Decorations at a recent party in Harper Hall drew attention to racism on campus after a student notified the administration. The decorations consisted of photos of famous black rap artists – Kanye West, Rick Ross, and the Notorious B.I.G. – attached to black paper silhouettes of bodies.
“We just went with popular faces that people would hopefully recognize,” said one of the five students who made the decorations. “We apologize if anyone was offended by any of our decorations.”
The CBC covered the incident which drew attention to racism at Mount Allison, and interviewed members of the Black Students for Advocacy, Awareness and Togetherness (BSAAT). Dia Minors, the president of BSAAT, said she thought the decorations were not meant to be malicious, but they were harmful.
“Racism has shifted. When people think of racism, they think of what was blatantly racist in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Racism is not necessarily coming from a place of hate; more often it is coming from a place of not knowing,” Minors said. “But sometimes that ignorance is a wilful ignorance.”
Fellow members of BSAAT echoed Minors, and said the administration can do more to address this racism.
Maureen Adegbidi, a second-year international relations student, says this incident points to a larger issue of racism and ignorance on campus.
“The incident isn’t what is necessarily important,” said Adegbidi, who is the president of Windsor Hall. “There have been so many different things on a regular basis that we deal with, and the incident is just a representation of that.”
In response to the student’s concerns, Gayle Churchill, director of student life at Mt. A, held a meeting with the executive members of Harper Hall and expressed intent to implement sensitivity training for residence assistance and executives.
Despite the stated intentions of the administration, members of BSAAT said the administration has been difficult to work with, and that it is not held accountable. Mt. A’s racism policy, which was enacted on Dec. 1, 1999, provides a definition of racism and examples of what can be considered racism on campus.
Rénelle John, a third-year modern languages and literatures student, called Mt. A’s definition of racism “a bit nebulous.”
The policy considers racism “a civil wrong” and a form of “discrimination” and “harrassment.”
Minors agreed that both the definition and treatment of racism lack specificity.
“I think we need to properly define [racism] in a 21st-century context,” Minors said. “You can do something that is racially insensitive and that upholds a system of racism without personally meaning to be racist. I think that’s important to separate.”
Ron Byrne, the vice-president of student affairs at Mt. A, said the policy provides a clear way of dealing with issues regarding race.
“Anything that challenges people’s sense of inclusion and safety is something that we can’t tolerate, and we won’t tolerate,” Byrne said. “Surely as an institution our mission is to effect cultural change of this type through education and by providing support.”
With a disconnect between BSAAT and the administration, the direction and momentum of policies and practices remains unclear. More apparent is the opportunity for change at Mt. A.
Adegbidi said this incident could serve as a chance to start a discussion about racism on campus.
“As students, we do a lot, and I don’t expect the administration to change everything,” Adegbidi said. “I expect the administration to try to help us change things; I expect us to give a helping hand, and I feel like that is the very least that they can do.”