Why some academics in Waterloo Region are taking part in a nationwide Scholars Strike

Academics in the Waterloo region are taking part in a nationwide protest this week against police violence and systemic racism. It's called the Scholars Strike for Black Lives.

Scholars are protesting against police violence and anti-Black racism

Ciann Wilson is an associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University. She is one of the academics in Canada taking part in the Scholars Strike for Black Lives. (Wilfrid Laurier University)

Academics in the Waterloo region are taking part in a nationwide protest this week against police violence and systemic racism. 

Those taking part in Scholars Strike for Black Lives are hosting digital "teach-ins" to discuss systemic violence that affects Black and Indigenous communities.

The strike started when professional athletes — including NHL players — agreed to a boycott to take a stand against anti-Black police violence. 

Ciann Wilson is an associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, the co-coordinator for the community psychology program and the co-director for the Centre for Community Service Learning and Action.

As a Black scholar, Wilson said the movement is personal for her. 

"Racism in particular, can only go so far. And so I think that is the heart of what this issue is bringing awareness to, and I think it's a very worthy cause," she said in an interview with CBC News. 

Wilson says it has been difficult to hear the news of Black people dying in police custody this year. 

Wilson cites the deaths of George Floyd in the United States and Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto as moments that gave her "deep concern." She would like more action taken to combat racism on her campus, as well as all university campuses across Canada.

Wilson says it is not enough to hire diverse candidates. She says universities should be shifting the culture and create programs to help minorities feel safe on campus. 

"I think that nice, flowery statements about equity, diversity, inclusion do not equate to action," she said. 

"Human resources policies for hiring more Black and Indigenous and racialized people into institutions that have not dealt with their racism problem will not solve the issue either." 

On Sept. 9 and 10, participating academics across the country will not teach regularly scheduled classes and will instead take part in digital teach-ins with Black activists as a show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matters movement. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

'We need to have a shift' 

Ann Marie Beals, a third year PhD student studying community psychology at Wilfrid Laurier, has also taken part in the strike. 

Beals, who is Afro-Indigenous, notes that teach-ins were often used as a strategy during Black power and civil rights movements.

"The teach-in has always been a particularly powerful place in really understanding how larger forces affect our lives and in the academy and beyond, and how to really strategize, to mobilize, to fight such oppressive systems that bear down on us." 

Beals said it is positive to see so many academics take part in the strike. 

Ireally feel like we need to have a shift here.- Ann Marie Beals, PhD student at Wilfrid Laurier University

Beals hopes people will take what they learned from the teach-ins and put it into practice. 

"I really feel like we need to have a shift here. It just can't be business as normal, even though we are in the middle of a pandemic," they said.

'Not a new conversation' 

Wilson says she plans to incorporate some of the content and lessons from this week's digital teach-ins in her classes next week.

She says systemic racism is "not a new conversation" for Black and Indigenous communities. However, she thinks it's important to bring awareness to the issue. 

"I think that society in general is finally waking up to the realities that Black identified, as well as Indigenous folks in Canada specifically, have been dealing with for generations," she said. 

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.