Queen’s slow to act against racism: prof

Faculty coalition calls for better response

Mark Harris, ArtSci ’08, created a Facebook event to promote Wednesday’s rally protesting racism on campus.
Mark Harris, ArtSci ’08, created a Facebook event to promote Wednesday’s rally protesting racism on campus.

A group of faculty members is calling on the University to take a stronger stance on racial issues and diversity on campus in response to a racist incident on campus in November.

The Queen’s Coalition of Anti-Racist Faculty submitted a letter in December to Principal Karen Hitchcock asking the administration to create a better response plan in the event of future incidents.

On Nov. 14, four male students wearing engineering jackets forced a faculty member off a sidewalk on campus and taunted her with racial slurs.

The University issued a formal statement on the website condemning the act a week later.

“There’s a question raised [in the letter] as to why it took a week to respond and why it wasn’t done immediately,” said Sociology Professor Richard Day. He said the University has institutional structures and plans for how to respond to other incidents, but the same guidelines don’t exist for racial ones.

“We have, for example, this ability to quickly identify suspicious characters who are lurking around who might carry out a sexual assault.”

Day said the administration could have been quicker to announce the incident in order to quell people’s fears.

“There were a lot of rumours flying around,” he said. “Once something like this happens … certain members of our community don’t feel safe walking around at night because they don’t know what’s going on.”

Day said a faster response condemning the incident would also have shown the University’s commitment to finding the students responsible. He said the letter asked how hard the investigators are looking for the perpetrators.

“It seems as though someone can do this and get away with it, and that once again gives the impression that the community may not be as focused on stopping this as they should be.”

Day said the coalition wanted to keep the letter private for the time being because discussions between Hitchcock and the coalition are in the early stages. He said other coalition members didn’t feel comfortable releasing the letter.

The group met for the first time in late November to discuss ways to respond to the racist incident. It was there that David McDonald, a global development studies professor, suggested next Wednesday’s rally.

Day said the letter and the rally are two important steps to creating a change in people’s attitudes.

In response to allegations that she didn’t act quickly enough, Principal Karen Hitchcock said there was no way to release the information sooner than she did.

“We announced it the instant we were able to after discussion with the person who had been victimized.”

Hitchcock said she responded to that letter when she received it. The letter said the coalition would be sending another letter with a list of suggestions on how to address the broader issue of racism at Queen’s. She hasn’t yet received a second letter.

“That’s what I was very pleased about—that they as faculty were going to be coming forward with a list of suggestions.”

Hitchcock plans to attend the rally and said she’s received numerous letters asking for more discussion on racism in town hall-style meetings and in class.

“We’ll certainly be looking for opportunities throughout the term for discussion about this.”

Niraj Pancholi, Sci ’11, said the rally is a good way of reassuring people from minority groups that Queen’s promotes acceptance.

“I think, with minority people, they think they won’t fit in [at Queen’s] and maybe the majority won’t accept them.”

Pancholi, who identifies as an Indian, said although he has never experienced racism directed at him, he knows people who have.

“Some people may harass others but, in general, nobody wants to harass you. The rally should focus on telling the minorities not to have that mindset.”

Mark Harris, ArtSci ’08, created a Facebook event for the rally, targeted to his friends.

He said he hopes the rally will show the students involved in the incident that there’s solidarity against racism on campus.

“We can’t have these students be isolated and think they’re awful human beings,” he said. “They’re just terribly misguided.”

The rally will be held at 3:15 p.m.

outside Stauffer Library on Wednesday, Jan.16.

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