University Council on Anti-Racism & Equity begins formal meetings

Council meeting sees debate surrounding creation of space for racialized students on campus  

UCARE meeting in progress.
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Six months after its formal creation, the University Council on Anti-Racism and Equity held its inaugural meeting in Robert Sutherland Hall on Monday night. 

The University Council on Anti-Racism and Equity (UCARE) was established in September of 2017 as part of a recommendation from the Principal’s Implementation Committee on Racism, Diversity and Inclusion (PICRDI) Report released in April 2017. Members of the council were inaugurated on Dec. 6 2017. 

Its formal mandate states that “UCARE is responsible for coordinating, reviewing, and reporting on the process of sustained university-wide initiatives to address racism and to promote diversity and inclusion at Queen’s.” 

To begin the meeting, interim Co-Chairs Mona Rahman (Office of the Vice-Principal Research) and Stephanie Simpson (Executive Director of the Human Rights & Equity Offices) updated the council on both the PICRDI and Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report (TRC). 

They then talked about the new Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Impact Award which will be presented annually. The application process at the University for incoming students was also updated in tune with TRC recommendations to include an option for Indigenous students to self-identify. 

Of the topics discussed, the creation of a new space for racialized students on campus became a significant concern for council members to debate. 

The space — which is currently being planned for a three-story house located on Albert Street — was to be named the Alfie Pierce Student Centre for Racial Equity and Social Justice. 

Deputy Provost Teri Shearer told the council that the building would be structured to be almost entirely accessible — except for the third floor — but the dates of construction and opening couldn’t be reported yet.

For many, the name associated with the centre presented an issue. An onlooker of the council meeting highlighted that the legacy of Alfie Pierce wouldn’t be entirely understood by students if it was utilized for the space. “It’s one of the more painful chapters of Queen’s history,” they said. “I don’t understand how the story of Alfie Pierce fits in with the principles of this centre.” 

Pierce, who served as the mascot for Gaels football during the 1900s, was mistreated by the University during his time on campus. While completing work such as coal restocking, general maintenance and acting as a night watchman, Pierce lived in the boiler room of the Jock Hartey Arena on campus with Boo Hoo the bear. His legacy still taints the University’s relations with the Black community. 

Associate Dean of the Smith School of Business and Provost’s Delegate for UCARE Yolande Chan said Pierce was chosen because of the recurring significance of his legacy at Queen’s. She added also that a council brought under PICRDI had specifically requested the name be chosen.

As discussion continued, members concluded the name of the centre would have to be investigated further before being presented to the council once more. 

Furthermore, the space itself — which would lack third-floor accessibility — became a topic of concern. Shearer provided  that with no concrete deadlines in place, time could be expended to consult with students and groups to find what would work best for the space. 

For co-chair of the Levana Gender Advocacy Center (LGAC) Nadia Mahdi, ArtSci ’19, time could no longer be wasted. 

Mahdi recounted being evicted from the LGAC’s former club space on campus, the Grey House. Without a space on campus, Mahdi stressed the immediate need for the space. 

“Student groups who are doing the work on campus have been evicted from their spaces by administration and by student government. They’re feeling burnt out,” she told the council. “We need this space now, right now. Please don’t take that away from us.”

 

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