First MacEwan anti-Black racism gathering sparks conversation that must continue

September 29, 2020 | Society
After sharing a sociological perspective on racism, the many forms it can take and insight into racism in a Canadian context, Dr. Wanda Costen wrapped up her introduction to MacEwan University’s first virtual community gathering to confront anti-Black racism with a strong statement.

“As leaders in our organization, we must push and challenge our policies and practices. We must say something when what we see isn’t right. We must ask different questions,” said the dean of the School of Business. “Our responsibility is to be open – to create a space where people can voice concerns and issues. I can say that we have senior leaders at MacEwan who are committed to this.”

More than 130 faculty members, senior administrators and community members registered to attend the event on September 15, the first hosted by the university’s Anti-Black Racism Advocacy Group. Established in June, the group’s focus is on coordinating anti-Black racism awareness initiatives, creating a centralized set of resources and providing recommendations to develop a sustainable, university-wide anti-racism advisory committee.

Dr. Annette Trimbee, president and vice-chancellor, reinforced Costen’s message about the importance of leadership on this issue, and added that the change she seeks must be real – not symbolic or superficial.

“I know that presidents set the tone from the top,” she said. “I also know that I want to be careful about jumping in too quickly and being righteous about who we are and what we stand for. I’m unwilling to promise the moon unless there is a plan to go with it. We need to acknowledge the truth of our situation.”

The discussion that followed included some difficult questions about that truth – at MacEwan and beyond. Several students, faculty and community members asked how best to address microaggressions, how to confront colleagues who deny racism, and what anti-Black racism looks like in a Canadian context.

During that part of the conversation, Dr. Sara Grewal, an assistant professor in English and member of the advocacy group, shared a quote from American human rights activist Malcolm X, which she said reminded her of the difference between Canadian racism and American racism.

"The white conservatives aren't friends of the Negro, but they at least don't try to hide it. They are like wolves; they show their teeth in a snarl that keeps the Negro always aware of where he stands with them. But the white liberals are foxes, who also show their teeth to the Negro but pretend that they are smiling. The white liberals are more dangerous than the conservatives; they lure the Negro, and as the Negro runs from the growling wolf, he flees into the open jaws of the "smiling" fox. One is the wolf, the other is a fox. No matter what, they’ll both eat you.”

That prompted further conversation about what racism looks like, and led to some hard-hitting questions and discussion about anti-Black racism at MacEwan – how to respond when members of the university community display racial aggressions, how the university will create safe spaces for Black students to communicate their concerns, and how the diversity of the student population should be reflected in staff and faculty.

The conversations these questions sparked must continue, said Dr. Valerie Ouedraogo, assistant professor of social work.

“That is the reason we are here. From my position as a Black person and a member of this advocacy group, this is how we use our voices to let our institution know what is happening and to create spaces to move forward respectfully.”

The institution will be listening, commits Trimbee.

Conversations that began at MacEWan on September 15 will continue throughout the academic year, with initiatives connected to the university’s Office of Human Rights, Diversity and Equity (OHRDE), including its ongoing Understanding Hate speaker series, Black History Month in February and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in March.

Efforts to address anti-Black racism and Black inclusion will also extend beyond MacEwan’s campus, says Trimbee, who is a member of a Canada-wide advisory committee for an event that is set to bring together students, faculty and staff from close to 50 post-secondary institutions across the country to create meaningful, enduring Black inclusion in higher education.

On October 1 and 2, the National Dialogues and Action for Inclusive Higher Education and Communities will include nine separate sessions addressing a range of issues.  


Follow the national dialogues on Oct. 1 and 2

Summaries of the National Dialogues and Action for Inclusive Higher Education and Communities will be posted publicly after each day, and full recordings will be available after the event.

Irfan Chaudhry, director of the OHRDE and member of the Anti-Black Racism Advocacy Group, will help launch a discussion about the responsibilities and obligations of non-Black peers and supervisors in one of the sessions. Costen will lead a conversation about inclusive decision-making structures.

Additional sessions will address barriers students, faculty and staff face when it comes to accessing and being successful within post-secondary institutions; deficits of Black voices in leadership and governance; gaps in Black perspectives, experiences and ways of knowing and learning within curricula; support systems for Black students, faculty and staff; race-based data collection and use; and how to strengthen relationships with Black community partners.

While these sessions are about dialogue, the ultimate goal is action.

“We at MacEwan, along with our partnering institutions across the country, will develop a set of actions and principles,” says Trimbee. “We are committed to using the outcomes of these dialogues to shape a MacEwan-focused response to anti-Black racism on our campus.” 


Where to learn more and how to report discrimination

Office of Human Rights, Diversity and Equity (OHRDE) – Can answer your questions about human rights policies and support ideas for initiatives that promote diversity. If you have experienced discrimination on campus, OHRDE can guide and support you.

Anti-discrimination Response Training – Online workshops that include mini-lectures, experiential learning activities, video presentations, group discussions, future-planning and feedback sessions to build participants' confidence as active witnesses and program facilitators.

Champions of Diversity and Equity – A training initiative for MacEwan students focused on creating a space and culture for dialogue, learning, reflection and action on human rights.

Confidence Line – A confidential way to report unwanted, uncomfortable or unethical behaviour you have experienced or witnessed, either as an employee or as a student. Confidence Line service providers will listen to you, protect your anonymity and direct you to the MacEwan service that can help you best.



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