How ‘Erased by FEAS’ is uniting the voices of BIPOC Engineering students

Inspired by ‘Stolen by Smith,’ the Instagram account has sparked university-wide response

Three Engineering students speak to how the page has impacted them and their communities.
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This piece uses “Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC)” to refer to the experiences of racialized students. We acknowledge this term is not universal. 

The ‘Erased by FEAS’ Instagram account was launched on July 10, detailing experiences of systemic violence and discrimination in Queen’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science (FEAS).

The page comes at a time of nationwide reckoning for Canadian business schools, sparked by the creation of the ‘Stolen by Smith’ account.

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

Nicholas Ramsubick, Sci ’20, created the page after being inspired by the actions of Kelly Weiling Zou, Comm ’21, creator of ‘Stolen by Smith.’

Ramsubick launched the initiative on the same day as ‘Stolen by Smith’ while at work, naming the page in reference to a culture he said often suppresses the identities of BIPOC students so they fit into the Engineering faculty.

“I’ve been living my life at Queen’s as an engineering student first and a Black student second,” Ramsubick said. 

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At time of publication, the page had amassed over 2,000 followers. Similar to ‘Stolen by Smith,’ students can submit their stories through a Google form and have the option to remain anonymous.

Danny Cai, Sci ’20, learned about the page through friends’ social media.

Cai related to many of the stories on the page and emphasized that, although he’s never felt directly targeted in Engineering due to his race, he’s struggled to feel genuinely accepted by his peers. 

“Being from a different background, English was not my first language and it was really hard for me to make friends.”

“I was struggling in first- and second-year and during frosh week […] I had mental breakdowns pretty often trying to fit in.”

Jessica Dahanayake, Sci ’20, is grateful to the page for shining a light on the racism present in the faculty.

“All of these real experiences show there’s still a lot of work to be done. It helps people who are not members of the BIPOC community to understand and empathize [with the community.]”

Dahanayake noted that students not subjected to racism and other forms of bigotry had previously been able to ignore the presence of discrimination in the faculty.

“Engineers have a lot of pride in our degree. It’s hard for people to accept that there are some issues to work on.”

She also felt the reaction has been relatively relaxed compared to what followed the release of ‘Stolen by Smith.’

“It’s hard to swallow that the issue is not unique to Commerce. It is, quite likely, in all of the faculties.”

Ramsubick himself has encountered efforts to devalue the page in an attempt to protect the faculty’s reputation, but he is grateful to how students have responded overall.

“I did have some white engineers, especially males, come into my [direct messages] […] questioning my experience and invalidating me as a Black student.”

“I’ve also gotten a lot of really great feedback, kind affirmations, and words of support.”

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Atop institutional efforts to address racism formed in light of ‘Stolen by Smith,’ student societies are devoting efforts to directly address the needs of BIPOC engineering students.

READ MORE: ‘Erased by FEAS’ captures systemic discrimination in the Faculty of Engineering

The Residence Society (ResSoc) released a statement on July 11 expressing support for Ramsubick and Zou. While ResSoc committed to “call out the Smith administration and Director Lori Garnier to ensure they are accountable [to Stolen by Smith,]” they made no commitment to speak directly to the Engineering faculty.

On July 24, with input from Ramsubick, the Engineering Society (EngSoc) released an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Action Plan for the 2020-21 year.  That same day, the AMS released the Commitment of the Alma Mater Society to Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Indigeneity (EDII) in response to 'Erased by FEAS' and 'Stolen by Smith.'

READ MORE: AMS releases equity action plan outlining commitments to QTBIPOC students

Ramsubick hoped the University could use the page as a reference point for the lived experiences of BIPOC engineers and reduce the practice of using the unpaid labour of marginalized students to inform equity efforts.

He recounted that in a July 10 equity meeting, Black engineering students were asked by Dean Kevin Deluzio to speak to their experiences.

“I was appalled that [the dean] was making these students, on a Zoom call, relive their trauma and racial abuses.”

He explained that, with 'Erased by FEAS,' he hopes the administration can finally be “done with listening and can start making actual steps towards changing the [Engineering culture.]”

“You don’t need to have a space for Black students to come to white folks and relay our experiences. Just do the work. You should be educating yourselves and not relying on BIPOC labour.”

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Ramsubick emphasized the experiences communicated on 'Erased by FEAS' aren’t universal to all BIPOC Engineering students.

He also highlighted the progress made by the Aboriginal Access to Engineering (AAE) program, overseen by Melanie Howard, director of AAE.

Moving forward, Ramsubick would like to see similar supports put in place for other BIPOC groups, starting with recruitment and admissions.

“It starts with outreach and intentional outreach […] What the school fails to realize is that there’s systemic barriers that keep Black students from post-secondary education.”

Queen’s currently offers three scholarships specifically for Black students: the Betty Harrison Award, the Robert Sutherland-Harry Jerome Entrance Award, and the Brad J. Lamb Condominium Award. When asked if there are any other specific outreach efforts to recruit Black students into the faculty, the Faculty of Applied Sciences did not respond in time for publication. 

Ramsubick also noted the need for safe spaces to ensure incoming BIPOC students don’t have to carry out equity efforts on their own.

“The faculty needs to be hiring educators and facilitators, having people who are trained on the mental health impacts of being Black and racialized in white spaces. […] It’s the job of faculty to make sure this space is already safe for us.”

Cai wants to see students take more responsibility for educating themselves on issues of race and culture. He noted the community response to this past winter’s coronavirus party as an example of when students could have been more sensitive to the feelings of Asian students.

READ MORE: “Heartbroken”: Chinese students respond to Coronavirus party

“There’s a lot of meaning behind [words and parties.] If people do research and listen to POC, or people from different backgrounds, they can understand that.”

“You don’t have to make friends with POC, but please respect their culture.”

Dahanayake felt that changes made in first- and second-year Engineering curriculums to implement cultural sensitivity training would benefit the entire student body.

“When you go into a workplace, you’re not [going to] be able to choose the cultural backgrounds of the people you’re working with,” she said. “It would be great to have some actual tangible teachings about how to work with people that come from different cultural backgrounds and have different accents.”

To prospective students, Dahanayake encouraged finding friends who share the same values to avoid feeling the need to fit into a culture of drinking and hazing.

“I knew [in first-year] that in order for me to be happy I needed to stop hanging out with people that always wanted to drink or smoke.”

Ramsubick wants to see white prospective students read the stories on the page and educate themselves about their own privilege & the experiences of BIPOC.

“When you’re looking at Queen’s as a potential institution you need to prioritize your mental health and wellbeing,” he said, addressing prospective BIPOC students. 

“You have to do what is best and safest for you.”

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