Four Caribbean students at Sir George Williams University (SGWU), now a part of Concordia, filed a complaint with the administration that their professor Perry Anderson was a racist, and that their grades suffered as a result. The student reaction to these allegations would prove to be intense and far-reaching, involving students from multiple universities, including McGill.
Anderson's racist grading policy led hundreds of students to occupy the Henry F. Hall building at the SGWU campus. By the end of the sit-ins, activities in the occupied building and other riots had caused over $2 million in damages. Dubbed "the Anderson Affair," this series of events is considered the largest student riot in Canadian history. Anderson was suspended during the events, but reinstated on February 12, 1969.
Roosevelt "Rosie" Douglas, a McGill student from Dominica, was one of the main leaders of the sit-in. After serving 18 months in prison for arson, Douglas was deported, and said that he would only return to Canada as the Prime Minister of his country. Douglas would go on to become the Prime Minister of Dominica in 2000, and returned to Concordia later that year. However, the University's administration refused to attend a dinner held in his honour.
The 1970s saw the development of many small but active anti-racist and race-based solidarity groups. While mainstream campus discourse at the time often shied away from race, save for distant analysis of foreign conflicts and struggles, these community groups met regularly and set the foundation for more large-scale movements in the future.
In addition to the BSA, a myriad of Black student groups formed throughout the 1970s, often hosting teach-ins and meeting to address ongoing global conflicts, including the intensifying struggles in South Africa and Rhodesia. While many of these groups were quite small, they met regularly and helped forward campus discussion about race and global conflict.
It was held at McGill on September 22, 1970. "We're being fucked around left, right, and centre at McGill," said chairperson Sally Cools [see photo above]. Attendees expressed a desire to move beyond just listening to speakers, and into concrete actions - some suggestions of which included increasing the enrolment of Black students at McGill, and getting Black students more involved with campus media. According to event coverage, only 15 Black students were enrolled at McGill during the 1969-70 academic year. The BSA became active in 1974, and the Black Students’ Network (BSN) - still active today - was not established until 1986.
Masai Hewitt spoke to roughly 400 McGill students in an address about the civil rights struggle. "Wherever there are poor and oppressed people, be they red, brown, yellow, black, or white, there will be Panthers."
A November 1970 teach-in, meant to establish concrete steps that McGill students could take to aid campus South African liberation groups, struggled to meet its goal. One group present, the "Maoist-oriented United Front," argued that imperialism should be fought locally, not internationally. Relations between the wide array of advocacy groups present at the event deteriorated, and no concrete suggestions came forth. Cohesive action against South African apartheid would crystallize in the mid-1980s, largely in the form of divestment campaigns.
The Black Students' Association (BSA) releases a statement in response to Engineering Undergraduate Society treasurer Roy Lochhead. The day prior, Lochhead printed an open letter to the BSA explaining why $500 in funding had been withheld from the BSA for the hosting of a Black Youth Conference. Lochhead argued that the conference was not relevant to engineers, while the BSA asserted that this assumption was rooted in racism.
The event was moved to McGill at the last minute as organizers did not want to hold it at the site of the 1969 Anderson Affair.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the South African apartheid regime was a salient topic at McGill and on other university campuses. However, in the 1980s, the focus on this topic intensified with the development and success of apartheid divestment movements. This movement, at least at McGill, was largely driven by the McGill South Africa Committee, which pushed for divestment through educational workshops, sit-ins, and protests. McGill officially divested in 1986, although the practical implementation of total divestment took a few years.
The divestment movement at McGill was not just symbolic - McGill had a significant number of holdings in companies "directly and indirectly linked to South Africa's apartheid regime."
The divestment movement was supported by many student groups on campus. In particular, the Black Students' Network (BSN) called for total divestment in this opinion piece from 1985. "As Blacks at McGill our responsibility is to make apparent our dissatisfaction with McGill's present position on the issue of divestment and furthermore to employ our resources to affect change."
On January 16, 1985, certain student associations, including the Medical Students' Society (MSS), the Anthropology Students' Association, the Squash Club, and the Royal Victoria College (RVC) residence, withdrew their money from banks with holdings in South Africa.
The McGill South Africa Committee hosted an anti-apartheid week. Unlike similar events held by the group in past years, the 1985 edition focused specifically on divestment.
A feature about the Chair of McGill's African Studies department, John Shingler, who was also heavily involved in advocating for investment in South Africa.
One of many student letters calling for McGill's divestment from South Africa.
An editorial calling for divestment from companies with holdings or involvements in South Africa - one of many published pieces decrying McGill's involvement with the Apartheid regime.
Divestment poster highlighted in a feature on South Africa divestment movements in the U.S. says "No to Racism and Apartheid."
Occupying administrative offices at McGill was not invented by #6party. On October 12, 1985, forty demonstrators staged an occupation in protest of South African apartheid, resulting in 23 arrests. On October 14, 35 students occupied the McGill Administration building to specifically protest McGill's investments in the regime.
About 35 McGill students occupied the McGill administration building in protest of McGill's financial investments in South Africa. The students began with a demonstration at Place Ville Marie that carried on to campus, and into the hub of the university.
Below is the coverage leading up to the Senate's vote on a motion in support of the Board of Governors (BoG) to divest from institutions and companies with holdings in South Africa. Senate eventually voted in favour of full divestment. Accompanied by a demonstration by the active McGill South Africa Committee, the BoG indeed voted to divest at its next meeting. The same day's paper highlighted protests at Concordia against the institution's $100 million in South Africa-related financial holdings.
Over 700 students protested at Concordia against the university's $100 million in holdings through the Bank of Montreal, which had a presence in South Africa. The demonstration was led by Black Power leader Kwame Touré (once known as Stokely Carmichael), and students marched as part of a 12-hour anti-apartheid marathon organized by the Concordia Students Against Apartheid.
Campus discourse in the 1990s focused on Indigenous affairs, particularly those pertaining to sovereignty. This conversation took an especially interesting turn leading up to Quebec's 1995 secession referendum: how would Indigenous sovereignty fit into a sovereign Quebec? Although much of the coverage at the time focused on Indigenous communities outside of McGill, the university is located in unceded Kanien'kehá:ka territory, and as such, Indigenous sovereignty is directly relevant to McGill. This increased awareness on campus of the issues facing nearby Indigenous communities helped the facilitation of an improved understanding of this important aspect of McGill's historical and current position.
Two years after the Oka crisis of 1990, during which police invaded the Mohawk community of Kanehsatake to enforce the town of Oka's ability to build a golf course on Kanehsatake land. Indigenous activists and Elders weighed in on the continued violence and harassment in the community, and expressed skepticism about the promise of nation-to-nation recognition in the Charlottetown Accord.
Beyond the context of McGill and Montreal, Indigenous students in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), of which SSMU was a member, threatened to leave the group unless better representation of Indigenous issues was made a priority.
Members of the Kahnawake Council of Elders spoke to The Daily about the precarious number of Mohawk speakers left in the community. Citing a study by the Assembly of First Nations, which problematized the government's lack of emphasis on preserving the Mohawk language (as opposed to French), the article notes, "It boils down to the fact that in the 1867 constitution there were only considered to be two founding nations, and First Nations people were expected to choose between these two."
This piece explored the vast array of racist sports team names in Canada and the U.S. based on derogatory or appropriative terms for Indigenous peoples. While the article pointed to the 'Atlanta Braves,' the 'Cleveland Indians', and the 'Washington Redskins,' it strangely made no reference to the name of McGill's male sports teams: the 'Redmen.' The Redmen name still stands today, although it has recently come under criticism with many students calling for it to be changed.
On August 1995, Federal Minister of Indian Affairs Ron Irwin announced a so-called "self-government policy." While, notably, the policy was the first document to work toward concrete implementation of the right to self-government, it was also criticized for poorly incorporating consultation with Indigenous communities and relying on a controversially narrow definition of self-government. Due to these reasons, the act came under fire by the Assembly of First Nations and the Chiefs of Ontario. Furthermore, the policy, while solidifying a definition of self-government, still rendered the concept of self-government subordinate to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The legislation was dubbed by some Indigenous leadership as "the white paper of 1995."
This cover story highlighted a march from the Mohawk Nation in Kahnawake in solidarity with the Indigenous peoples of Ipperwash, Ontario and Gustafsen Lake, British Columbia - both communities faced similar land defence challenges as the Kahnawake Mohawks did in 1990 with the Oka crisis.
University of Moncton law professor Jacques Pierre Vanderlinden spoke at McGill about legal pluralism and Indigenous sovereignty. Vanderlinden argued that Canada did not truly embody legal pluralism, as the different legal systems present in many Indigenous communities were subjugated, not parallel, with the system in the rest of Canada - the two systems and two societies must be on equal footing for pluralism to be possible.
This interview with Ghislain Picard, then vice-chief of the Assembly of First Nations, once again took the campus conversation out of the McGill bubble. However, the topic of the interview, "sovereignty after the referendum," touches what was arguably the defining question of Indigenous sovereignty movements in Quebec during this time period.
McGill finally opened an Indigenous Studies minor this past January in 2015. But it was 18 years earlier that students first called on McGill to implement an Aboriginal Studies program. "We have to recognize the fact that Aboriginal contributions are not talked about [in the university]," said Aboriginal Student Representative to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) Renee Shilling.
SSMU cut all funding for the Africana Studies Congress, a conference proposed by the Black Students' Network (BSN), saying that the conference "had no direct impact on the McGill community." Beyond the BSN's anger at having its conference dubbed irrelevant to the community, the incident also spoke to a lack of support for the African Studies program at McGill. In 1994, the administration attempted to downscale the program to a minor, which was met with strong opposition from the BSN.
In November 1999, the Programme for Canadian Ethnic Studies facilitated a discussion between racialized students groups and the administration about race at McGill. One student stated, "McGill is not recognizing that it does not represent the reality of the time. For most of us, McGill does not represent the community it serves."
At least in terms of media coverage, McGill's conversations about race took an introspective turn in the new millennium. A variety of incidents and initiatives during this times period helped establish McGill's ever-developing understanding of safe(r) space, and the different ways in which race and oppression intersect on campus. Continuing today, this framing brings to the forefront the need to explore and celebrate race in student spaces, in the classroom, and as a part of the broader Montreal community.
A cartoon published in the McGill Tribune sparked significant backlash. While the editors responsible for the content later said they missed the racist nature of the cartoon, and would not have published it otherwise, the incident opened up a dialogue between students about the significance and impact of racism, whether intentional or not.
The Africana 2000 conference highlighted the need for McGill to increase the resources allocated to its African Studies program. "We need to demystify the insulting degradations [about Africa] and realize the marvelous contributions that are too often ignored," said speaker Darryl Gray.
Dalhousie professor Esmerelda Thornhill spoke to a McGill audience about the important role of affirmative action at universities. Beyond policy, she also spoke about the way people discuss race on campus. "Very often, white people will cop out, by saying, 'Oh, I'm a white person, I can't talk about race.' I say oh, yes you can. But talk about it from your own location. Don't appropriate my trajectory, my experience, and try to talk with my voice."
The first annual Culture Shock event series, co-hosted by SSMU and QPIRG-McGill, took place in October 2007. The series is meant to "explore the myths surrounding immigrants, refugees, Indigenous people[s], and communities of colour," through speakers, workshops, and other educational events.