Protesters call for mandatory anti-racism course at Mount Royal University

More than 100 protesters met at Mount Royal University on Saturday to call for action against racism on campus.

MRU has put out statements condemning racism, but students and alumni say more action needed

Protesters at Mount Royal University are calling for mandatory anti-racism courses for staff and students. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

More than 100 protesters met at Mount Royal University on Saturday to call for action against racism on campus.

"We are protesting for mandatory anti-racism training for all students, staff, faculty members … we don't think it's fair that Black students or faculty of colour should have to educate on these matters," said one student.

CBC News has agreed not to identify three students at the protest, as organizers say they have received threats on Facebook from several hate groups.

Multiple students said they were afraid to reveal their identity to the media, given violent counter protesters at other recent Alberta protests against racism. A handful of counter protesters did show up at Saturday's event but they kept their distance from demonstrators. 

"As a woman of colour I don't want to reveal my identity as I don't want to put myself in harm's way," another student said.

"It's scary because you start thinking, oh my gosh, what if I lose opportunities because of this. It shouldn't be like that, I should be able to freely think about these things," a third student said.

Adam Massiah, with United Black People's Allyship, said many students are also concerned about pushback from university staff. 

"I think they're fearing pushback from establishment themselves … even though they're speaking about an important issue," he said.

Mount Royal University put out statements over the summer condemning racism and promising a presidential advisory committee that will include those who have experienced racism from staff, student and alumni perspectives.

MRU President Tim Rahilly has also said the university is reviewing concerns, in light of a petition calling for professor Frances Widdowson to be fired for her comments saying the Black Lives Matter movement has destroyed the university and that there is an educational benefit to residential schools. 

"When views are expressed by a member of the MRU community, it does not mean the institution shares these views. Within the bounds of Canadian law, people have the basic right to freely express their ideas," Rahilly said. "Equally valid are obligations that all employees have to cultivate an equitable, diverse and inclusive environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence."

Massiah said more action is needed.

"I think they should look back at the policy that once somebody has tenure, they can do and say whatever they want," Massiah said. 

Massiah, a recent MRU graduate who is Black, said once as a student he was accused of trespassing by a campus security guard, and was forced to miss a semester of classes while the investigation was underway.

One of the students said anti-racism training would help ensure that the burden of unpacking racist ideologies does not rest solely on the shoulder of Black, Indigenous and people of colour alone. 

With files from Terri Trembath