Student-run organizations must be better allies to racialized students

Students must follow through on mandates to promote diversity

Vanusha believes Queen’s clubs should aid racialized students following attacks.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

On Mar. 19, I was racially profiled and assaulted.

It was St. Patrick’s weekend, and I was on the streets celebrating the day with my friends like every other student. While walking home on University Ave., the sidewalk was crowded, and my friends and I had to walk on the road to avoid foot traffic.

While walking home, a white man decided to step onto the sidewalk and stare down my friend as they walked ahead of me before staring me down as I passed him. I could hear him preparing the spit in his mouth while he glared at us.

As I passed him, he spat right at my feet.

I turned back and stared at this man, and he was staring right back at me. He yelled, "What?”

Though I felt the need to leave the situation for my safety, I have a few regrets.I regret not stopping and yelling back at him. I regret not taking a picture of him.

Something I did do, however, was contact the police immediately. When I called them in the hope that something would be done, I was told because the spit didn’t touch me, it wasn’t assault in the eyes of the law.

With no acceptable response from the police, I decided I had to take matters into my own hands. On the evening of the incident, I sent a direct message over Instagram to every Queen’s club that uses its space to combat injustices—specifically racism—and promote diversity.

These clubs preach the fostering of a safe community for BIPOC students, so I had hope they would spread my story. I reached out to the Social Issues Commission (SIC), the AMS, the Yellow House, the Queen’s Diversity Project, and The Queen’s Journal.

Immediately, a representative from the SIC responded. This was the only club willing to do something about my experience right away. In addition to drafting a statement that was posted over social media the next day, they also offered me extra help at the time, ensuring I wasn’t alone.

I will forever be grateful for their quick response and their urge to prepare a post acknowledging the situation.

The AMS opened my message very quickly—but instead of receiving a response, I was left on read. The next day, I messaged the AMS again: “The fact that you guys are known as the student government at Queen’s and decided to ignore what I’ve said just shows how much you don’t care about issues faced by a person of colour. Do better!”

I also posted on my Instagram story, pointing to the lack of action and support offered by the AMS. Only after posting “the student government at Queens U deciding to ignore my messages speaks volumes” on my account did I finally receive a response.  

In this message, the AMS reported their team isn’t required to work on the weekends and that many of their staff have access to the Instagram page. According to them, one staffer may have accidentally opened my message.

In my eyes and the many eyes of the BIPOC student community, supporting students who are targeted in racially motivated assaults is a top priority. These incidents routinely occur outside of working hours.

It doesn’t matter if you work on weekends or not. If you don’t work on weekends, then AMS staffers should be responsible enough not to open messages—especially if they aren’t going to respond. 

By opening my message and electing not to respond, the AMS failed its duty to support one of its students in their time of need.

Later in the week, the AMS sent me a message apologizing for what happened. They said they would speak to their President and have a statement posted on Instagram the next day. This time, the AMS followed through in providing support.

Roughly a week after the incident, I’ve now received messages back from almost every club I contacted. Each has responded to me with varying effort—ranging from offering support like the SIC in the form of a statement of solidarity to merely ‘liking’ my message.

For clubs to meaningfully offer support to students, they need to acknowledge the student’s situation and speak out in solidarity on their public platforms to bring awareness and attention.

If student groups seek to support the equity of BIPOC students, then they must represent all racialized and Indigenous students, especially if that’s what the club preaches.

When clubs fail to do so, they fail to fulfill their club mandates.

I saw some of the clubs I reached out to active on their Instagram while being unresponsive to me for days. This demonstrated how little these groups cared about my experience as a student of colour.

To make matters worse, Queen’s and the Kingston community have made it clear their priorities lie in stopping student parties and noise violations rather than promoting proper assault prevention and safety protocols.

A few weeks ago, a man in a car was stalking students on Bader Lane, a street populated by Queen’s residences. A week before St. Patrick’s Day, I received a flyer telling me how I could be charged on St. Patrick’s Day if I created a nuisance. While it was made clear my position as a student made me vulnerable to fines, there was no mention of safety precautions in place.

Sadly, there was no acknowledgment or information on how all women at Queen’s can be safe from a potential predator close to Queen’s property. I have no confidence that there will be an acknowledgment of how students of colour can be safe on campus.

I ask for both the university and its student bodies to address this reality and provide better resources for students of colour who feel unsafe in the community.

For example, double-check the resources you provide for students to reach out to. The Yellow House, for example, has failed to support me—I’m still awaiting a response to my initial message on the evening of the incident. 

Queen’s clubs should also implement programs teaching students to see all individuals on campus as equals, because evidently, that’s not a lesson taught at home for some students at Queen’s.

This is a multicultural nation. My family fled their home country so I can have a better future here. They did not leave their country so that their child, who was born in Canada, could be spat on for the colour of their skin.

Queen’s—and all those in its greater community—must do better.

Vanusha is a fourth-year Computer Engineering student.

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