@UntolduOttawa and @BlackatuOttawa reveal stalkers, inaccessible spaces for the disabled, and toxic spaces in campus
Incoming first-year University of Ottawa students have created a space to share and expose campus discrimination, including stalking, racism from professors, mental health stigma, non-inclusive sports teams well as inadequate support for students with disabilities on campus.
“We want students to feel like there is a place for them… and to let the voices of those who have been through any form of discrimination to be heard,” wrote the two co-founders of the Instagram account @UntolduOttawa in a message to the Fulcrum.
They requested to remain anonymous to not face any repercussions from the U of O for sharing stories that may darken the University’s reputation.
Both founders of the account identify as members of visible minorities
They state that the purpose of this account is to shed light on experiences of discrimination of marginalized students at the University of Ottawa with the objective to be heard. Students can submit their stories anonymously through an online submission form.
“It’s not right to have to go through traumatic and scarring experiences feeling like there is nobody to talk to who will take it seriously,” said the founders.“Lots of the submissions we’ve received ended up not being resolved but rather swept under the rug and we want that to change, for the sake of all students.”
The founders are both 18 and entering their first year at U of O. They say they want the University of Ottawa to be a school that does more for its students and takes the issues that they are being presented more seriously.
“We strongly encourage Indigenous students and Black students to also submit stories, since those are two of the biggest groups that face discrimination, especially in academia,” they said over email.
“Racism isn’t exclusive to the United States of America and we believe that people tend to forget that a lot.”
Since launching in mid-July, they have received 15 submissions regarding racism, homophobia and student-on-student stalking and harassment. Recognizing that people’s stories are being heard and giving a voice to the usually voiceless inspires them.
In light of their campaign, some U of O organizations such as the Pride Centre have publicly displayed their support towards those sharing their negative experiences on the Instagram page.
“It’s extremely disappointing to hear about this sort of blatant biphobia on campus,” the post includes. “At The Pride Centre, our values and mandates strictly condemn this sort of behavior and policing of identity. If you are a 2SLGBTQ+ student on campus and have experienced discrimination, let us know and we will do our best to help.”
As stated on their pages and form, the founders of the account were inspired by other students who took the initiative to create accounts such as @BlackAtHarvardLaw, @UntoldMcGill, and @StolenBySmith.
They say that while they have received a few negative comments, they have received much positive feedback including the comments from peers and associations that show their support for those who have submitted their stories.
Inspiring more students towards advocacy
One of @UntoldOttawa’s account owners created another Instagram page, @blackatuottawa, to tell the stories of Black students on campus.
The founder refers to prejudice experienced by Black students during elementary and high schools including being put into classes that are below their actual learning skills and abilities. “[Within] a system that… continues to …. keep white men at an advantage of this system…imagine what it would be like in university or college.”
“Discrimination is something we’ve faced all our lives, it’s something we didn’t ask for,” said the founder of @blackatuottawa to the Fulcrum. “There weren’t many staff or students that looked like us growing up so we understand how it is to approach someone and for them to invalidate/not understand or help you. We want to assure students that our page is judgement-free and that we will continue to publish their submissions and let them know that their voices matter.”
Carly Fox, 18, just moved this week to Ottawa from London, ON to begin her first-year at the U of O and saw the Untold Instagram page a month before arriving in the city.
“I think it’s genius!” Fox said. “I think it is super professional and it’s bilingual! Social media specifically is a really powerful platform”
“You have to be pretty brave to post about racism and all that because people attack you, but they have kept it very professional and safe.”
It was two weeks ago, she came across the words of a student with a disability on Untold uOttawa’s page which got to her personally. Despite feeling moved and ‘disgusted’, she was not surprised by the experiences the student aired.
“I’ve experienced both sides of the coin,” she said, sharing that midway throughout high school, she was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
“Being young with a disability is already such a weird and difficult thing, so that’s why we need groups to mobilize.”
Despite the bad and the hurt, sharing experiences acts as an inspiration for Fox. So much so that she developed and created uOttawa Disabled Students Association (DSA) welcoming students with physical, learning, developmental/psychological disabilities including peer-mentoring, education, and health care system support.
“[Seeing the post] made me feel empowered as a student and member of the community,” she said.
“I have this philosophy that school and a lot of society does not take care of the disability community so we owe it to each other to take care of each other, that we have each other’s back.”
“I’d like to see more students involved in the rights of others, and a bit more intersectionality, “she continued. “And we need to hold our admin[istration] more accountable because they can get away with a lot, so we have to work together as a student body to hold each other and the admin accountable.”
U of O’s Media Relations Manager Isabelle Mailloux Pulkinghorn did respond over email that, “the University of Ottawa is committed to providing a learning and work environment free from harassment and discrimination and where everyone is treated respectfully.”
If you or someone you know is dealing with discrimination, harassment or sexual violence, please contact the Human Rights Office at 613-562-5222.