Cross-country forum of professors, students aims to tackle anti-Black racism on campuses

Will be interesting to see what practical recommendations they come up with:

When Binta Sesay was accepted into the University of British Columbia, the international student was thrilled.

She didn’t think that being Black would play a major role in her life at university, but over the past few years at UBC’s Okanagan campus, Sesay said, she has been strongly affected by negative stereotypes and misconceptions of Black people and the racism she’s encountered.

From receiving little school support to mark Black History Month to a false accusation of theft against a Black students’ organization on which she served, Sesay said she has felt frustrated with anti-Black racism on campus.

“I’m so sick and tired of people … being ignorant of the Black experience or just choosing not to be educated about the Black experience, because if people say they don’t know what’s going on, then they choose not to know what’s going on,” the third-year international studies student said from Kelowna, B.C.

Sesay and hundreds of other Black students and faculty, along with community members, staff and senior administrators from more than 50 Canadian post-secondary institutions, are meeting virtually this week for a national forum on anti-Black racism and Black inclusion in higher education.

The cross-Canada forum comes after a summer that saw renewed attention on the Black Lives Matter movement and identifying anti-Black racism across many sectors of society, including academia.

“The university years are a huge part of a person’s life. Imagine if you go through university and your experiences are not good at all. It’s also going to affect your frame of reference when you go out into the world,” said Sesay, who is originally from Gambia but lived in Britain and Jerusalem before coming to Canada.

“It’s going to affect how you see the world. It’s going to affect how you interact with the world and it’s going to affect how you carry yourself as well.”

Organized by the University of Toronto, the two-day conference, which began Thursday, is expected to attract more than 3,000 participants. Nine different sessions tackle such topics as ensuring accessibility and success for Black students, staff and faculty; addressing the lack of Black representation in leadership and in the curriculum; mentoring and support networks; and collecting race-based data to combat inequities.

The goal is for a co-ordinating committee to turn these conversations into a charter of principles and actions that the participants can then adopt and employ as they address anti-Black racism on their own campuses.”We can do things individually, but it’ll be much … stronger if the whole ecosystem is working in tandem, where we are mutually reinforcing our individual commitments,” said co-organizer Wisdom Tettey, vice-president and principal of the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus, in the city’s east end.

“How do we make sure that we create pathways for people to come into the institutions?… How do you create a sense of belonging? How do you make sure that support systems are responsive to their needs?”

Students, faculty speak out about racism

The police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May galvanized attempts on school campuses in North America and beyond to seek justice and address anti-Black racism. Students are shining a light on the racism they experience on campuses across the country, scholars have held protests against police brutality and alumni have called on their alma maters to address their racist legacies.

“There’s no unified policy across Canadian campuses to deal with racism, so [this conference] is a first step in actually getting universities together in one place,” said Toronto-based journalist and author Eternity Martis.

“Students have been demanding accountability, have been persistent in wanting something like this to happen.”

In her recent memoir They Said This Would Be Fun, Martis revisits her undergraduate years at Western University in London, Ont., as a jumping-off point for exploring the reality and experiences of myriad young Black women on Canadian university campuses today. What she’s most interested in seeing from this week’s conference is what real-world actions and change will be enacted by the institutions participating.”Considering what’s been happening in the world with the renewed anti-Black racism movement, there’s been a lot of saving face,” Martis said.

“Schools have been doing town halls and putting reports together for a long time. I’m hoping at this time, it actually sticks, that there are some regulations around it.”

Dozens of Canadian post-secondary institutions are holding a two-day national dialogue on anti-Black racism in academic spaces and how to break down barriers. Barrington Walker, a professor of history at Wilfrid Laurier University, is addressing the group Thursday.  7:31

Conference co-organizer Tettey said it is critical that definitive commitments and mechanisms to hold institutions accountable come out of this week’s sessions — the first of what will be a series of national forums addressing equity and inclusion in Canadian post-secondary education.

School leaders have ‘obligations’

We have to have some concrete actions, and we recognize that those actions will vary from institution to institution, because we’re all at different levels of progress,” he said.

“But there’s some broad kinds of actions that we can all identify as important … guidelines that we can pursue. It allows us to focus on particular areas where we’ve got challenges, where we’ve got barriers and say, ‘Let’s address these things together.'”It won’t be easy challenging the structures of post-secondary education, Tettey said, but he considers it an obligation for the sector’s leaders to have these tough conversations and make difficult decisions leading to fundamental change.

“People have had to fight for the rights and freedoms that we have. And we cannot renege on our obligations as this generation of educators [and tell] the next generation to do it. We need to do it now. And it’s imperative that we don’t waste any more time,” he said.

“If we are indeed a mature democracy or if we aspire to be one, one of the fundamental pieces of that is to have citizens who are treated equitably or seen as equals.”

Source: Cross-country forum of professors, students aims to tackle anti-Black racism on campuses

‘China is your daddy’: Backlash against Tibetan student’s election prompts questions about foreign influence

Disturbing if not surprising:

What might otherwise be the usual mudslinging around a student election has turned into a political firestorm on a Toronto university campus, where a newly-elected student president is raising questions about the source of pro-China attacks against her.

On Saturday morning, Chemi Lhamo, 22, learned she’d been elected student president at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus (UTSC).

By noon, her phone was buzzing incessantly with notifications. But instead of messages of congratulations, Lhamo — a Canadian citizen of Tibetan origin — realized a photo she’d posted on Instagram for the Lunar New Year was attracting thousands of hateful comments, most rife with anti-Tibet sentiment, some threatening.

“China is your daddy — you better know this,” read one comment.

“Ur not gonna be the president of UTSC,” read another. “Even if you do, we will make sure things get done so u won’t survive a day. Peace RIP.”

That wasn’t all. A petition calling on Lhamo to step down had amassed nearly 10,000 signatures.

And there was a message on the Chinese mobile service We Chat making the rounds, calling on Chinese international students to stop Lhamo from becoming president.

The message, posted by the account Ladder Street, said: “The U of T student union is about to be controlled by Tibetan separatists.” The message also says Lhamo shouldn’t benefit from the millions of dollars brought in each year by Chinese students.

A message on the Chinese mobile service We Chat is making the rounds, calling on Chinese international students to stop Lhamo from becoming president. (CBC)

“At first, of course, it takes you aback,” Lhamo said in an interview with CBC News.

“As a leader within the community, it’s heartbreaking to see sometimes that your constituents or your students that you are so passionate about serving are upset about you.”

Foreign influence ‘beyond plausible’

Beyond that, Lhamo said she is worried about her safety and took her concerns to the University of Toronto. On Monday, the students union made the decision to close her office due to security concerns.

The onslaught of hate also has Lhamo questioning whether larger forces might be behind the harassment.

That’s something Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior CSIS official for the Asia-Pacific region, said would be entirely consistent with what he observed during his 40 years in the intelligence service.

“I would have expected such a thing … particularly because she’s a young woman who has been actively involved in her circle of free Tibet,” said Juneau-Katsuya, acknowledging he didn’t have definitive proof of foreign influence in Lhamo’s case.

Lhamo’s participation in groups supportive of Tibetan independence from China would have made her a threat in the eyes of the Chinese intelligence services, Juneau-Katsuya said.

Asked if Chinese government forces might be at play in the campaign against Lhamo, Juneau-Katsuya said, “it’s beyond plausible.”

“The university centres have always been a great pull of attraction for either stealing intellectual property or trying to influence politically,” he said.

Academic cautions against ‘hyped-up’ allegations

As an example, Juneau-Katsuya cited the Confucius Institute, a Beijing-run cultural organization which has been criticized as an attempt by the Chinese government to conduct surveillance and extend its political influence.

Over the years, several Confucius Institute programs across Canada and the United States have closed amid concerns about their aims, with the Toronto District School Board voting to end its partnership with the organization in 2014.

“It is their strategy to try to undermine, to try to mute any form of opposition or dissidence that could at one point or another gain access to a mic,” Juneau-Katsuya said.

But at least one academic cautions against making assumptions about the source of the vitriol.

Lynette Ong, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, said that in the wake of the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou and subsequent arrest of two Canadians in China, “public opinion has shifted significantly against the Chinese community.

“It is of utmost importance to separate Chinese students, individuals, companies from the Chinese government,” said Ong. “Given the tense bilateral Canada-China relations now, any hyped-up allegations without firm evidence does no good to any parties.”

Chinese embassy doesn’t respond

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa didn’t respond to questions about the extent of its involvement with student groups on Canadian campuses or whether it has a position on Lhamo’s election.

The Ladder Street, a student group at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus, did not respond to inquiries about whether it was behind the WeChat message or whether it receives support from the Chinese government.

Global Affairs Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Asked if the University of Toronto was investigating the source of the online vitriol against Lhamo, spokesperson Don Campbell said, “We continue to be in touch with the student. The extent of our focus is on making sure she feels safe and is aware of university services available to her.”

Lhamo said she would like to see more action from the university, including a formal investigation.

For now, she said she sees the online attacks against her as an opportunity to put the values she said she was raised with into practice.

“This is my chance … to test myself whether or not I can be patient and have compassion for other entities that don’t necessarily feel the same way towards me.”

Source: ‘China is your daddy’: Backlash against Tibetan student’s election prompts questions about foreign influence

Racist cyberattacks at U of T highlight barriers to addressing anti-Blackness: Shree Paradkar

Good long read by Paradkar on the ongoing use of the n-word among some at UofT:

Justice Huyer of BSA said, “There is a list of penalties (in the code of student conduct) that was not created by us. We demand they be upheld. That’s what is acceptable for us. And going forward we will accept nothing but a safe space for Black people on campus and to do better in terms of dealing with cases of racism.”

An adequate space where Black students can feel supported is one of the other demands of the BSA, which is also seeking funding toward an anti-Black racism campaign and for the National Society of Black Engineers program, which has no physical space at all. Its members are contactable only by email, Huyer said.

“We have LGBTQ positive spaces that have signs and invitations,” she said. “We have a First Nations House for Indigenous students to come together.

“But the Black Students’ Association, we have the third-largest student association on campus. We have a cubicle that is semi-private with glass windows in a basement that can hold approximately five people and we serve hundreds.”

The students say when they tried to raise the other issues at the meeting, the faculty didn’t engage with them. “We were just met with blanks stares. And kind of silence,” said Mark.

Then the faculty suggested another meeting, a move Mark sees as a “derailing tactic” to tire them out.

“There certainly have been discussions around (office) space issues for Black students,” Welsh said. “I think these are things we are talking about right now.”

It’s past time to still be in the discussion phase of these changes. And the university could extend some of its own solutions used for other marginalized groups.

At an orientation for international students on campus, the complainant who is anonymous, says, “We were taught about how the university is an LGBTQ-friendly space and we were made very aware of the fact that we needed to use neutral pronouns, that we needed to not be transphobic, not be queer phobic because a lot of our backgrounds are countries where homophobia is unfortunately the culture.

“There shouldn’t be a reason they can’t do that as well with anti-Blackness,” she said.

There shouldn’t be a reason they can’t do that with all students. An Asian Canadian, a South Asian Canadian and a white Canadian were involved in the N-word and digital Blackface messages, she said.

“We know anti-Black racism exists on our campuses and I know there is more that we can do to address it,” said Welsh. “We need to continue to listen — and hear — what are the concerns of our students, our faculty and our staff.”

“More than anything else, students are saying, we want to see change,” said Bain.

“We’re asking for something fundamental, something concrete. We want to see the institution itself start looking at the way it functions on a day-to-day basis.”

via Racist cyberattacks at U of T highlight barriers to addressing anti-Blackness | Toronto Star

Babies show racial bias at nine months, U of T study suggests

A pair of interesting studies, with some caveats by other researchers:

Two new University of Toronto studies suggest racial bias can develop in babies at an early age — before they’ve even started walking.

Led by the school’s Ontario Institute of Child Study professor Kang Lee, in partnership with researchers from the U.S., U.K., France, and China, the studies examined how infants react to individuals of their own race, compared to individuals of another race.

“The goal of the study was to find out at which age infants begin to show racial bias,” Lee said. “With existing studies, the evidence shows that kids show bias around 3 or 4 years of age. We wanted to look younger.”

The first study looked at 193 Chinese infants from three to ninth months, recruited from a hospital in China, who hadn’t had direct contact with people of other races. The babies were then shown videos of six Asian women and six African women, paired with either happy or sad music.

The study found that infants from three to six months old didn’t associate sad or happy music with people of the same race or of other races, which indicates they “are not biologically predisposed to associate own- and other-race faces with music of different emotional valence.”

However, at around nine months old, the reactions were different.

According to the study, nine-month-old babies looked at their own-race faces paired with happy music for a longer period of time, as well as other-race faces paired with sad music. Lee says this supports the hypothesis that infants associate people of the same race with happy music, and other races with sad music.

That’s not to say parents are teaching their children how to discriminate against other raced individuals, Lee says.

“We are very confident that the cause of this early racial bias is actually the lack of exposure to other raced individuals,” he said. “It tells us that in Canada, if we introduce our kids to other-raced individuals, then we are likely to have less racial bias in our kids against other-raced people.”

Andrew Baron, an associate professor of psychology the University of British Columbia, said while the goal of the study is “terrific,” there are many reasons infants would look for longer amounts of time at faces of different races. For example, he says an infant could spend more time looking at an own-race face because it is familiar, or at an other-race face because it is different and unexpected.

“It’s impossible to draw that conclusion about association from a single experiment when you could have half a dozen reasons why you would look longer that don’t support the conclusion that was made in that paper,” said Baron, who was not involved in the studies, but specializes in a similar field — the development of implicit associations among infants.

“There’s multiple reasons — and contradictory reasons — why we look longer at things. We look longer at things we fear, we look longer at things we like. That’s an inherent tension in how you choose to interpret the data.”

The second study took a closer look at that bias and how it affects children’s learning skills.

Researchers showed babies videos of own-race and other-race adults looking in the same direction that photos of animals appeared (indicating they are reliable) and looking in the wrong direction of the animals (indicating they are unreliable).

The study found that when adults were reliable and looking in the direction of the animals, the infants followed both own- and other-raced individuals equally. The same results occurred when the adults were unreliable and looking in the wrong direction.

However, when the adults gaze was only sometimes correct, the children were more likely to take cues provided by adults of their own race.

“In this situation, very interestingly, kids treated their own-raced individuals — who are only 50 per cent correct — as if they were 100 per cent correct,” Lee said.

“There is discrimination, but only when there is uncertainty.”

The first study was published in Developmental Science and the second was in Child Development.

The study was conducted in China, Lee says, because the researchers were able to control the exposure to other-raced individuals.

Lee said he has been trying for nearly 10 years to organize a study looking at babies born into mixed-race families. He suspects infants born into mixed-race families would show less racial bias.

When it comes to parents who want to try to eliminate racial bias from a young age, Lee says exposure is key.

“If parents want to prevent racial biases from emerging, the best thing to do is expose their kids to TV programs, books, and friends from different races,” he said.

“And the important message is they have to know them by name . . . it’s extremely important to know them as individuals.”

Source: Babies show racial bias at nine months, U of T study suggests | Toronto Star