Opinions

Letter to the Editor graphic
Image: Dasser Kamran/Fulcrum

University of Ottawa Students’ Union president calls for action following multiple racist incidents on campus 

Dear Editor 

This letter is addressed to Jacques Frémont, members of the Board of Governors of the University of Ottawa and members of the University of Ottawa community.

The last few weeks in our community have certainly not been easy, especially for Black students at the University of Ottawa. Lately, the University of Ottawa community has been dragged into a ‘war of letters’ on the use of the ‘N-word,’ as well as academic responsibility and the wider pattern of events leading to the current climate. 

Though I welcome the University’s acknowledgement and commitment to change, it is important to recognize that many BIPOC students have been deeply hurt by the events at the University of Ottawa over the past few weeks. As a Black student at the University of Ottawa, it is hard for me to always say I feel safe and comfortable in my university community, and this month has been particularly difficult.

Context

A few weeks ago, a professor in the faculty of arts had used the ‘N-word’ to illustrate how words had been reappropriated by historically oppressed groups as a means of empowerment, subverting the word’s derogatory and discriminatory charge. A student then emailed her, taking offence at the use of the word, to which the professor apologized and recognized her lack of understanding of the word’s connotation in English. She had heard many of her (also) white colleagues use the word as well. She then invited the student (who is not Black) to lead a discussion on the reappropriation of the word, to a class that was majority non-racialized. 

Since she had been asked to step away from the class, students appealed for action, taking to social media as they had been conditioned to an unresponsive university.

The situation took a new turn when 34 professors released a letter in her defense titled “Libertés surveillées,” out of touch with the situation and many unwilling to recognize the pain of their racialized students.

I was disappointed to see some of my professors on that list.

They had taught me about the Enlighteners (Lumières) and their fundamental values of liberty, sure, freedom of speech, expression in some variations, freedom of thought, and fundamental human rights. Were they not aware of what had happened? Did they not care ? Do they know that the ‘N-word’ is not a relic of the past and is still actively used? Do they know that the historical value, context, philosophical, political and artistic incarnations of the word, that its sense and context are deeper than just the word itself?  

Though there was no white supremacist intent in the situation, many fail to understand that a white professor asking a non-Black student to introduce a discussion on what the sensitivity the ‘N-word’ implies, in a majority-white class, will only subject Black students to further trauma and feelings of ostracization on campus. 

The ‘N-word’ does not only have a historic meaning, it has an active charge, dehumanizes, and inflicts pain. It is also important to highlight that Black students often find themselves tokenized in these discussions and forced to instrumentalize their own negative experiences for the benefit of others. 

I sat in shock as I watched some double down with impunity, claiming students were being soft, to the extent that one would believe it is a radical position not to hear a word that means violence to many, as they seek to learn and engage in meaningful, critical discussions. 

We must be clear here, as this is not a debate. We will get to this later; however, it is important to refocus a conversation which has gone dangerously in the wrong direction.

I was disappointed by the University’s initial failure to clearly address the situation. It had taken multiple statements to say what was clear, and fine in most people’s minds. The ‘N-word’ should not have been said. 

For many on our campus, this is about the refusal to face an uncomfortable truth. The truth, which is always much more uncomfortable for those who live it. 

The academic world is changing, and it has yet to fully recognize the space, dignity, and respect due to Black people in academia. Our perspectives are dismissed and overlooked. Black students are routinely victimized, demeaned and ignored. We are still diminished in this world when we stand against the norm, as our lived experiences are taken up for discussion in classrooms, and we are asked to hold our suffering for another’s enrichment. Our calls are belittled or ignored. We are acknowledged, yet unheard, recognized, though sidelined. We are frustrated and angry, yet we remain calm, and firm in our resolve to see transformation. 

In the president’s letter to the University of Ottawa community on Oct.21, there was an appeal for calm, and a request that ‘both sides’ tone it down. This yet again failed to understand the situation at hand.

In the past, the University of Ottawa has consistently missed the opportunity to address the institutional policies and practices that have allowed, and continue to allow Black members of the U of O community to feel marginalized, unsafe and their experiences to continue to be negated. 

This is the moment to discuss accountability, to look introspectively at our institution and to have a frank and honest conversation about the changes it needs to make, and act upon them. 

The spirit of academic responsibility 

First, this is not about academic freedom. We expect a certain standard from our professors; their freedom comes with responsibility. As Black students and faculty continue to have to weigh their words and step on eggshells, claiming their spaces and fighting to create new ones, it is fair to expect the same of our peers. This goes without saying that we all agree that with academic freedom must come academic responsibility. 

The professors who signed the letter have not met their academic responsibility. 

They have not met their due diligence in taking the time to understand, and recognize the impact of their actions, and subsequent conduct, on their students. When a professor chooses to address a sensitive topic, they always have a responsibility to convey that sensitivity, while recognizing the history behind it, the experiences they’ve created and continue to create, as well as their own relation and capacity to understand it. 

We are shaped by our institutions, conditioned by the dominant culture to see whiteness as the norm. Many of those who defend this in the name of academic freedom lack the humility to acknowledge that at some point, their opinions and feelings should have far less value than those directly and continuously affected by it. Though unwittingly, they have behaved carelessly, discounting the active psychological damage the word continues to create on Black students when uttered. 

Surprisingly, we’ve seen many professors find new interests in African studies, and Black studies, though superficially. As students, we respect the principle of academic freedom, just as much as academic responsibility, which is fundamental to creating a climate of trust and ensuring faculty and students alike are comfortable in their learning environment. 

This is an opportunity for many, instead of writing letters defending academic freedom, to seek understanding and adapt the way they teach.

A few professors have done so, committing to the learning they have begun with their careers, and I commend them for their willingness to listen. Both camps are not diametrically opposed, and this is not an attempt at censorship, it is simply asking to find new ways to learn and adapt.

Instead of persisting on the use of the ‘N-word’ while cognizant of its impact, look into how you can make your class more equitable, find ways to add diversity to your classes, that is the real challenge and will make students proud of our institution. 

Sometimes, we hope to look up to you. 

If you still insist on holding a conversation, please understand that many are still uncomfortable with the ‘N-word’ in an academic situation and it still causes active pain. Be sensitive in your approach and sensible to your students and they will do the same. However, I don’t recommend you needlessly subject your students to unnecessary and potentially damaging conversations. 

The reality is our campus has been deeply wounded and we all want to heal. We need to make sure that that healing goes towards something meaningful, and lasting. We want to have that dialogue, instead of arguing through letters and petitions. Please understand that from our perspectives, our grief should have no academic value here. 

We still get called the ‘N-word’ as a rite of passage in our childhoods. 

Despite this disregard for the ever-changing, diversifying academic world, the onus fell on racialized students and faculty to be civil, and silence themselves.  

Often, our first encounters with the word are not in the ‘safety’ of a classroom; rather, we hear it uttered to demean and dehumanize us. In the mouths of non-Black people it erases the pride we have in our identity, and history, the strength and resilience in our collective struggle. It is difficult to share this reappropriation when the word continues to be weaponized to humiliate Black people.  

Falling on academic freedom to use the ‘N-word’ in class is unfair and insincere to teaching the rich and complex intellectual exercise of resistance behind it. It ignores and oversimplifies the reconstruction of an identity and the complex nuances behind this process, that those without a lived experience can not fully grasp. 

Pain and resilience

Second, being part of any society includes respecting that there are differences with dimensions that one would not understand, or would have a very hard time understanding. To put it in other words, what is acceptable to one, may not be acceptable to another, and what would have been fine before, will be different tomorrow. 

Would Pierre Vallières have used the same title for his book today? Having exchanged with contemporaries during times of decolonization, the appropriation white ‘N-word’ was used to pay tribute to their movement, a movement born of resistance and meant to subvert the oppression of colonialism and white supremacy, negritude (Diagne, 2018) . This was originally rooted in art, expanding to philosophical and political dimensions. It was also used to shock and illustrate the conditions of French-Canadians as Quebec faced a major cultural shift. This in itself is a recognition of the controversy behind the word, yet fails to recognize the privilege in appropriating the complex, unique and violent, brutal history of repression driving its reappropriation. 

At the time, Jacques Brault remarked that this identification, based on a common experience of colonial domination, left the Québécois ‘us’ to identify as “[‘N-word’ with beautiful white certainties];” (Brault, 1965 in Selao, 2011, p. 101) having had the privilege of also being the colonizer.

It erases the association of skin color within the logic of domination, yet fails to actually address the actual dynamics influencing this logic. Though sharing solidarity through a common experience of cruel and systematic oppression, the roots and logic of each experience flow radically differently.

Though Quebec stands as a vibrant nation today, this nation stands on Indigenous land which has been systematically taken and reduced, for example, and this goes without speaking to the experiences of over 4,000 slaves on the territory, from the arrival of French colonists until 1833, and their descendants (Polak, 2018). 

It is also deeper than simply quoting Black writers, Africanologists or historians, especially to Black students and faculty who are likely to have grown up with them, learning about them at home. The great thing about including more racialized people in academia is being able to get perspectives one would traditionally not receive. Academic integrity is at risk if you open the door for non-experts to teach subjects, they are not up to date about. 

Though enthusiastic about their reappropriation of the ‘N-word’ and the universalist ambitions of their movement, proponents of negritude did not claim to represent all Black peoples; they recognized the need for, and worked towards a collective process engaging and uplifting Black peoples, first and foremost. 

They spoke of a charge and meaning behind the word, evoking a tragic, sinister history, and they understood the beautiful resistance against that pain. In Mot, for example, Aimé Césaire speaks of the ‘N-word,’ illustrating memories of pain, marauding slave traders, mothers screaming, children crying, burning flesh (Césaire, 1961). Despite this, Césaire himself stated discomfort in the word negritude, though admitting it corresponded to an evident reality, a needed one (Césaire, 1987 in Diagne, 2018). Further, Fanon in Peau Noires, Masques Blanc admits his observations and conclusions “[are only valid for the Antilles – at least as far as the Black person at home is concerned]”  (Fannon, 1952). In these often cited authors, we find a recognition of the rich, multi-layered and diverse experiences found in the Black community, highlighting the complexities behind negritude and the affirmation of Black peoples.

This underlines why we need to recognize the role that privilege and power plays in the marginalization of Black voices. There is no erasure. Our history will not be forgotten, we will make sure of that.  We will remember our pain and the pain we still live through. 

The failure to recognize this speaks to the lack of diversity in our classrooms, and points to the systemic issues that have fostered an unwelcome climate for Black people in academia. It is an affront to exactly what Césaire wanted to convey.

Academic freedom is not a license for marginalization, nor a right to ignorance—it comes with a responsibility and professors must acknowledge this. You can want to help, but you might also harm at the same time. To help, you must be sensitive. You cannot be an ‘ally,’ anti-racist, by deciding what racism is and how it manifests itself. This should have been made clear from the beginning. To allow this issue to evolve into a debate on academic freedom, or anglophone vs francophone, is unfair to the students and their experiences. 

This reinforces misconceptions that students and faculty, many racialized, and with diverse views, are irrational, ignorant ‘radical militants’ as I so often have been called in the past week. Members of the Black community are asking not to relive the active pain that the word creates in the mouths of people whose intentions are unknown, who do not contribute to the affirmation of Black peoples—despite their best intentions—as they do not know how to.

Where can we go from here?

Third, I can assure you that students are too tired to be ‘radicals’ and have spent a lot of time reflecting. Academic freedom is not at risk here. Freedom of speech is not at risk here. Neither is “la Francophonie”. What is at risk here is the integrity of this institution, and the wellbeing and safety of Black students and faculty at the University of Ottawa. It is not an extreme position for students to call for dignity, to be heard and for action to be taken. 

A lot has been said of the 34 professors who had written the letter that had ignited the media firestorm, and the seemingly overwhelming support they have received. Consider the lack of diversity in the list of nearly 600 teachers and professors who had written a petition of support to the ‘Libertés surveillées’ letter, only 0.5 per cent of signees were Black (Prosper, 2020).

Remember that the ‘N-word’ had been uttered in a zoom breakout room a few weeks before. In the last week, the ‘N-word’ has been uttered repeatedly in classrooms, not only at our university, but across the country; as this pain was actively inflicted upon us to make a ‘point’, to teach us a lesson we did not understand. The last week has seen concerning developments on and around campus of racially charged acts. Hateful acts of vandalism have stained the university community, and racially inappropriate messages had been printed in lab printers throughout Roger Guindon Hall until they were physically unplugged, these are the instances we know of. 

This is without highlighting that it had taken seven months for the President’s Advisory Committee for a Racism-Free Campus (PACRFC) to be convened. This committee predominantly made up of students of colour, has been limited in its capacity to address the root issues of anti-Black racism on campus, given their limited mandate and the administration’s perceived ignorance to their demands. Unfortunately, the last few weeks, the ‘N-word’ being weaponized aside, have been but a glimpse into the anti-Black racism that is regularly experienced on campus. 

This is just the latest event in the latest cycle.

Following the racially motivated and unfair detention of Jamal Boyce by Protection Services officers while skateboarding on campus, on June.11, 2019, the University had released a ‘framework’ to address racism and discrimination on campus. This included an independent investigation, which had recognized racial discrimination had occurred, and recommended the university take a wider approach on racial discrimination in protection services. The investigation also suggested changes to policies on carding, a complaints mechanism for Protection Services, as well as the creation of the PACRFC to tackle discrimination and racism on a wider level.

While the advisory format had limited the Committee’s capacity to effect change, the many calls to action that have pushed for this change have never been fully addressed. The Committee’s formation has so far failed to give BIPOC students an effective voice in the decision making process and setting the agenda on the fight against racism on our campus. 

It is important to note that the June incident was one of multiple carding incidents, microaggressions and events marginalizing Black students and faculty in the last year or so. In April of 2019, a student and their friend were carded at the university, parked inside of their car. In September 2019, another student was carded in his own residence building, in which he worked

In multiple Town Halls, Black members of the U of O Community were made to repeatedly communicate their experiences and explain their frustrations towards a lack of institutional support. In each of these steps, there has been a consistent lack of action and meaningful support towards Black students. 

The latest incidents, and the entire media unfolding is another example of this. Though unintended, the University’s inability to lead and ensure the safety of their Black students from the outset, has had a negative impact on many, almost giving a license for others to weaponize this defence of academic freedom in their classrooms. Students felt unheard and ignored.  If the past weeks have highlighted anything, it is the dire need for an institutional change to how the University of Ottawa addresses race, equity and racialization, and for key decisions to be made with BIPOC and student voices at the table. 

To conduct meaningful change to create a more inclusive community, we need to see a clear commitment to this in all of its dimensions from our university. We often say, “the time for action is now,” yet we also say this every time we find ourselves in situations like these. Though the incident surrounding the ‘N-word’ has been a lesson for the professors involved, it has been limited in meaningful and immediate action to prevent this from reoccurring. Though students’ welcome words of acknowledgment and a strong condemnation of racial discrimination, this comes short compared to the capacity for action. 

In the Equity Myth: Racialization and Indigeneity at Canadian Universities, a study on racism in Canadian universities, Frances Henry and Audrey Kobayashi state policies dealing “with access, inclusiveness and equity cannot become practice without a fundamental change in the culture of the system, meaning a significant shift in values and norms that operate almost invisible but leave their deep imprint” (2017, p. 224). Though some of our policies still may need updating, we also have to look towards larger change. 

Institutions play an integral role in implementing growth and socializing individuals, as they reflect society, they must also lead when adapting to its changes. Lately, we’ve seen the university develop a reputation of being ‘quick to denounce and slow to take action’ in the eyes of many.

In June 2018, the University of Ottawa’s ad hoc committee on diversity and inclusion released a report identifying the actions required by the University (2018) to eliminate barriers to real inclusion and to make diversity an integral aspect of its operations. To the committee, it became apparent that their goals would “require the commitment and action of the president and the administration committee and continuing dialogue” with all members of the community (p. 2). 

They brought forward several recommendations, including diversity being the centerpiece of the Transformation 2030 strategic plan through the appointment of a “vice-president, inclusion and community engagement.” Diversity and inclusion was identified as key to the success and growth of the University, yet many of these recommendations have yet to be addressed or acted upon. Most importantly, the report highlights “Universities need their communities and community organizations to work with them” (p.16).

This means going beyond the administration, the Board of Governors, in working for change at the university by working with anti-racist organizations in the community, and holding the University accountable to its societal role and values in preparing a segment of the population for their futures.

If the reports of the ad hoc committee on diversity and inclusion indicate anything, as they were the only ones from the administration publicly available, the University had been aware of its need to act before the latest cycle of events. This goes without ignoring the calls to action and letters many students have written over the years. The lack of action combined with the lack of transparency gives the impression that the university is sitting on these recommendations. Many universities have recently taken strides to bring about important change to how they integrate race and create more inclusive spaces for racialized members of their communities. 

In 2019, the University of Ottawa had endorsed the Dimension Charter and enrolled in its pilot program, engaging and committing to increasing equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the research ecosystem. Can we speak to the progress made by the University in integrating principles of EDI into its core operating values? What commitments has the University made to implement EDI on an institution-wide level, and what progress has been made on these commitments? We need to know where our university stands on this.

How is the University being held accountable, and is this effective? How do we prevent a situation like this from recurring? Though action may not be immediate, and things may need to take time, they cannot begin without commitment.

The first thing would be to stand unequivocally behind those demanding equal treatment. Proactive measures are needed to ensure sensitive topics are carefully discussed by professors, and students can hold them accountable. Accountability is needed at all levels from the Office of the President, to the Human Rights Office, passing by faculty and students.  Making the proper investments is key and a carefully crafted, consulted strategy on EDI would be fundamental to this. 

In response to an open letter calling for an expansion of EDI, among others, to tackle systemic racism, the University of Calgary affirms “ it is no longer adequate to simply not be racist, it is time to be anti-racist” (McCauley, 2020). 

We need to know our university is anti-racist.

Break the mold. Defy the conventional. Though we welcome the University denouncing racism on campus, we want to see the university provide the tools to help keep each other safe, and make the environment more inclusive for racialized students and faculty, which has always been at the core of demands.

In saying ‘we,’ I express the frustrations of many, though I do not claim to speak for, nor hold the unique voice of Black students at the University of Ottawa. The Black community is diverse and represents a multitude of views and I simply echo their voices and stand in solidarity with all of my peers in a fundamental call for action. I also stand in solidarity with BIPOC faculty and administrators of the University of Ottawa, who find themselves in a difficult situation among their peers. Many Black student leaders and faculty have tirelessly worked previously for their voices to be heard, past members of the PACRFC especially, and they deserve to be listened to. 

This does not discount the important work that needs to be done by all parties at the University of Ottawa to fight racism, including the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU). Though the UOSU is a new organization, it has some imperfections and needs to reflect their external work for equity with their internal operations. Though it plays an important role in holding the University accountable, it must hold itself accountable as well, practice self-learning and look introspectively on how they can take a role of leadership in the fight against racism on our campus. To my peers, we are here for you and we are here to elevate you. 

Students want to believe in their administration, and this is why we keep appealing for action. This does not erase the work done. For many racialized students, the past few weeks have been incredibly difficult. From conversations on race, to linguistic nuances, the fear of academic reprisal for expressing a critical viewpoint, to real incidents of vandalism, Black students and faculty have been thrown and dragged through a debate where once again their pain and trauma is dissected with a disturbing disregard for their wellbeing. Set the tone. Surprise us. Together, we can step out of our comfort zones, demonstrate leadership. 

The University of Ottawa has the capacity to foster the conditions to eliminate racism on campus and dismantle the structural factors allowing it to persist. Though things seem tough right now, we share a common goal of fostering a safe and comfortable learning and working environment for Black students and faculty. In addition to just preventing a situation like this from reoccurring, we need to look at a process of fundamental change. These are calls to action based on previous calls and the current climate on campus: 

  • We welcome the University’s commitment to transforming the PACRFC into an action committee, and we look forward to holding the University accountable for this. We hope that the University will continue this line by increasing transparency and communication on the consequences of racist and discriminatory incidents and effectively communicating the next steps in resolving incidents like these.
  • Mandatory anti-oppression, unlearning biases, microaggression training for all staff and faculty members, to be renewed every term. This cannot just be a box to tick. These trainings are known to focus on the individuals and are effective at creating an understanding of factors disadvantaging racial minorities, yet often fail to address the structural factors facilitating them. 
  • We need to reinforce the University’s accountability mechanisms to address racism and discrimination on campus by investing in them while establishing new ones. If this situation has demonstrated anything, it is that many professors still have a long way to go in terms of adapting to the racial diversity of their classrooms, however, training is no substitute for accountability. Key to accountability is the inclusion of members of the affected communities in decision-making instances.
  • There is a need for a process with a clear step-wise ladder of consequences depending on the severity of the discriminatory action and if it’s a repeat offense, among other policy changes. According to the University’s Policy 67A, “the University is committed to maintaining a learning and work environment that promotes the understanding and respect for dignity of the person as part of the University community and one that is free from harassment and discrimination”(University of Ottawa, 2012). Though policy 67A attempts to address inequities, it is unclear how effective they are, and if they truly prioritize the safety of those affected. This is also considering that there are no simple effective mechanisms to hold parties accountable and the limited capacity the policy allows.  Policy 67A, nor procedure 36-1 ensure that clear consequences are in place for any member of staff or faculty member who is found guilty of discrimination:
  • Anti-discrimination and harassment policies should be reviewed by BIPOC members of the U of O community, with a lived experience, those mostly affected and likely to experience discrimination/racism. This needs to be reflected in all of the university’s operations so as to adopt a survivor-centered approach to discrimination.
  • Moving away from a carceral system of community safety, while fostering a caring system, focused on community building. 
  • Updating existing university human rights policies as well as Procedure 36-1 (Complaints of Harassment/Discrimination Initiated by Students).
  • Increasing the HRO budget, ideally by looking into the budget originally allocated to Protection Services (the same services that lead to the carding and handcuffing incidents). The HRO budget should reflect the University’s commitment to eliminating inequities on campus. 
  • Ensure the HRO is led by an individual chosen by a selection committee with significant BIPOC representation.
  • Measures going up to, but not limited to 
    • Public Condemnation
    • Additional anti-discriminatory training
    • Revocation of tenure status
    • Expulsion
  •  We need to recognize the role played by white dominated circles, whiteness and white fragility in our institutions. White fragility describes “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation” (DiAngelo, 2011). It is also important to understand that white supremacy is deeply rooted within all of our institutions, from education to healthcare and beyond, and what we are witnessing is the result of the ideology being left unchecked for far too long. 
  • “The Oblates of Mary Immaculate founded the university in 1848 as a Catholic institution promoting bilingualism. The Oblates were a missionary order well represented within the history of missionization in Indigenous communities and, more specifically, within the history of residential schools, as it took charge of the largest number of residential schools in Canada.[3] So while a secular institution today, the U of O has an undeniable relationship to the history of residential schools and Indigenous education” (Macdougall, 2018). The first residence of the professors of the university was the “centre and headquarters of the Oblate missionaries working in the lumber camps and the Indian settlements along the vast stretches of the Ottawa and the Gatineau Rivers”(O’Reilly 1947-1948, 68-69).
  • BIPOC members need to have a seat at the decision making tables that directly impact them, as well as all other levels of the university – members of the BIPOC community are more valuable than to be tokenized into EDI roles. Lived experience brings an important perspective to actually understanding and tackling the complex nuances in decolonizing spaces. However, increasing BIPOC representation in teaching as well as support roles is integral in actively preventing instances of discrimination from occurring in the first place. This includes diversifying equity-oriented committees and instances of the university.
  •  Encouraging and facilitating the creation of Black spaces within the University community. This includes the development of an anti-racism component to every undergraduate program, as well as the creation of a Black Studies Program.
  • For example, Carleton University is working on an online module that “will take an intersectional approach to concerns of oppression and marginalization as it relates to gender identity and expression, Racialization including Anti-Black racism, religious belief, ability, sexual orientation and Indigeneity” (Carleton University, 2020, p.20). The University of Ottawa can surpass this by embedding anti-racism and EDI principles into existing courses and creating a mandatory anti-racism/EDI course for all students, as well as encouraging the development of Open Educational Resources in anti-oppression.
  • Black Studies differ from African Studies in encompassing the experience of the Black diaspora and aims to create open black spaces as universities are dominated by Eurocentric studies. 
  • We need anonymously collected data on demographics of the university, students and faculty to get a better understanding of the state of diversity at the University. This would also allow the development of specific actions catered to our campus and aiming to reduce inequities. This should be done in a secure fashion, and the initiative should be led by someone from the affected groups.
  • Including a statement on racism and discrimination in the classroom in the syllabus for professors which must be included for all courses. This would include anti-oppressive educational material and resources for BIPOC students (this should not be a substitute for more education). As mentioned above, many professors are currently busy accusing students of being racist, unfair or discriminatory, while trying to justify the use of the ‘N-word.’
  • Encouraging and facilitating EDI everywhere, and encouraging faculties to create their own initiatives. There are already examples of this at the University:
    • The sociology/anthropology department has recently announced a project exploring the indigenization of curricula. This is a project out of the school’s indigenization and decolonization committee.
    • Students and members of the faculty of science have been working to enhance EDI within their classrooms and programs. A few EDI initiatives have been incorporated to Alison Flynn’s CHM 2120A course. 
  • Academic freedom does not extend to hate speech, and it must be acknowledged that using racial slurs, regardless of the context, is a form of hate speech. There has been no compelling argument or evidence that outright saying a racial slur adds any benefit to the academic conversation or outcome thereof. Indeed, as the past few weeks have shown us, it has only bred more pain for the Black community and more divisiveness. 
  • Looking towards a zero tolerance policy for the usage of racial and offensive slurs, including (but not limited to) the ‘N-word’—regardless of context—on our campus. This should be sensitive to Black faculty and their instrumentalization of the word in their research and the ongoing discourse on reappropriation within the Black community. 
  • There must be clear consequences for incidents of racial slur usage by professors and other university staff, and as such, procedure 36-1 must be updated to reflect this; and reflect that tenured professors must still be held accountable. Lastly, the committee responsible for evaluating instances of alleged discrimination MUST be partially or completely composed of BIPOC members
    • Increasing funding for the Human Rights Office to ensure that they can carry out said tasks of investigating instances of discrimination and to ensure that they have the financial capability to implement said changes. We believe that the best and most effective way to achieve this is by re-allocating some of the funds meant for protection services to the HRO.

Just don’t say it. 

Babacar Faye
Photo: Babacar Faye/Provided

Babacar Faye, is the president of the University of Ottawa Students’ Union, is currently completing a JD-BSocSc (Specialization in Political Science) and expected to graduate in 2023.