Montreal university students don blackface
A frosh event at a Montreal university has come under scrutiny after students painted themselves in blackface.
Students at the University of Montreal's business school dressed up as Jamaican sprinters, with black paint covering their skin, for the event Wednesday.
One witness, who is of Jamaican descent, said he felt uncomfortable and was shocked to hear some students chanting, "Smoke more weed."
"They had reduced all of who I am and the history of Jamaica and culture of Jamaica to these negative connotations of weed smoking, black skin, rastas," said McGill law student Anthony Morgan, who happened to be on the campus at the time and filmed the group.
"In this instance, it was meant to be ridiculed and seen as something that was fun and acceptable."
Morgan says he is considering filing a human rights complaint.
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The event, organized by the sports and leisure committee at U of M's Hautes Études Commerciales (HEC) business school, was part of an annual athletic week to encourage students to take part in extra-curricular activities.
The theme of this year's event was the Olympic Games and groups of first year students were each assigned a costume based on the first letter of their group, according to a written statement by committee director Frank Sciortino.
The group in question were assigned track and field.
"Usain Bolt, being on the front page of everything concerning track and field due to his multiple record-breaking performances, was [the group's] ambassador for the day," Sciortino said.
"Consequently, [the group] decided to costume themselves as Usain Bolt, emphasizing on the Jamaican colours, his native country."
Fo Niemi of the Centre for Research Action and Race Relations said he was shocked to see the level of "poor taste" exercised at the event.
But he also acknowledged there was likely a lack of understanding on the part of the students about the impact of their actions.
"When we look at the whole history of this, and also the fact that they're reinforcing stereotypes.... some people may find it humorous and fun, but some people may find it very hurtful and unacceptable in this day and age," he said.
A University of Montreal official said the school is looking into the incident.
While HEC is affiliated with the university, the schools have separate administrations. The HEC student group had to rent the football stadium from the university.
Watch videos of the event
With files from The Canadian Press