Ontario campus racism addressed at Wilfrid Laurier summit

After hearing reports of racism and racist graffiti last November, Wilfrid Laurier University's diversity director Laura Mae Lindo decided to organize a summit to discuss the problem of racism at colleges and universities across the province.

Summit a response to reports of racism and racist graffiti on campuses across the province

In September 2015, posters like these that advertised a White Students Union popped up on several Ontario university campuses. The posters and Facebook pages with similar names were later deemed to be a hoax.

When Laura Mae Lindo heard reports of racist graffiti in two washrooms on the campus of Wilfrid Laurier University last November, she knew more needed to be done than scrubbing words off stall doors.

"I had to take a step back and figure out, well, what's going on within that climate that would make people think at this time, at this day and age, that it's okay to put that kind of hate on our walls," she said.

Black and indigenous students were also reporting incidents of racism, both at Laurier and at other universities and colleges in Ontario.

"We thought, what can we do?" Lindo said. "One of the big things we can do … is to bring people together from across the education sector so that we can start speaking about how to actually address racism systemically, as opposed to thinking of it just sort of it within our individual institutions."

Summit to start conversation

On Monday, the diversity and equity office at Wilfrid Laurier University will host the e(race)r summit at the Holiday Inn in Kitchener, which will focus on racism on university and college campuses.

Dr. Laura Mae Lindo of Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo has organized the e(race)r summit to discuss the problem of racism on university and college campuses. (Wilfrid Laurier Univeristy)

"The idea for the summit is to actually be action oriented," Lindo said. "It's not about presenters coming and sharing their expertise and walking away and the conversation is done. The idea is the summit is the start of a really important conversation that has to be ongoing and has to be sector-wide."

About 150 staff, faculty and administrators from 19 university and colleges will attend the free event. It will begin with a panel discussion, which will involve the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Renu Mandhane, as well as the first black speaker of the Ontario Legislature, Alvin Curling.

Student event

On Sunday night, students are being invited to a pre-summit event at the Holiday Inn in Kitchener. That event will recognize the students who have already drawn attention to racism on campus.

We would think this is something we're taking care of but clearly we're not.- Laura Mae Lindo, diversity director at Wilfrid Laurier University

"It's really important for us to recognize that the students have been doing this work for a long time and often time the response from the institution is to be upset that they've sort of put this information out into the public," Lindo said.

From 5:30 p.m. until 10:00 p.m., local musicians and artists will be on hand to talk about using music and art as a form of activism.

Time for action

"I remember my days as the only black woman sitting in a university classroom, and sometimes it's shocking when students from across Ontario are saying to me they're still experiencing that," Lindo said. "We would think this is something we're taking care of, but clearly we're not."

She said schools often talk about being more diverse, but don't follow through with positive actions.

"There's something about talking about race and racism that scares us," she said. "I might say it's about time that we're taking this topic seriously. It's about time that we're sitting down to engage in a real way."

Lindo says she's excited to now have the opportunity to sit down with other educators to form policies that will end racism on campus.