Racist party at Queens prompts questions about university culture

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On Nov. 19, students at Queen’s University held a party that has put the university in the spotlight for racial insensitivity.

The theme of the party was countries and attendees were expected to dress up in corresponding fashion. The costumes exhibited at the party — ranging from Viet Cong Guerrilla’s, Mexicans in prison uniforms, to bicyclists meant to represent Switzerland—was the proverbial straw on the camel’s back for Queens.

“People think dressing up as country tragedies — the Vietnam war or Mexicans who are being imprisoned at a much higher rate than white people — people think that’s funny. But, when it comes to Germany, no one would think dressing up as a Nazi is okay, but in the exact same motivation to not dress up as a Nazi, in the exact same thought process, are these other countries that they thought were okay,” said Julia Balakrishnan, a third-year student at Queens.

In response to the controversy’s growing popularity, vice-chancellor and principal of Queen’s University, Daniel Woolf, responded that if the administration found that the party was in any way sponsored or sanctioned by Queen’s, they would act. However, his response has been viewed as a disappointing address to an ongoing problem.

This hasn’t been the first-time Queen’s is in the news for issues regarding race, from a shutdown production of Othello to Euro-centric curriculums and a staggering lack of professors of colour.

Humera Javed, education and inclusion coordinator at the Diversity and Equity Office, recognized that Queen’s was not alone in the struggle for racial equality.

“Laurier is not immune from [racism]. In the past there have been similar incidents.”

Back in 2014, an annual party titled “Jamaican Me Crazy” was vetoed and permanently banned by the school administration.

There was also a Winter Carnival event in 2007, where groups of students participated in blackface.

Moreover, just last year Laurier’s Waterloo campus was defaced with swastikas.

“It’s a reflection of the larger political-social climate we’re now in. There’s an allowance for [these events] to happen,” said Javed.

In response to Queen’s administrations’ inaction, Javed recommended that post-secondary institutions should take a more critical look at their schools.

“We need to come from a place of humility and recognize there’s a lot of work for us do as well,” said Javed.

“Universities have to stop thinking of themselves as separate or different. The fact about universities is that we’re all very similar in the atmosphere we create, no matter what, we’ll always have things in common … I think it’s time to start acknowledging that racial alienation is a commonality. It’s also spread out across campuses across Canada. There’s something about Canadian university culture that allows the marginalization of racial groups and we can’t ignore that by pointing to certain universities and saying ‘they’re worse,’” said Balakrishnan.

Until then, Balakrishnan claimed that she had observed a division between white students and non-white students on Queen’s campus.

Balakrishnan said that rather than having administrations look at solutions to make this alienation go away, they should instead look for solutions to help the alienated and marginalized groups within schools have opportunity to speak and be heard.

Queen’s student government, the Alma Mater Society, released a statement on Nov. 22.

“We see this as an educational opportunity to engage all students in a discussion about race and racism,” read the statement.

Along with renewed training for Winter Carnival, Laurier is using the party at Queen’s as an opportunity to make students and administration more aware during the e(RACE)r Summit on Race and Racism on Canadian University Campuses on Mar. 21, 2017.

The summit will feature speakers such as the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Renu Mandhane and Alvin Curling, the first Black-Canadian to hold a cabinet-level position in the province and the first black speaker of the Ontario Legislature.

The summit also hopes to bring together senior administrators and their teams from Canadian universities to discuss race and racism, and get participants to work together to create intentional, sector-wide strategies to diminish racism on university campuses in Canada.

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