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Too many unanswered questions, referendum should be necessary before asking university to implement an anti-racism course in the name of all students.

On Aug. 27, the University of Ottawa Student’s Union (UOSU) and nine recognized student governments formally offered their support to Carleton student Khadija El-Hilali in demanding for an anti-racism course to be made a mandatory requirement for all undergraduate students.

The letter representing the University of Ottawa laid out three arguments in favour of its implementation. 

The first is that it would establish the University of Ottawa’s “institutional commitment to combating racism” and handle “its own role in perpetuating racism and colonialism on campus”. The second suggests encouraging students to “explore their own privilege” and finally that it will lead to the “existence of safer places for the racialized members” of the U of O community. 

Although these are valid points of departure for a mandatory anti-racism course, the letter fails to address the countless questions students may have when it comes to the implementation and, to a point, its purpose. 

First, will students have to pay extra tuition for the proposed mandatory anti-racism course? This also brings on a moral question: should students have to pay for an anti-racism course? Large corporations usually offer free diversity training. The UOSU is also advocating the University to reduce tuition if students are forced to pay for this course; isn’t that hypocritical? Or is it alright with the UOSU for the university to charge high tuition rates when the course fits in their agenda?

There is also the format of the course – is a full semester course necessary? Could an online training or an obligatory hour-long lecture on anti-racism during 101-Week achieve the same results?

Next, how will this course be implemented, exactly if it lasts for the duration of a semester? Will it be added to students’ already full schedule? Will it replace an elective course or replace an existing mandatory course? If it replaces an existing course, does it replace a course that provides students with essential skills for their future careers?

Knowing the University’s ignorance to social issues, who will teach this course? Will it be a BIPOC or will it be a white person? What will be taught in this class? How do you quantifiably teach anti-racism? What will the curriculum look like? How will students be evaluated? 

And, what about the answer to arguably the biggest question? Can the course really change a person’s perspective on race? If it aims to make students more accepting of others and less racist, can it also teach forgiveness and tolerance for past actions?

When the UOSU says it wants to “shift itself and the institutions away from performative allyship” isn’t suggesting a quick fix like this proposed course a prime example of performative allyship? It would be foolish to believe that students who are actually racist will change their views based on a class. If anything, this course has the potential to make those who disagree with the curriculum even more reactive in the face of evident conflict. 

Before implementing an anti-racism course, the student body needs answers. The union doesn’t yet know if a majority of students agree with their position therefore shouldn’t they have a referendum asking students where they stand? 

To its credit, the union does recognize that there are many unanswered questions, but if they’re going to ask for such a course, shouldn’t there be a solid public framework as to how they believe it should be implemented? 

If the UOSU really wants to defy the conventional and move away from performative allyship, why doesn’t it donate the two per cent hike in its membership fee it accidentally charged students towards some real action at the University?