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HEC Montreal Froshies wear blackface

McGill law student witnesses and records incident

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Correction appended – Thursday, Sep 22

A McGill law student intends to file a complaint with the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (CDPDJ), the Quebec commission on human rights and youth rights, after witnessing students of the École des Hautes Études commerciales de Montréal (HEC Montreal) wearing blackface on September 14, 2011 during their Frosh activities.

At the start of each fall semester, HEC Montreal, an independent business school affiliated with the Université de Montréal  (UdeM), organizes Frosh events for incoming students as a way of facilitating their integration into the student community.

After students were divided into several groups, each group was given a sporting event to represent. Group A01 was assigned Track and Field, and drew inspiration from Jamaican Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt.

Jacques Nantel, general secretary of HEC Montreal and a marketing professor, discussed the incident with The Daily.

“The group [inspired by Bolt] decided to represent Jamaica, which up to that point was not a bad idea,” he said.

But, Nantel explained, when the students showed up at the day’s activities with faces painted black and chanting defamatory songs, the situation became “unacceptable.”

Anthony Morgan, an undergraduate law student from McGill, was passing by the UdeM campus when he heard the HEC Frosh participants. He heard one of the groups shouting, “Yeah man, yeah man,” and went to take a closer look. He told The Daily that he “was absolutely shocked and horrified to see that this group was painted, face, neck, arms and legs in blackface.”

According to Morgan, students where chanting “smoke more weed” and one student was carrying a stuffed monkey and wearing a monkey hat.

Morgan described feeling unsure of what to do, but concluded that he needed to take some kind of action. He noted other black students around him that looked uncomfortable, and who, to him, shared “a sense of humiliation that this was taking place as a representation of black people.”

After recording the incident on his phone, Morgan posted the videos on YouTube. When asked why he decided to make the videos public, Morgan explained that he wanted to create a public discussion around the event.

“This is a problem at Canadian universities at large when it comes to representation, access to information and just free and fair discussion about the contribution of people of African descent,” he said.

Morgan added that he was not trying to point fingers at the students involved, but rather at the lack of institutional framework that should prevent such scenes from happening.

Nantel said that “if there is even one person being offended by this matter, that is too much for us.” The HEC administration has admitted that the actions were racist and unacceptable.

Morgan stated that he was pleased with HEC’s response so far.

“I think that this is a very commendable step as an institution, other Canadian universities have experienced blackface on campus and haven’t responded as effectively and as quickly, so I laud them for that,” he said.

Morgan is planning on filing a complaint with the CDPDJ because he believes the commission has the expertise and resources necessary to deal with the incident. He explained that he is not looking for financial compensation, but rather wants to open discussion about similar incidents.

Morgan said he is looking to the CDPDJ to set up an independent investigation on what happened at HEC’s Frosh and how the situation got out of hand. He spoke about his hope that HEC and other universities will partner with organizations like the CDPDJ to create a safe space where students can discuss and be made aware of the representations of different people in society.

Nantel stated that measures would be put in place to prevent such incidents from reoccurring.

Due to an editorial error, in the printed version of this article (News, Sep 22, pg. 4) it is stated that some of the HEC students were wearing monkey masks; in fact, one student was carrying a stuffed monkey and wearing a monkey hat. The Daily regrets the errors.