U of O faculty backs students demanding action on racism

More than 100 professors and librarians at the University of Ottawa are urging school officials to listen to student demands to take tougher action against racism on campus.

Student carded on campus 'grateful' for support from professors, librarians

Student Wiliston Mason, said he had a confrontation with a security guard on Sept. 14. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

More than 100 professors and librarians at the University of Ottawa are urging school officials to listen to student demands to take tougher action against racism on campus. 

According to an open letter signed by 102 university educators, they "stand in support" of students Jamal Koulmiye-Boyce, who was carded and handcuffed on campus in June, and Wiliston Mason, who was carded inside his student residence building in September.

"We have a commitment to uphold a learning environment where all students feel safe, supported, and able to challenge themselves in the classroom," the letter said.

"It would therefore be in violation of this duty for us to not add our voices to those of students calling for an end to anti-black racism on campus."

Student groups demand changes

Last week, more than a dozen student groups including the University of Ottawa Students' Union wrote an open letter of their own saying their school's response to carding on campus doesn't go far enough to combat systemic racism. 

In their letter, the professors and librarians said they support the demands of the student groups.

"We encourage the university to implement the students' comprehensive demands for apologies, policy review, training, consultation, accountability [and] transparency," the letter said.

Kathryn Trevenen, associate professor of feminist and gender studies at the University of Ottawa, is one of the faculty members calling on school officials to listen to student demands.

'Grateful' for support 

Wiliston Mason, one of the students who was carded on campus, told CBC News he's "grateful" for the support from professors and librarians.

"I think it's time that more people kind of joined the collective in terms of trying to push the university to work with us, and bring about real change for racialized and minority students on campus," Mason said. 

"It's not just one or two individuals who see an issue here on campus ... you have entire communities, you have student groups, you have professors as well ... basically saying, 'We see the issues here on campus with regards to racism, with regards to the way that minorities are treated here.'" 

Associate professor Kathryn Trevenen, who signed the open letter, said she and her colleagues want to "stand behind the students, and highlight the importance of student leadership on this issue."

She called on the university president and school administration to "respond quickly and directly to the calls for action from the student letter."

University responds

In a response to CBC on Wednesday afternoon, the university acknowledged receiving the letter from faculty members and librarians.

"We welcome their input into the broad conversation and exchange of opinions on this very important global issue. The University also welcomes student engagement on this very important issue," the university said.

The university noted an independent investigator is now working on the second part of her mandate, which involves a review of its security policies and procedures "and report on their impacts on racialized community members."

That report is expected next month, and will be made public, the university said.