November 17, 2014

News | November 1, 2012
Blackface and other costumes stir controversy at 4Floors
SSMU issues apology for violation of safe space
Written by | Visual by Hera Chan | The McGill Daily

Photos of students wearing blackface at the Students’ Society of McGill’s (SSMU) 4Floors party last Thursday, published on the Bull & Bear’s Facebook page, sparked controversy on social media sites and prompted SSMU to issue an official apology for failing to establish “sufficient preventative, anti-oppressive measures.”

In the statement released yesterday SSMU said that the incident, along with other depictions of various racial groups, was an “act of microaggression that cannot be justified as creativity.”

“Dressing up as people of colour or indigenous persons perpetuates discrimination towards groups that are historically and culturally disadvantaged on the basis of their personal characteristics. […] It is disappointing to see that there are individuals who lack the necessary understanding or respect,” the statement read.

In an email to The Daily, Johann Annisette, the political coordinator for the Black Students’ Network (BSN), called the incident “completely inexcusable” and said that the BSN was “firm in their stance that the costume is insulting, both toward McGill and Montreal’s black community.”

“I do believe that it is SSMU’s number one responsibility to make sure that they provide a safe and comfortable environment for all. It was a huge oversight on their part to allow these students to enter,” he said.

Annisette called on SSMU to implement “more racially educational programs” and added that it was “unacceptable” for students to be “incapable of seeing the hugely offensive nature of this costume.”

According to former SSMU VP Clubs and Services Carol Fraser, last year’s executive took several steps to uphold the society’s Equity Policy during last year’s 4Floors event.

“We ended up putting posters around SSMU beforehand, and also on our listserv. And then the night [of 4Floors], I was monitoring the door and we were checking out people’s costumes,” she told The Daily.

“We talked about it before the event. We approached people, not to confront them, but to talk to them.”

SSMU VP University Affairs Haley Dinel told The Daily that this year there was “no substantive talk” on the issue, and that the current executive team felt “uncomfortable” monitoring the door.

Dinel added that specific complaints could be filed to the Equity Commissioners.

SSMU’s Equity Policy calls for the student society to create a “safe haven for all of our members,” and Section 6.4 labels “harassment or discrimination of disadvantaged groups ” as “serious offences.”

The policy applies to all staff and elected representatives, as well as “all activities and events hosted, funded, and promoted by the Society.”

The Bull & Bear has since removed the controversial blackface photos. In an email to The Daily and the McGill Tribune, its editorial board said that the image was removed so as to not “inadvertently perpetuate a potentially abusive representation of the Black community.”

Other controversial photos – including stereotypical depictions of indigenous and Mexican cultures – remain on the page.

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