Queen’s graduate delivers her final anti-racism protest at convocation

University District

‘Enough is enough’ Ekoko-Kay says

Evelyna Ekoko-Kay protesting at her convocation in June.
Evelyna Ekoko-Kay protesting at her convocation in June.
Credit: 
Supplied by Evelyna Ekoko-Kay

As Evelyna Ekoko-Kay walked across the stage of Grant Hall during her graduation in June, she yelled “racism can’t wait” for one last time in front of the convocation audience. Upon accepting her degree, Ekoko-Kay revealed to the auditorium a shirt underneath her gown that read: “Barry + Henry + DARE + DET + Woolf…? #175yearsofracism.” 

Ekoko-Kay’s shirt makes reference to four past reports released by the university investigating the status of racism at Queen’s — the Barry report in 1991, the Henry report in 2004, the DARE report in 2009 and the DET report in 2010-11. 

The final reference on the t-shirt is to Principal Daniel Woolf, who launched the Prinicipal’s Implementation Committee on Racism, Diversity and Inclusion in December 2016 as a response to the public outcry following the Beerfest party.

This is not the first time Ekoko-Kay has protested at a Queen’s event. At a Senate meeting in December following the Beerfest party that garnered national media attention, “Racism can’t wait,” was the rallying cry stated by Ekoko-Kay as observers exited the meeting early.

Although passionate about the cause, she was unsure of protesting graduation.

“On the day of my graduation, I still wasn’t sure whether I would go through with the act of protest,” Ekoko-Kay revealed in an email to The Journal. “Then, they told us that we would be singing ‘God Save the Queen’ prior to performing land acknowledgements, and I put the shirt over my dress right then.” 

Ekoko-Kay told The Journal that the shirt was created by a group of student organizers who joined together as an informal and autonomous body. 

“Although many members are part of more formal organizations on campus, we preferred to remain autonomous, as doing so allows us to speak openly against racism permitted and perpetuated by students, faculty, and administration,” she wrote.

Ekoko-Kay wrote the group was formed following the aftermath of the BeerFest party. Currently, they are focused on pushing the university administration to provide the resources and alter curricula to support and represent people of colour on campus.

Ekoko-Kay remembered the crowd’s reaction in Grant Hall. 

“The reaction from others in the auditorium was very polarized,” Ekoko-Kay wrote. “Some people, especially older white audience members, were very angry; my mother, who is a black woman, heard several people in her vicinity saying ‘this isn’t the place’ or claiming there isn’t racism at Queen’s.” 

Despite these reactions, Ekoko-Kay said she was met with “mostly positive” responses from her peers and professors. 

“[They] thanked me for calling attention to racism in my last moments as a student.”

Ekoko-Kay wasn’t the only student to protest on the convocation stage. Several other students were said to have refused to shake hands with the University representatives. “I was not alone,” Ekoko-Kay wrote. 

Deputy Provost (Academic Operations and Inclusion), Teri Shearer, commented on behalf of the University following the demonstration. 

“Convocation is a celebration of years of effort and of achievement — and a time of tremendous pride, optimism, and high emotions for students and their families. Under Principal Woolf’s leadership, Queen’s continues to make strides towards a more inclusive and welcoming campus,” Shearer told The Journal via email. 

Following the event, Ekoko-Kay posted a photo of herself at convocation along with a caption describing her protest on Facebook. 

“No, I couldn’t just graduate peacefully,” the post began. “Enough is enough.” 

In her post, Ekoko-Kay also pointed to the several reports and committees established over the last 26 years to address racism at Queen’s. Despite their recommendations, Ekoko-Kay said the University administration has continually failed to implement them.

“[The committees] say what needs to happen and the administration gets to ignore it until everyone involved graduates or gets hired elsewhere or gives up,” she wrote. “And then history repeats.” 

One of the major recommendations Ekoko-Kay supports is the establishment of a “dedicated space for Social Justice to honour the history and experiences of students of colour,” she told The Journal

“I have been involved in protesting racism at Queen’s since first year,” Ekoko-Kay wrote. “However, my greatest involvement has been in the last year, I was responsible for organizing the Senate protest in the aftermath of the racist party and a follow-up protest at the Board of Trustees meeting.”

Ekoko-Kay also revealed to The Journal that she and her friends of colour experienced a number of micro-aggressions throughout their time at Queen’s. These included racial slurs, degrading jokes and racial fetishizing she and her peers had experienced.

“Being at Queen’s was a profoundly painful experience for me and all of my friends who are of colour,” she wrote.

Ekoko-Kay also noted her experience as an English major in her email, commenting “[w]e read more books by white men named John than by all the authors of colour, women, LGBTQ writers and other marginalized people featured in the course combined.” 

Despite graduating, Ekoko-Kay told The Journal she plans to remain involved with student issues on campus. “I plan to stay in communication with current student activists and to continue contacting the administration as an alumnus,” she wrote. 

Ekoko-Kay concluded her Facebook post by demanding change at Queen’s: “We need an administration that cares about racism, not just about the bad press Queen’s gets,” she wrote. “We need change now.”

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