold an event at one of its branches. Such acts of hatred and bigotry are prevalent in the online community surrounding U of T; after The Varsity posted a Facebook status condemning what happened in Charlottesville, we received a message peppered with racist and transphobic slurs (pictured below, with slurs and obscenities redacted). 


Most recently, a day after the Unite the Right rally, the Canadian Nationalist Party (CNP), a newly formed white nationalist group, expressed intentions to hold a “nationalist rally” on the U of T St. George Campus.

As an institution that prides itself in being one of Canada’s leading universities, U of T needed to make it clear to the U of T community that such an event would not be tolerated. Although the university administration eventually confirmed that no such event would take place on campus, they were initially unwilling to confirm that they would indeed reject a potential room booking from the CNP, if requested. It is no surprise that 129 faculty, staff, and students have signed a letter criticizing the university’s tepid response.

It was incredibly disappointing to hear US President Donald Trump claim that “both sides” were to blame for what happened in Charlottesville. There is no equivalency between neo-nazis and so-called “alt-left” antifa activists. While it is true that members of both sides may employ violence to achieve their ends, white supremacists do so in the name of an indefensible ideology — one predicated on the hateful idea that some people are subhuman and do not deserve rights due to the colour of their skin.

In turn, institutions like universities and libraries are meant to be places for facilitating learning and dialogue. With that comes the right to hold those who choose to engage in debates accountable to basic standards of human decency. Some people may consider booting Nazis and white supremacists out of public spaces to be unjustifiable violations of free speech. We disagree. In the interest of promoting respect for all persons, institutions of higher learning can, and should, shut their doors to bigots.

As tensions continue to rise, when covering stories about racism and hatred, media outlets have a responsibility to identify them as such. Strict neutrality and the practice of weighing all sides of an issue as equally valid are commonly favoured standards within some journalistic circles, yet in light of these events, the media cannot in good conscience equivocate white supremacists with groups fighting against oppression. To do so would erroneously imply that the people whose livelihoods are at stake in these conflicts somehow share responsibility for their own dehumanization.

As is well known among our regular readership, this isn’t the first time The Varsity has come out against false balance. In our coverage of a so-called “rally for free speech” organized in support of Professor Jordan Peterson last October, we made it clear that some attendees at this rally were propagating hatred. Some attendees were overheard uttering transphobic slurs, while one attendee could be heard saying that “we need more Michael Browns,” referring to an unarmed Black man who was brutally killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.

In the wake of The Varsity’s coverage of the rally, then-Editor-in-Chief Alex McKeen penned a Letter from the Editor adamantly rejecting the notion that the two sides involved in the conflict were equivalent. We continue to stand by McKeen’s statements and will strive not to allow false balance to creep into our news reporting in the future.

We also refuse to tolerate hatred that is directed our way. Though we welcome input and criticism from readers who wish to engage in respectful dialogue about our coverage, bigots and cowards have no standing in that conversation.

It is imperative that media organizations and powerful institutions alike do not fall into the trap of normalizing hatred by affording credence to its perpetrators. Though the administration has now banned the CNP from hosting a rally at U of T, it would be deeply disturbing if the university were to treat such an event as it would any other rally.

Reflecting on Charlottesville in a statement issued on August 16, U of T President Meric Gertler wrote that “bigotry, hate, intolerance and violence have no place on our campuses.” In this regard, we encourage students to be watchful of the administration’s future responses to hatred. On our part, as journalists, we will strive to hold them accountable to their word.

Blackness under scrutiny

Amid disappointing portrayals of Black Lives Matter, the Canadian media must do more to advocate for racial justice

Blackness under scrutiny

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once warned of an unsuspecting threat to Black liberation called “the white moderate.” He defined white moderates as people who prefer the “absence of tension” over the “presence of justice” and say, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.” The white moderate “paternalistically believes that he can set the timeline for another man’s freedom.”

If Black Lives Matter (BLM) is today’s civil rights group, then Canadian media is the white moderate at best and an antagonist at worst. This has become strikingly evident, given the outpouring of disappointing coverage in response to BLM Toronto’s (BLMTO) recent sit-in at Toronto’s Pride Parade — coverage that makes a mockery of the BLM movement, while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge that anti-Black racism continues to exist both in Canada and the United States.

In the Toronto Star, for instance, an editorial claimed that, while BLMTO is usually righteous, their actions at the Toronto Pride Parade went too far and stepped on the toes of allies. The activist group, an ’honoured guest’ at the parade, apparently should have opted for friendliness over confrontation, given the fact that the LGBTQ+ community are considered their allies.

Such a naive comment is symptomatic of the moderate, who supposedly understands and sympathizes with the cause of the marginalized but cannot tolerate the rage and urgency that naturally underlies it. It also ignores the fact that LGBTQ+ people can be racist as well. When reflecting on the public’s response to their sit-in, Rodney Diverlus of BLMTO tweeted that the first group of people to chant “all lives matter” —  a phrase that trivializes racism and violence against the Black community  by insisting everyone be treated equally despite unequal levels of disadvantage —  were white queer people. There is clearly still more work to be done.

As John Ibbitson wrote in the The Globe and Mail, the face of the gay rights movement has always been that of a white, middle-class man. Sexuality aside, an otherwise privileged group like this faces much less resistance in having their rights acknowledged than Black people, much less the many Black women and trans people who populate BLMTO. This reality explains why Pride can be infuriating to people of colour; at the end of the day, it still appears to be a celebration of cisgendered white men, despite the fact that monumental moments in the fight for queer rights, such as the Stonewall riots, were both initiated by people of colour and trans people.

Ibbitson’s more conscientious analysis is in stark contrast to that of his colleague Margaret Wente, The Globe and Mail’s star columnist and plagiarist-in-chief. In typical Wente fashion, her piece was condescending, bereft of depth, and overall dismissive of views that challenge her own. She called BLMTO “bullies” backpacking on the racial tensions of America, as if Canadians were innocent of racial resentment. For Wente, BLMTO simply ought to have been happy they were present at Pride; she believed the group’s protest was little more than whining. She crudely labelled most of BLMTO’s demands as asking for money for their personal projects, ignoring the fact that they have consistently urged Pride to strive for greater visibility, the inclusion of South Asian and Indigenous peoples, and increased accessibility for people with disabilities.

Wente took particular offense to BLMTO’s demand for the elimination of police floats in future parades. Her view that police floats symbolize “solidarity and inclusion” ignores the fact that both Black and queer people, and especially trans people, are justifiably fearful of police, who have a history of subjecting these groups and other marginalized groups to scrutiny, harassment, and violence. With this context in mind, seeing the police occupy space on a float in a parade dedicated to the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people is a taunt — and a violent one at that — for many queer people of colour.

Perhaps the most insulting part of Wente’s column is that she claimed Toronto is so much better for Black and queer people than other places in the world, consequently insinuating that Black and queer people should be grateful to only have to experience the lesser of two evils.



Similar sentiments were penned in the National Post, when Robyn Urback — despite acknowledging race as a factor in the pushback against BLMTO — wrote that Pride was an example of the political left “eating itself,” because two groups concerned with progress clashed. Holding groups that claim to be progressive to account can only be a positive thing, and BLMTO was right to expect more of Pride.

One can argue that today’s Pride, embellished with corporate sponsors, pinkwashing, and shallow support, is now more a celebration of past achievements than an event seriously concerned with marching further towards equity. Certainly, considering the backlash to BLMTO, the parade is a far cry from its political roots, meant to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which were initiated in protest against police brutality and led by queer and trans people of colour.

The media’s less-than-savoury takes on BLMTO are particularly appalling considering the position from which BLMTO is speaking. Amid the frequent shooting of unarmed Black people in both the US and Canada, BLMTO’s demand to ban police floats from the parade is not surprising. It is unnerving, to say the least, to march alongside an institution that can destroy you with impunity. One need only to look at the dozens of instances of police brutality against Black people in the United States ­— Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile are just four of the Black lives that have been taken by police. Closer to home, the violence persists: consider the shooting of Andrew Loku by Toronto police, and the recent death of Abdirahman Abdi, a mentally ill man that was beaten to death by the Ottawa Police.

It is not that BLMTO’s demands or their strategies cannot be criticized. Yet, such criticism must be directed in a constructive manner, in a manner that, at the very least, acknowledges anti-Black racism and does not obscure the truth.

[pullquote-default]All marginalized groups find themselves underrepresented in journalism, and that’s a moral and a business problem.[/pullquote-default]

Fortunately, not all media perspectives on BLMTO have been so narrow-minded. While it isn’t necessary to share the identity of those one writes about, Desmond Cole, a Black writer, provided much needed context and clarity in his Toronto Star column amid a series of tone-deaf hot takes elsewhere in Canadian media. He notes how the media-manufactured Black vs. queer dichotomy erases the intersectional issues that queer Black people face — issues that arise as by-products of two overlapping marginalized identities, each with their unique lived experiences of oppression. Furthermore, Cole discusses how queer people of colour are alienated at Pride and in LGBTQ communities as a whole. Though it was not his responsibility to do so, Cole did well in explaining why BLMTO’s actions were justified, and this was a welcome contrast to many of the more dubious perspectives provided by his colleagues.

The reaction to BLMTO’s actions at Pride are symbolic of a bigger issue in Canadian media: an alarming lack of diversity. All marginalized groups find themselves underrepresented in journalism, and that’s a moral and a business problem. Identity cannot replace journalistic ability, but it can add valuable nuance and context when covering queer and racialized communities. Journalism where people are able to tell their own stories — if they choose, not because they are tokenized and pigeonholed to do so — can only be seen as a positive.

This is not to mention the fact that the media, by means of reaching a large audience, can set the stage and the standard for what kind of content constitutes legitimate, appropriate journalism. When BLM is caricaturized, but their notable achievements are not given air time, the seedy priorities of the media shine through — they paint racial justice activists as people not worth listening to, while obscuring discussions of their actual work.

Even beyond this, there are undoubtedly more overt and crass instances of racist content being published by the media. The Varsity is far from innocent of this — in 2007, for example, a blackface cartoon was published in our paper, something that we have yet to formally issue an apology for; we aim to officially amend this disgrace in the coming weeks.

Canadian media should commit to increasing diversity in newsrooms, which would increasesthe quality of journalism. Without Desmond Cole, there would only be one Black columnist in the mainstream media: Royson James of the Toronto Star. The Varsity now has a diverse masthead, but we do not entertain the notion that the mere presence of diversity will be enough to combat racism, both in terms of our workplace environment and the content that we publish going forward.

In order to work to combat racism in the media, a conversation needs to be had about the way race and racial issues are portrayed to the public, as well as the responsibility that media outlets have to tell a conscious story, not just one that makes headlines.

Malicious is the message

Racialized narratives surrounding the Orlando shooting should make us wary of media bias

Malicious is the message

When I heard about the shooting at Pulse nightclub on Sunday, June 12, the first thing I did was turn on the news to learn all the details of what had happened. Yet, things were different for a Muslim friend of mine; he had little interest in going on social media, or anywhere else, for information about the shooting — because he knew people would be talking negatively about Islam.

He wasn’t wrong. On Sunday, within minutes of reporting that the shooter’s name was Omar Mateen, CNN also told its viewers that he was raised in a Muslim family, supported ISIS, and had Afghani heritage.

This comes in stark contrast with other news reports; on the same day as the Orlando shooting, a white man was arrested on route to the Los Angeles Pride Parade with multiple guns and explosive materials on him. Yet the media did not report on his race, religion, heritage, or family beyond that. Donald Trump did not jump on the chance to tweet hateful things about white people, and Hillary Clinton did not blame the man’s religion for his actions. On the other hand, both politicians used Orlando to further their Islamophobic agendas and rhetoric, with Trump reiterating that the USA needs to suspend Muslim immigration, and Clinton blaming ‘radical Islamism’for the day’s events.

[pullquote-default]For years now, whenever there has been a shooting or bombing in which the perpetrator has had anything to do with Islam, or has been a person of colour from another community, stories about the individual have dominated news cycles for days.[/pullquote-default]

This is clearly not a new phenomenon; the same thing happened after the attacks in Paris, Brussels, and Boston. For years now, whenever there has been a shooting or bombing in which the perpetrator has had anything to do with Islam, or has been a person of colour from another community, stories about the individual have dominated news cycles for days.

It takes both liberal and conservative news channels and political figures no time at all to blame violence on Islam, overshadowing what is arguably much more important — in this case, the fact that the Orlando shooting was clearly a hate crime against the LGBTQ+ community, and disproportionately targeted racialized persons.

The mainstream media’s greatest mistake when it comes to the Orlando shootings was using the deaths of queer people of colour, specifically the Latinx LGBTQ+ community, to vilify another marginalized group. Instead of deliberating on why it is that queer and trans people of colour face disproportionate amounts of violence compared to white queer and trans people, the media focused on painting Muslims in broad strokes as inherently homophobic people, neglecting to recognize how this might affect queer Muslims.

Instead of drawing attention to hypermasculinity and easy access to firearms as contributors to the attacks, much of the media fostered more hate following the deaths in Orlando by playing into the East/West dividing rhetoric — which ultimately helps radical terrorists to carry out their motives.

We expect the news that we consume to be objective. However, this is problematic, because people of colour and racialized religions are talked about disproportionately after events like the Orlando shooting. Even though research shows that the people who commit the highest number of mass murders in America are young white men, we continue to associate brown men with terror. The media is partially to blame.

[pullquote-default]The way that Islam and men of colour are talked about on the news feeds into an active discourse that condemns Islam and people of colour simply for existing. [/pullquote-default]

The way that Islam and men of colour are talked about on the news feeds into an active discourse that condemns Islam and people of colour simply for existing. When we hear so much negative information about certain groups of people — particularly in times of crisis, when emotions and tensions are high — this information only serves to reinforce other stereotypes and channels of discrimination against these groups. As a result, individuals begin to believe hateful messages about these groups. We become angry at Muslims, and afraid of people of colour.

Furthermore, these marginalized communities then have to bear the consequences of sensationalist news reporting. After Islamophobic rhetoric rose to the surface following the Paris attacks, many Muslims all over the world reported being harassed — a mosque in Peterborough was set on fire, several mosques in the States were vandalized, and harassment against Muslims in London, England tripled.

Every religion has extremists, yet every day people who have racialized faiths are held responsible for crimes they would never commit and do not condone. In the case of Orlando, while the media focused on Islam, we heard much less about other oppressive actions against LGBTQ+ people, including those who had been victimized in the shooting.

We heard little, for example, about the Westboro Baptist Church — a radical religious group — who viciously protested homosexuality outside a funeral for a victim of the Orlando shooting. We heard about all the politicians who were supposedly saddened by the shooting, but the media neglected to mention the names of the many politicians that voted against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, which makes homophobic hate crimes illegal under US federal law.

The way that we are given information in times of crisis should be something we are constantly analyzing and deliberating for ourselves. The Orlando shooting was a horrible tragedy, but the media has prioritized Islamophobia over paying respect to those 49 lives lost on June 12. Do not take what is given to us by major news outlets as absolute, and do not let rhetoric distract you from what is truly important.

In memory of the victims, here are their names.

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old

Amanda Alvear, 25 years old

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old

Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old

Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old

Cory James Connell, 21 years old

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old

Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old

Frank Hernandez, 27 years old

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old

Kimberly Morris, 37 years old

Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old

Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old

Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old


Shailee Koranne is a third-year equity studies student at Victoria College.

Out of the shadows

The manifestation of racism on campus

Out of the shadows

The first time I ever saw Toronto was the day I moved here. It was August 2012, and I had left my home city of Brighton, England to come to U of T. I knew very little about Canada and even less about Toronto. One thing I was confident of, however, was that racism didn’t exist in Canada because it was a “cultural mosaic” of a country, where people of varying ethnic backgrounds lived together in harmony. I looked forward to not being complimented on my English language proficiency and to not being asked where I was from all the time.

It didn’t take long to for me to realize that my expectations of Canada were shortsighted. I didn’t find the intercultural harmony that I had expected; I found assimilation, or isolation. I learned that, not only was racism alive and well, Canada has its own continuing legacy of racist policies and actions. It was at U of T that I learned words and phrases such as ‘racialized’ and ‘person of colour.’ I never thought to apply these terms to myself until I realized that was how other people saw me.

I spoke with several students about their experiences of racism in Canada and how those experiences differ, or are magnified, in a university setting.

Racism on campus

When asked what racism on campus looks like, the students’ I spoke to were unanimous in their emphasis on its covertness. “It looks like it’s not there,” said Cailyn Stewert, a third-year equity studies, history, and diaspora and transnational studies (DTS) student. “It looks invisible. If you tell people it’s there, they look at you like you’ve got four eyes.”

“Racism on campus, to me at least, manifests itself very subtly. [At] a university in Canada, I think many students walk around with a very colour-blind view to racism. We’re Canada and multiculturalism is our thing. It’s what we’re known for, so racism doesn’t exist,” said Wei* a third-year English and chemistry student. 

A number of students used the term “microaggression” to describe their day-to-day experiences of racism. Chester Middlebrook Pierce, a  black psychiatrist and Harvard professor, coined the term in 1970 to describe invalidations and insults endured by African Americans at the hands of non-black Americans. Nowadays, the term is commonly used to describe the casual and normalized oppression of any marginalized group.

“The way I’ve dealt with racism is through microaggressions but also through questions that insinuate either inadequacy or temporariness,” said Aakanksha John, a fourth-year equity studies and DTS student.

“When I was here in my first year, I remember a lot of people asking me how was it that I knew how to speak English so well, which is a big one I think that a lot of international students that look like me and sound like me would have that,” John recalled. “It was very shocking to have people [suggest that] I had to learn how to be eloquent, and not that I was eloquent as an innate quality.”

Wei faced similar scepticism surrounding her English speaking abilities. “People sometimes assume I speak little or no English even though I was born and raised in Canada and speak three languages. I once had someone ask me where I was from because my English was “too good,” she said.

John said that the insinuation of temporariness often manifests in the form of the question: ‘where do you come from?’ “I’d say Dubai because that’s where I just moved from. People would often ask me where my origins were, so the questions would never stop until the person was satisfied, and not according to my comfort level.”

Of the two questions, I always had the most trouble with ‘where are you from?’ because I was at least armed with a response to the language one: whenever someone remarks upon my command over English, I respond with ‘thanks, your English is pretty good too.’ I’d do the same thing with a question such as ‘how did you learn to speak so well?’ ‘The same way that you learned.’

When it came to ‘where are you from?’ my answer was, as John put it, always unsatisfactory. The follow-up would be ‘no, where are you really from?’ because they clearly didn’t believe that someone who looked like me could also come from a Western country.

“They ask you where you’re from, where you’re really from,” said Stewart. I have always felt more comfortable discussing my origin story with other people of colour or racialized people. Stewart said that she felt similarly, and I asked her why she thought that was the case. “If it’s another racialized person asking that question it’s different — there’s that relatability. They aren’t questioning your Canadianness. If it’s coming from a dominant body, they have the privilege of representing Canadianness,” Stewart said.

For Bosibori Moragia, a second-year English literature and African studies student, microaggressions have been more common than instances of overt racism – though she notes that the latter does occur. “I did have an experience last year in which I was going to a protest downtown, the Michael Brown shooting, and I was having dinner with a bunch of people in Strachan [the Trinity College dining hall], and I was explaining why I was wearing all black because it came up in conversation. And I was like, ‘I’m going to this thing.’ And I left and then they had a discussion after I left and my friend stayed behind, and it was basically just, this one guy in particular saying Michael Brown, he deserved to die. So that’s the most overt thing that’s happened to me.”

In the classroom

Some of the individuals I spoke with noted how microaggressions can be amplified and become more obvious in a classroom setting. Moragia noticed that, as a black woman, she faces pressure in the classroom to be efficient and articulate in a way that is not expected of her white male peers. 

“White men, especially in lecture, when they’re asked about their ideas — they can ramble for days. They can just talk on and on and on and on, and it’s fine. But for us, we have this mentality, because people tend to shut us down so quickly, we have to know what we’re saying, say it the best way that it can be said, say it in the most effective way,” she said. “We’re not given that space to fuck up.”

Wei said that she has heard derisive comments from her peers about students with English as a second language, or students whose English is heavily accented. “I often overhear the term ‘fob’ [fresh off the boat] being used to describe those with a very strong ethnic accent, especially a Chinese accent,” Wei said, adding that while nobody she knows has ever called someone this term to their face, her friends use it, and snicker when an international student answers a question in class. “The term makes me extremely uncomfortable especially since my parents are immigrants from China.”

However, Wei noticed that it was often second-generation Chinese students using the term to put down their classmates out of internalized racism and fear of being targeted in the same way. “I think this may be their way of trying to separate themselves from their international classmates, as they’re afraid of being mistaken for one of them, and fear that stems from underlying racism that finds its way into the classroom.”

I have also noticed that classrooms cater overwhelmingly to English speakers. East Asian students sometimes provide English names for their classmates and instructors to use instead of their actual names, for instance. On the flipside, I have seen students with longer names or names with sounds that are not found in English become the targets of racist mockery as people struggle to pronounce them, or even when they give up and say ‘I can’t pronounce [your name] and I’m not even going to try.’

In addition to these interactions, course content and syllabi often fail to include perspectives that are not Eurocentric. Moragia said that, even in African studies, this is a challenge. Moragia was shocked that out of the three African studies courses she took last semester, only one of them was taught by a black professor. “The rest of [them] are a white South African maybe and another one is a Portuguese lady… but the way that they’re [teaching it] especially my first-year teacher, [it’s done] in a very tone-deaf kind of way.”

“When we tell her like “Oh, actually, we don’t want to see this” or “you could’ve done this in a better way,” she’s very defensive about it, and I feel like that’s something I wouldn’t have to encounter if I had an actual African professor teaching me African studies,” Moragia said.

I am an English Literature specialist and my program demands 3.0 Full Course Equivalents (FCE) of British literature to the nineteenth century, but only 1.0 FCE from each of Canadian and Indigenous North American literatures, and American and transnational literatures. Moragia, also an English major, noted that it is entirely possible to obtain an English degree without ever having to deviate from whiteness, but it is not possible to do so by devoting yourself to courses that pertain to your identity and that interest you.

“I find it frustrating that I have to have [2.0 FCE] of eighteenth century British literature, and I’m like, ‘What has that got to do with me?’” said Moragia of her program requirements.

Moragia said that she does not see herself in any of the texts she studies. The rare times she does see blackness or queerness represented, she said that these identities are tokenized — ostensibly included so that the instructor can call the class “diverse.” “[They don’t] flow into the syllabus. It’s like, they’re teaching us this one thing, we stop, they press pause, they say, “This is the required diversity section,” and then we finish that and then we press play again and we go on with it.”

Both Stewart and John discovered Equity and DTS later in their academic careers. John told me about a time when she wrote about a war between India and Pakistan for a political science essay. She was excited to explore a topic that was culturally relevant and hoped that her personal connection to the subject matter would help her. She received a D on the paper.

“I wrote about my own people, I wrote through an Indian mindset, commenting on Western theory, but I was graded below because I didn’t fit the requirements of writing or I couldn’t assimilate to writing in a Western way about Western theory, commenting on an Eastern war,” John said. “For me that was a giant contradiction, because if I was an Indian body writing about my people, using Western theory, then that should’ve been enough. The way I did it should’ve been enough. But it wasn’t and I still think that there’s a need for assimilation there that I didn’t fulfill.”

John did not have a professor of colour until she started taking courses in DTS. “I remember it was so difficult for me to find a professor of color, until I started DTS200, that was the first class in which I had a professor of color. And that completely changed my interaction because finally I felt like there were so many things with regard to the immigrant struggle, for example, that I didn’t have to explain to the prof because he got it. There were so many subversive things and nuances and innuendos that I didn’t have to convey to him because he understood. And there was such a relief that I experienced and I did so much better because I had somebody who understood my experience very, very clearly and critically and helped me to progress as a human being.”

Stewart found that her criminology and sociology classes were not critical of institutions and the way in which they influence racialized human consciousness; rather, they centred on analyzing black culture. “Black people are treated as inherently criminal — we’re always cast as wrongdoers with primitive intellect,” she told me. “Black men are seen as deviant and are always referenced in class, but we also have white boys shooting up schools and movie theatres and nobody wants to talk about that.”

Stewart has noticed a substantial disparity in the promotion and apparent prosperity of various academic disciplines. “You see it too with the marginalized departments: Caribbean studies, African studies, Equity, women and gender studies [WGS]. U of T doesn’t advertise them or fund them well. But [faculties] like kinesiology and engineering are funded a lot and promoted religiously. No-one threatens them,” Stewart said, referencing an online threat made against U of T WGS professors and students in September 2015.

My conversation with Moragia took a similar turn; she also mentioned the starvation of the Transitional Year Program (TYP), which is designed to help students who do not have the qualifications usually required to get into university.

The TYP had a net expense budget of $1,322,392 in 2014-2015, which is scheduled to increase slightly in 2015-2016, then dwindle to $1,305,255 by 2018-2019, partly owing to a projected increase in revenue from this program.

Moragia was skeptical of the idea that the university cannot sustain certain programs and said that the university chooses which programs it wants to flourish. “They don’t tell you [that] you can’t have these [programs], but then they set it up in a way in which they basically suffocate you from the inside and then you just have to be like, ‘Well, we can’t sustain this anymore.’ So it’s clear they don’t give a shit.”

Social activities, student governance, and building community

Adil Abdulla, a fourth-year student studying international relations and economics, participated in the Hart House Debate Club until he quit this year. He described the atmosphere as “pretty patently white.”

“It’s not even because necessarily all of the people are white, it’s just they create an atmosphere that is a lot more amenable to white people, and you see that with, for instance at the first few meetings of the year, you’ve got 60–80 per cent of people are people of colour, and then first, there’s a selection process for novice, and that takes it down to about 50/50, and then by the time you get to a month into school, the percentage is maybe five per cent, which is a dramatic drop,” said Abdulla of the participation rates.

Adil also chairs the Trinity College Meeting (TCM), Trinity College’s direct democracy student government. He told me that he doesn’t see many people of colour in positions of leadership. “I think it’s probably a lack of comfort, might be that some institutions are painfully white institutions,” Abdulla speculated.

Last semester, a new group called POC@Trin formed, aimed at increasing engagement among people of colour at the college. “But it’s like a cycle that feeds on itself, I mean, at the POC@Trin events, you hear lots of comments about people who show up to some event, they don’t see people of colour, and then they leave, and then next year they wouldn’t be there and the same cycle would continue,” Abdulla said.

Stewart sits on the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors as a representative for Woodsworth College and is a member of the UTSU’s Racialized Students’ Collective (RSC). She said that student governance is often a difficult space to navigate as a black woman, and that despite her best efforts she still faces unwarranted criticism. “Some people have said that I’m incapable of doing work and dominant voices are not limited and democratic methods don’t always work. There are other board members who are people of colour who feel the same way.”

I couldn’t attend the first meeting of the RSC due to a scheduling conflict. I asked Stewart what it was like, and she responded with enthusiasm. “Everyone was connecting with each other, we were finishing each other’s sentences…We all had insightful viewpoints on different things. Everyone sharing experiences and relating to one another complimented my experiences and relating to other racialized students was very powerful.”

The value of shared experiences and fostering a sense of community was echoed by Moragia.

“I feel like I’ve been liking, so far, the little things that I’ve been going to. I feel like the students of colour and black students have been making these really cool events, that you go to and they speak to the problems that you feel like you don’t have anywhere to go to really discuss them, and people are out here trying,” said Moragia on the events that she has gone to and the communities she has joined.

“When I started going to more [Black Students’ Association] events and making friends with people there, making friends with other black people, and stuff like that that I started — they were like, ‘Oh, let’s go to this thing and this, decolonizing this and that, love and white supremacy, this and that,’ and it was just stuff that I was interested in.”

Abdulla agreed. “I think a lot of the cultural organizations are good. I am involved with the Ismaiili Students’ Association, so things like that would be really good, particularly for people of colour. But just various cultural or religious groups are useful, especially given how religion also impacts the racism debate in that it correlates a bit more strongly, it’s also useful to have non-Christian institutions that are able to cater to a different audience.”

Moving forward

“Why do we have to rally? We get less than half the services. Mental health for example. Black people are in a process of decolonization, same with Indigenous Peoples. It comes from trauma and it’s distinct,” said Stewart of those services that do not adequately address unique issues faced by people of colour. “I’d really like to see specialists of colour, who can validate how we feel and who recognize that the way you live and move through life as a person of color, specifically a Black person based on my own experiences, impacts mental health a substantially.”

Stewart, John, and fellow Woodsworth student Sydney Lang initiated the new Equity Committee at Woodsworth, where they hope to help students feel like their experience matters. “Vic, Trin, and [St Mikes] have Equity Committees and Woodsworth is one of the most diverse colleges, so why not?”

Stewart hopes that the equity chair will have the power to approve event proposals to make sure they are inclusive and that they bear in mind the needs and values of different communities on campus. She said that the committee will also include sub-committees in order to highlight distinct and unique experiences.

John remarked that the narrative of being just a number at U of T is a surprising equalizer that can help students work together on important issues. “You have certain students who, yes, can access things better than others can due to their privilege, but at the same time you can have an international student, a permanent resident, and a Canadian citizen in a room and not know the difference between the three,” she said.

“There are certain rights that you are protected under by being part of U of T. And a lot of the times, as racialized students and marginalized students, we feel like we’re not protected under it, but I know students, my seniors, who’ve inspired me to demand for my rights and not be quiet and not be silenced. Those are the people who’ve really empowered me and who’ve taken away the stigma of being quiet and just being run over. So as a student who is a permanent resident, I feel like I’m joined by international students, by Canadian citizens, and for us the cause is what unites us.”

John said that she would like to see equity become a breadth requirement to graduate. “You’ve got society, you’ve got sociology, psychology, you do these things, but why isn’t equity a requirement? Those are the things that inform so much of changing the narrative around Canadian-ness and identity and power at this university.”

She says that, for now, students should look for opportunities to learn about the experiences of others. “Go to events that are in spaces you haven’t experienced before and open yourself to learning and trying something new because these conversations are important. And if you don’t know how you fit in, into that conversation, if you don’t know how you relate to the struggle, then you’re never going to be involved, and when it comes the day for you to be represented, and you need people to fight for you, or give you a platform to stand on to raise your voice, you won’t have it.”

For his part, Abdulla said that he has faith in systems of governance and hopes that more people of colour come to governance events. “Because the only real bodies that can make decisions that might help are these governance bodies and generally there’s at least theoretically the ability to show up but people don’t. And I don’t know why, I’ve been trying to ask people to find out, but I really think that that needs to happen before we can go about getting any reasonable amount of change,” he said.

I asked Stewart whether she felt optimistic that change will occur. “There is this emphasis on optimism,” she said, “you’re demonized if you’re not seen as being optimistic. It’s tiring and frustrating work, and I’d call it realism, not optimism. Realism takes into perspective the criticality of human issues, whereas through optimism you run the risk of overlooking the harmful degrees of racial issues whilst abandoning reasonable and complementary judgement, and instead one paints an illusion of a post-racist utopia.”

“It’s disrespectful to the scale of the problem to expect optimism,” Stewart continued. “I try to practice self-care and not let all this kill me inside. To be honest, I’m not an optimistic person — I’m critical of reality, and to compliment that I have a profound resilience that’s been handed down from my ancestors to us children of the African continent and diaspora.”

*Name has been changed