MacEwan University students accuse administrators of failing to take action on racism

Some MacEwan University students say the school is not addressing racism within the department of music.

'We shouldn’t have to go through that at school’

MacEwan University music student Paxsi Mamar Lariri says the school has ignored requests to deal with allegations of racism in the department of music. (Paxsi Mamar Lariri)

Some MacEwan University students say the school has failed to take action on racism within the department of music.

"You have to make these choices when you experience racism of whether you're going to let it go and whether or not it's worth the fight," student Paxsi Mamar Lariri says. "It weighs down after time and I've really just had enough." 

In a news release issued Thursday, Lariri outlines requests made to administrators to address the issues which they believe have been ignored.

The release refers to a document sent to MacEwan administration on Nov. 30, which included more than fifty letters of support and complaints of racism at the university, alongside a list of recommendations to be met by Dec. 14. 

The recommendations include:

  • Curriculum that reflects the full extent of how Black, Indigenous, and people of colour founded what constitutes jazz, contemporary popular music, and all styles taught at MacEwan.
  • The implementation of trigger warnings on content involving missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people; residential schools; the Holocaust; prison violence; torture; and genocide.
  • Alternate assignments provided for self-identifying BIPOC students upon request in cases where the original assignment involves topics that would force students to relive trauma. 
  • The creation of a music history course, and for Black and Indigenous music history be more heavily integrated into all music courses.

'It's very overwhelming'

In an interview with CBC News on Friday, Lariri said the decision to speak out was sparked by their own personal experiences at the post-secondary institution.

The 25-year-old, whose father is an indigenous man from Bolivia, said it's been an ongoing problem for years.

"I've been going to MacEwan for eight years now, and it's just hard to contain all of the experiences into one good statement or succinctly," Lariri said.

"It's very overwhelming," Lariri said. "People of colour, Black and Indigenous people already carry enough trauma.

"We shouldn't have to go through that at school."

Student Katrina Ying says she also raised racism issues at the university before she knew about Lariri's campaign.

"I was getting tired of experiencing these micro-aggressions and being in a space where nobody took it seriously," she said. "It was slowly, slowly wearing me down to the point where I wanted to drop out."

'Brick wall of non-accountability'

Ying, who is Chinese, said in one instance a professor commented on her eyes while providing feedback in front of a group of students.

"He said, 'I think it would be better if you conducted with your eyes open'", she said. "My eyes were open, it was a very awkward confrontation."

Ying said she raised some of her concerns with faculty but the response was disappointing.

"Just met with a brick wall of non-accountability," she said.

Ying has joined Lariri and other students in asking university administration to take action now.

"I think my more reasonable want would be for them to get diversity training, and get a lot of it," she said. "The more radical response I would have liked is to actually replace the faculty with people who are more diverse."

Lariri wants MacEwan administrators to take their concerns more seriously.

"What I would not like to see, is a week from now, a very sloppily-worded half apology from the president in my email inbox. If I see that, I'm going to flip my lid."

University embraces diversity, VP says

In a written statement to CBC News, MacEwan University provost and vice president Craig Monk said the university is committed to a safe and welcoming learning environment that embraces diversity.

"This includes listening and learning from student concerns about what we teach and how we teach," Monk said. "We welcome this discourse."

He said the university "has engaged with the student raising these concerns, and both the dean and associate dean are working to address them," and is aware of "the issues raised by other students and alumni."

The faculty of fine arts and communication has formed a committee in the past year tasked with looking at issues regarding equality, diversity and inclusion in curriculum and teaching, he said.