The news of institutional racism at McGill’s School of Social Work speaks to a wider culture of racism at McGill that is no ‘news.’ If you consider the demography of almost all the other departments in the Faculty of Arts, the inequitable representation of folks of colour is patent. These inequities seep down into day-to-day overt acts of racism and micro-aggressions that occur all the time.
The day after the Human Rights complaint was starting to make its waves, I witnessed racial profiling in the SSMU lounge. “This is discrimination. I’m a black guy. I go through this every day of my life,” said this student, before he was forced to respond to the security officer’s request for his student ID to verify that he was a student who could use the space.
The SSMU couches have been my second home for my four years at McGill, and I have never seen anyone carded. The guard’s rationale was that it is his duty to card people he hasn’t seen in the lounge before. The many white students who I’ve never seen before, who haphazardly use the space, will never be carded, because they fit the prototypical image of McGill student – a prototype that is a function of McGill’s deeply-rooted racist history. In that interrogatory moment, that guard crystallized that SSMU and campus at large are not “safe(r) spaces.” The over-visibility of blackness in that space was further re-inscribed and will likely continue as black students are profiled across campus.
In these situations, we have a duty to intervene. We cannot control the fact that discrimination happens, but we can control how we respond to it. There will always be limitations in our interventions, but nonetheless, we must hold ourselves and one another accountable to responding when these incidents occur. I encourage us to spread the news of the School of Social Work around, to talk to our peers about it, and to critically discuss it together while asking ourselves how we can be lighter placeholders in systemic racism.
SSMU Equity Commissioner 2012-2013