Nova Scotia

NSCC apologizes for door decoration it says was racist

A black educator in Yarmouth, N.S., raised concerns with the decoration, which was created by members of an early childhood education class at the local campus. The NSCC is apologizing for the image, which it calls "inappropriate and racist."

Decoration created by members of early childhood education class at Burridge campus in Yarmouth

The Nova Scotia Community College has apologized for a door decoration at its Burridge campus in Yarmouth, N.S., saying the image was "inappropriate and racist" and should never have been put up. 

Rosalind Penfound, the vice-president of organizational development at the NSCC, told CBC's Information Morning that they were "shocked" by the image, which was created by members of the early childhood education class.

"We work hard to be a diverse community," Penfound said, "but we know we can do better and we know that this has been hurtful to a large number of people."

People are raising concerns with a door decoration that was put up at the NSCC in Yarmouth, saying the image perpetuates racist stereotypes. (Vanessa Fells/Facebook)

The door hanging was made of mixed materials. It showed the back of a black woman, dressed in shorts and high heels, who is holding a baby in one arm, and a coffee cup and cigarette in the other hand. Above are cutout letters that say: "HOW NOT TO ECE!"

Vanessa Fells, a black educator in Yarmouth, first raised concerns with the image after hearing about it at a professional development weekend for black educators.

"A student who attends [NSCC] had the picture and was very upset about it, and they showed it to me," Fells said in an interview.

Fells said prior to that the "horribly racist image" had been up on campus for almost a week. She said she felt she needed to speak out about it because of how long students, instructors and administration had apparently been walking past it without saying anything.

Fells said the image perpetuates racist stereotypes about black women that go back hundreds of years: "That they're loose and that they're tramps, and you know, they don't know how to take care of their own children. That all black women have, you know, big butts."

The fact that people on Facebook have responded to her post about the image by debating whether or not it's racist is itself part of the problem, she said. 

"What it means is that people are now normalizing racism ... and they are telling myself, as well as other parts of the black community, that our opinions are not valid," she said.

"I'm telling you that it's racist, and as an African-Nova Scotian, if I'm telling you that it's racist, then it's racist. There should be no debate about that."

Fells said the incident points to a need for more education on anti-black racism and racial stereotyping, both at the NSCC and in the broader community.

'There's work to do'

Penfound said the NSCC is looking into how the image could have been put up and left in place from Tuesday to Friday of last week.

Penfound said if the investigation suggests there should be consequences, "we'll certainly follow through."

But on a broader level, Penfound said the school will be looking at what it can do as an institution to increase understanding of racism.

"I think that we are always conscious of the fact that we have so many students and staff who come through our doors every day, and that the work that we do here as an institution can help educate them," she said. "So there's work to do for sure."

Labi Kousoulis, the minister of labour and advanced education, said the incident left him speechless and in "complete shock."

Kousoulis said he's pleased the NSCC sent a senior management team to Yarmouth in the wake of the incident.

"They are dealing with the situation, but it should never have happened," he said. "It's uncalled for."

With files from CBC's Information Morning