Student organizations hold press conference outside Tabaret Hall after two carding incidents in four months
University of Ottawa student organizations held a press conference outside Tabaret Hall on Tuesday morning to push for more action from the administration in the wake of the two carding incidents that have taken place on campus in the last four months.
The press conference, held just a stone’s throw away from president Jacques Frémont’s office, follows the release of an open letter Monday night that said the administration “fails to address systemic racism in a meaningful way” while listing eight demands for further action.
The signing groups include the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU), the Black Student Leaders Association (BSLA), the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), CUPE 2626 (which represents teaching and research assistants), Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), and 16 student governments. As of Oct. 17, the Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa, the Association of Part-Time Professors of the University of Ottawa, the Graduate Students’ Association of the University of Ottawa, and the University of Ottawa Muslim Students’ Association had also signed the letter.
Jamal Koulmiye-Boyce, who was carded and handcuffed by Protection Services officers in June, and Wiliston Mason, who was carded by a security officer in September while entering the residence building he lives and works in, also signed the letter and were both in attendance.
A first report from the independent investigation into Koulmiye-Boyce’s experience was released last week, finding he faced racial discrimination while insufficient training and improper procedures played a role in how the incident unfolded. The university administration says the officer who carded Mason is employed by a private company and is now banned from campus.
The university implemented four measures to combat racism and discrimination on campus at the start of September, but the groups say they fall short and are full of gaps. UOSU student life commissioner Jason Seguya spoke to the crowd of around 30 people in French and BSLA co-president Rochelle Smith in English.
“We’re standing here today as representative entities at the U of O to address the systemic racism that plagues our campus and that constantly and continuously marginalizes the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) community,” said Smith.
“The second known incident (the carding of Mason last month) demonstrates the inadequacy of the central administration’s measures along with showcasing how deeply rooted anti-Black racism is at our institution.”
Smith then reiterated the eight demands threshed out in the open letter, which range from recurring anti-racism training for all university staff and the introduction of accountability measures to a stricter interpretation of the campus carding policy and more community consultation.
“These calls to action only scratch the surface of the ongoing anti-racism work the central admission administration must engage in,” said Smith. “We are not believed, we are not heard, and we are not seen without an official report confirming what we have been saying all along.”
“My biggest issue (with the university’s response) was I felt as though there was like a lack of inclusion of affected parties and communities,” said Koulmiye-Boyce after the press conference. Koulmiye-Boyce said he wasn’t invited by the university to attend the press conference last week where the results of the investigation into his own carding incident were released.
It felt like “my hopes that the university was working with us were a little bit shattered at that point,” said Koulmiye-Boyce. “I very much did feel like an afterthought.”
Going forward, Koulmiye-Boyce said transparency and accountability will be extremely important.
“We’re asking (the administration) to listen to the problems we’re presenting and working with the community to solve them.”
“This is no longer just an issue for the U of O, it’s an issue for the U of O community,” added Seguya. “We want to participate in the actions … that directly affect us.”
The groups also encouraged students at the U of O and from campuses across the country to use #RacismOnCampus on social media to shed light on their experiences.
“If you face racism it can come in so many different ways and so often we can be forced to deal with that in silence and hold that in,” said Koulmiye-Boyce. “What this hashtag really does is it creates a community and a space for us to not only have our experiences heard but to have them validated.”
The U of O has received the open letter and “welcomes student engagement on this very important issue,” the administration said in an emailed statement to the Fulcrum Tuesday afternoon.
The statement says the administration has invited Koulmiye-Boyce and the Black Law Students’ Association to join the university’s anti-discrimination committee. The administration also met with the UOSU “to discuss best ways forward,” according to the statement.
The statement says the report from the second part of the investigation into the carding of Koulmiye-Boyce, which will examine the impacts of Protection Services’ policies and procedures on racialized people, will be made public and hopefully released in November.
“The university is committed to ensure that everyone feels safe and welcomed on uOttawa campus,” the statement reads.” Students can play a big role in achieving this objective.”
Editor’s Note (8/10/19, 1:56 p.m.): This story has been updated to include comment from the U of O’s administration.
Editor’s Note (17/10/19, 4:37 p.m.): This story has been updated to reflect more signatures being added to the open letter.