‘Stolen by Smith’ Instagram account details systemic violence at Queen’s business school

Administration says Smith has “clearly” not delivered a positive experience for all students

“[M]y first year in [C]ommerce, like many other QTBIPOC, was brutal,” Zou wrote.
“[M]y first year in [C]ommerce, like many other QTBIPOC, was brutal,” Zou wrote.
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QTBIPOC students are opening up about their experiences of systemic violence at Smith School of Business through a student-run Instagram account called Stolen by Smith.

The initiative was launched by Kelly Zou, Comm ’21, on July 3 through Instagram. She declined The Journal’s request for comment.

According to the account, Stolen by Smith provides a platform for members of the QTBIPOC community enrolled in a program, certificate, or degree at Smith to share experiences with racism, queerphobia, and other forms of discrimination that occurred in the Smith environment. The platform, which guarantees anonymity for those who request it, also creates a space where anyone who is QTBIPOC can report experiences they’ve had with Smith students.

The stories shared through the page document examples of discrimination experienced by current and former students at Smith involving the administration, the Commerce Society, student-run clubs and organizations, alumni, and other students.

The account had shared 141 posts about experiences at Smith at the time of publication and had garnered more than 6,500 followers.

“[M]y first year in [C]ommerce, like many other QTBIPOC, was brutal,” Zou wrote in a story shared to the Instagram page.

“[A]fter dealing with the most racist/passive group of white friends in my first year, I found that I was completely alone in my second and third. [I] hated going to my classes—especially [E]thics, [Human Resources], [International Business], [Organizational Behaviour]—because of how ignorant my classmates were and the labour I always felt pressured to do when my professors did not address explicitly violent expressions of discrimination,” Zou wrote.

She said, as a form of self-protection, she didn’t attend award ceremonies when she won scholarships nor attend networking events to “minimize the amount of commerce folks” she had to engage with. 

“[I] can’t engage in the commerce program the way [I] deserve to because of my trauma,” Zou wrote.

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In her second and third year, she engaged in equity work across Queen’s and said she learned the Commerce program has a “very specific” idea of what equity work looks like—suggesting the idea is controlled by white individuals who push “digestible” equity with the aim of not offending anyone.

She later took to public platforms to hold Commerce accountable for the environment and its lack of action to pursue change. After being ostracized by her peers, Zou said Lori Garnier, executive director of the Commerce program, reached out to discuss the issues in a meeting on April 15, 2019.

However, Zou alleged Garnier’s interest was “clearly more concerned” with Smith’s public image than creating change. She also said Garnier never followed up and ignored her requests to meet again. 

The University told The Journal it’s aware of the account and released two statements on July 7 to address the information being shared. 

Garnier wrote in an Instagram post shared to the Smith account that while all students deserve to have a positive and rewarding educational experience, Smith has “clearly” not delivered on that promise. She encouraged students to contact her directly if they’d like to share their experience.

In another statement, Brenda Brouwer, dean of Smith School of Business, acknowledged the work Smith has undertaken in recent years, but concluded: “there is much more for [Smith] to do.”

Brouwer pointed to the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Indigeneity (EDII) Task Force established at Smith this summer to develop a strategic plan identifying actions to support an open, accessible, and inclusive academic and work environment at Smith. 

The EDII task force, chaired by Brouwer and Stephanie Simpson, associate vice-principal (human rights, equity, and inclusion), intends to define specific indicators of progress and provide recommendations for best practices, campus-wide collaborations, shared resources, and the creation and modification of policies and processes to promote EDII.

As part of this process, the task force aims to identify systemic and non-systemic barriers to EDII across Smith operations and develop directives for action in student, staff and faculty communities, curriculum, policies and practices, and physical and virtual spaces.

The task force has committed to setting measurable targets to reflect commitment and monitor progress. Individuals can share their experiences with the task force through a form on its website.

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Zou hopes Stolen by Smith will mount pressure on the administration, which she said has “failed to mobilize actionable initiatives to support its marginalized students” despite previous calls to action made by students.

Zou said on Monday that she’s been in contact with Garnier about the information reported on the account and has set forth a number of conditions for meeting to discuss it. 

She requested Ann Deer, Indigenous recruitment and support coordinator at the Faculty of Law and Smith, and Mofiyinfoluwa Badmos, diversity and inclusivity coordinator at Smith, be in attendance at the meeting. She also requested meetings be recurring and recorded, institutional support be provided for independent equity initiatives, and Smith commit to providing more paid equity–based positions in Commerce. 

She also requested that Garnier fully engage with the content shared on Stolen by Smith prior to the meeting.

“[T]he Smith School of Business has repeatedly failed to provide a safe environment that prioritizes the wellness of its QTBIPOC students, especially Black and Indigenous students,” Zou wrote, adding the administration also neglects issues of class-based oppression and the limited access to social mobility experienced by marginalized students.

“This is especially unsettling in a program with a [student] body that is predominantly white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, neurotypical, upper class, and many of whom are legacy students,” Zou wrote.

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