Anti-racism group says the students were kicked out to preserve ‘safe space’

Photo by Haaruun Dhubat/The Ryersonian

Two white students were barred from a meeting of the Racialized Students’ Collective at Ryerson University on March 11.

First-year journalism students Trevor Hewitt and Julia Knope were told that because they were not victims of racialization, they were not allowed to stay in the meeting room and report on the event.

Hewitt and Knope said they made eye contact with an unidentified woman who appeared to be setting up for the event. She approached Hewitt and Knope and asked if they had ever been racialized.

Hewitt said he then told the woman he wanted to cover the meeting for an assignment. He said the woman told him that because he was not a racialized student, he could not sit in on the meeting. Hewitt and Knope then left the room.

“It felt really bad… kind of embarrassing,” Knope said. “If their goal in these meetings was to end racialization then it needs to be something everybody is involved in. If some people are causing the problems, they need to know. Grouping yourself off … is not going to accomplish anything.”

The Racialized Students’ Collective is part of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU). Its website states that the group aims to “oppose all forms of racism and work towards community wellness for students,” and that they focus on “building an anti-racist network” and “fostering an anti-racist environment through campus-wide services, campaigns and events.”

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Knope said  while she understands they are a support group for each other and don’t want others there, she doesn’t understand why the events are then listed as public and as an RSU campaign.

“It seemed really ironic to me that the meeting was about racialization and they were prohibiting certain people from entering,” she said.

“Right now it’s almost like they’re suggesting they can make racialization go away (and that) if everyone who has been racialized just talks … it will magically go away,” Hewitt added.

RSU coordinator Vajdaan Tanveer told the Ryersonian that members of the collective have requested a safe space on campus where they can have an open conversation.

“We don’t want (racialized) students to feel intimidated, that they can’t speak their mind because they are afraid of being judged or something they say might be used against them,” he said.

Similarly divisive sentiment caused an uproar at the University of Ottawa last spring when the student federation’s In My Skin campaign held an event that divided attendees into groups of white and non-white students.

Asked about Hewitt and Knope’s incident, Tanveer confirmed they couldn’t attend the meeting because they are white.

“In terms of educating, we have some events for the public,” he said. “We use the opportunity to tell them about the work and how they can get involved.”