Earlier this year, during the SCSU election, one of the candidates posters was vandalized with racist comments. This incident was shocking to the UTSC community, mostly because UTSC is a place that is praised time and time again for being diverse and inclusive. This incident also calls into question whether UTSC is really as inclusive as we say it is.
Current Vice President Equity of SCSU Nafisa Mohamed says, “Here has been increase in anti-Black racism, Black face, Islamophobic comments, things like that on the UTSC campus this year.” She cites Donald Trump’s win in the American presidential election as a possible reason for this increase. He is known to frequently use racist, sexist, Islamophobic, anti-immigration, and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in his campaign, something his more vocal supporters championed. This issue is not only limited to the United States: Trump’s election has given people everywhere the ‘okay’ to be racist–something that has clearly spilled over the border to Canada, and to UTSC.
But what does it mean for incidences like these to occur at a place like UTSC, where we often pride ourselves on our diversity? Is our tendency to characterize UTSC as sensitive towards diversity a false characterization?
Third-year student Victoria Wang says that, “As much as we pride ourselves for being inclusive at this diverse campus, I don’t think enough students participate in different diversity events being held on campus. Meaning, we say we are inclusive and we have all these events going on each year, but if not enough students participate, we aren’t really spreading the awareness or aren’t as inclusive as we think we are.” She adds, “There are many efforts put in from the school to be sensitive about diversity and inclusivity but not enough of the message has been pushed through to the students.”
Furthermore, second-year student Tijuana Turner argues that, “Because UTSC is such a diverse place, we will have incidences like this. You have people who come from different walks of life, people who were socialized differently about what it means to be racist or make a joke that might not be culturally appropriate,” adding that, “The university tries really hard to promote inclusivity, diversity, different cultures, and what people might be going through in their personal life, and I don’t think that because something like that happens it means the university shouldn’t be able to pride itself on our inclusivity.”
Turner believes that what happens after an incident like this is what really matters. She adds, “What steps are taken afterwards really defines what kind of campus we are and how diverse we are. For instance, after [the incident with the campaign poster], people were posting on social media saying that it wasn’t okay that this happened.”
When incidences like this occur at UTSC, the SCSU has a process for supporting the victims. Mohamed says, “We check on them, let them know we are here for them. The RSC extends their hours and we use it as a decompression space. We also try to talk to the people who are doing these things and let them know that their actions are not acceptable.” Mohamed adds that the main priority for the SCSU in these situations is to let the victims know that the SCSU and the University are here for them whenever possible.
Mohamed also explains that the University takes incidences like these very seriously, and often involve campus police to take statements and press charges should they find out who the perpetrators are.
In terms of preventing incidences like this before they occur, she says that the SCSU has students participate in “Anti-oppression training during club training,” adding that, “It is very hard to get people to turn away from their ignorance,” but ultimately, “It is up to people to unlearn behaviours that they have. Prejudices are normal, but when you start to act upon them, they become wrong. We try to get to a place where we can move forward and understand our diversity, background, and experiences more.”
It remains to be seen how much influence the current political state in the United States will have on us here at UTSC, and whether incidences like these will continue to increase, or whether the University will put additional measures in place to promote diversity and inclusivity. Turner, for one, is optimistic that UTSC can be, and is, a place where diversity and inclusivity thrive, asserting that, “As long as the majority stand up and do what’s right, we can move forward.”