Recent anti-racism movements on U.S. college campuses spark similar protests in Toronto.
Toronto university students rallied yesterday in response to the recent events at the University of Missouri—where there were protests, the football team threatened a boycott, and then the school’s president resigned amid allegations of anti-black racism on campus.
Schools in Toronto struggle with on-campus racial tensions too. At U of T, students gathered for an event called Black On Campus, where participants and organizers shared their own experiences of on-campus racism. (A different but similar event also took place today on Ryerson’s campus, organized by Ryerson’s Black Liberation Collective).
Many of Toronto’s students say that subtle, “undercover” forms of racism are the most common type of discrimination on campus.
“My race and my religion stand out when people see me, when people meet me,” says first-year U of T student Jameelah Abdoulaye. She mentions one incident in one of her classes where “people [didn’t] want to sit beside me because of the way I look. Racism is better now, but it’s…hidden,” she says. She talks about “undercover racism,” explaining that the issue “still exists, just people don’t want to admit to it.”
Another U of T student says at first that race relations are pretty good on campus; she feels safe, and there’s not a lot of discrimination to speak of. “I haven’t really felt too much tension,” she says. Then she wracks her brain. One time she “took [her] braids out and wore [her] hair naturally for a day,” only to have a fellow-student approach her, commend her for for being “proud” of her hair, and then ask to touch it. Another time, she found herself explaining to a group of Ryerson and U of T students the historical and social reasons behind why it’s not okay to paint on blackface for Halloween. “People get it, they get why they’re not supposed to do it, but they don’t know the history. If people did whiteface it would be bad, but it’s not the same.”
U of T’s Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Officer Sandra Carnegie-Douglas explains that “we try to bring the subject of race and anti-racism out in the open. It’s tackled [through staff] training, when we talk about the nuanced ways in which racism is manifested, how students can experience [racism] in the classroom.”
During yesterday’s demonstration U of T faculty member Melanie Newton stood up to say that the school is “willing to talk endlessly about diversity but is unwilling to transform that language of diversity into equity and policy.”
“Would I say [U of T students and staff] are directly racist?” asks Hadeer Moussa over the chanting of her fellow students. “Up until now, no…but I believe a lot of the times you see people sticking to their own kind in a way. People don’t choose to make friends with [people from] other cultures.”
In order to create a more inclusive student body, U of T’s Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Officer says the key is “focusing on how we can change the culture of the university so that everyone that comes in knows that these are the values and the principles that we stand for.”
U of T’s Mississauga campus student union president said, “We shouldn’t have to go to class feeling like we don’t belong. All the things going on at Yale and [in] Missouri, those are the same things going on at U of T.”