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Racist epithet scrawled inside law building

Jesse Mellott | Fulcrum Staff

Photo by Sean Campbell

On Nov. 9, a press conference was held in room 302 of Fauteux Hall, which houses the University of Ottawa’s faculty of law. The U of O chapter of the Black Law Students’ Association (BLSA) of the U of O chapter organized the conference, which was put together to denounce a recent act of racism on campus. The room was full of other law student associations and professors showing their solidarity and support for members of the BLSA.

The incident in question was that the N-word was recently etched into a bathroom stall in Fauteux Hall.

Lavinia Latham, a third-year common law student and the president of the Black Law Students’ Association of Canada, explained why she believes it is important to speak out against racism.

“I think denouncing this in a public forum definitely fights back against racism,” Latham said. “I feel as though it is not something that is tolerated, [and] not just by black law students, but [by] the faculty itself.”
Professor Joanne St. Lewis, who teaches common law at the U of O, said the incident was an extreme example of racism, but not an isolated one.

“No, we don’t have some frequency where people are carving the N-word all over our building … in a sense it’s a very extreme manifestation of racism, that’s how I would see it,” said St. Lewis. “[Black law students] have been experiencing racist exchanges and various things that have been cause for concern—in terms of whether they have been appropriately respected by their colleagues—and those exchanges have been racist.”

According to law student Mazin Al-Rasheed, incidents of racism are nothing new at the U of O’s law school.

“Since starting law school, there have been numerous incidents where students, colleagues of ours, [have made] very racialized and racially problematic comments and statements,” said Al-Rashed.

Latham expressed her gratitude for the students and professors who showed their support at the BLSA press conference.

“Prior to what happened today, I did not think that we might be close to a neutral society,” she said. “However, seeing the turnout, seeing the allies, seeing everybody come together against this—perhaps I will see the day when there is a race-neutral society. I do have hope, and I think that’s amazing.”

Christien Levien, president of the U of O chapter of the BLSA, said that the focus must not be on placing blame for the incident, but rather on growth.

“Us being here today is not about sensationalizing the incident, or about pointing fingers, or demonizing the culprit,” said Levien. “Rather I believe that because we are a world-class school, be it our students, be it our faculty, be it our administrative staff, we should use this opportunity as a moment for growth. Let’s take this opportunity to self-reflect, to truly embrace our social-justice spirit and face the endemic of discrimination that is evident on our campus … I really don’t want to focus on the individualized incident; I believe that racism is a hindrance of our collective potential.”