Massey College apologizes after faculty member's alleged racist remark to Black student

The head of a prestigious graduate college associated with the University of Toronto is apologizing for racist statements made by a faculty member toward a black student.

College to 'set aside title of Master' after professor allegedly asked student 'Do you feel the lash?'

The main dining hall at Massey College in Toronto (1963). It is one of the finest modern interior spaces ever built in Canada. (Photo by Steven Evans)

The head of a prestigious graduate college associated with the University of Toronto is apologizing for racist statements made by a faculty member toward a black student.

Hugh Segal is also promising changes at Massey College. Segal issued a statement saying that professor Michael Marrus made "hurtful and completely inappropriate" remarks toward the student over lunch this past Tuesday.

The statement he issued containing the apology did not provide details of the incident, but a letter of complaint signed by dozens of students and faculty members outlines allegations that Segal appeared to corroborate.

The letter of complaint alleges that while the student was in front of Segal, whose official title is "Master" of the college, Marrus overtly invoked images of slavery.

Firestorm of 'profound outrage'

Marrus allegedly said, "You know this is your master, eh? Do you feel the lash?"

The letter expressed "profound outrage" at the incident and demanded that Segal issue an apology, fire Marrus and change his own title from Master.

Segal, says he will ask the college's governing board to change his title and says he will go by "head of college" until the new name has been made official.

"While I do not have the authority to change my title unilaterally, I will set aside the title of Master, which has been associated with violence and the 'lash' in this week's incident," his statement said.

Marrus previously told CTV News that he had no comment on the matter and it was in the hands of Massey College. He did not immediately respond to a request from The Canadian Press for comment.

Segal also did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Segal did, however, deliver the requested public apology to both the student and others affected by the remarks.

"Words and statements like these in no way reflect the position of Massey College as a whole," the statement reads.

"We are committed to providing an open, welcoming and inclusive academic and residential community and will ensure that it is a safe space for all our Fellows in which this kind of encounter can never happen again."

Calls to cut ties with professor

Segal said he does not have unilateral authority to change his own title but supports a new name and said "head of college" is what the post should be called in the interim.

He said he and other college staff will personally meet with students calling for change to discuss next steps, as well as host a town hall to discuss ways of preventing racism in the future. 

The statement ostensibly satisfied four of the students' five demands, which they said were necessary to maintain the college's reputation.

"In our eyes, the very legitimacy of Massey College hinges on the effectiveness of your response to this incident," read the letter outlining the demands, which included terminating Marrus's association with the college as a senior fellow and mandatory anti-racist training for all fellowship members.

"We encourage you to approach this moment with the seriousness it demands, and with the courage and vision to make this an occasion for fulsome transformation."

CUPE local 3902, which represents the University of Toronto's education workers, supported the demands and said racism at Massey College was a long-standing concern.

"For many of our members who have seen, heard of or experienced racism at Massey College, this latest incident will come as no surprise," the union wrote on its Facebook page. "For those who haven't, know that this is not a one-time thing, it's just a breaking point."

The union did not immediately provide further details or reaction to Segal's statement.

With files from CBC News