Student has filed a complaint regarding misogynistic and racist Facebook message
By Nathalie Laflamme, Editor-in-chief and Opinions editor Laura Marchand.
This article has been substantially updated to reflect original reporting.
A former ASFA executive came out this week with allegations she was subjected to sexist and racially discriminatory remarks by colleagues, both publicly and privately, and has opened up a case against them with the Quebec Human Rights Comission, the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse.
The student, who is going by the pseudonym Mei-Ling for now, said matters came to a head after she logged in to the Arts and Science Federation of Associations’ office computers and discovered a Facebook conversation between two executives wherein she was sexually and ethnically degraded and referred to, in part, as a ‘chink slave’ and a ‘whore’ who should be ‘impeached’ unless she performed oral sex acts. Mei-Ling is partly Chinese.
The Concordian has seen chat logs showing such comments about her began before the start of her mandate and continued over months.
Mei-Ling alleges they were only the most egregious example in a long line of misogynistic and racist actions she experienced in the workplace.
“They would refer to other women as whores and sluts without a care to who was listening,” she said of the casual office behaviour that was displayed before her and her female colleagues. “So I just ignored it.”
But eventually it became too much and she started coming in at odd hours or at night in an effort to avoid interacting. Attempts at eliciting support from her female colleagues were met with scant sympathy.
“They were advising me to stay silent,” she alleges. “ ‘Try to laugh it off,’ they said.” When she told her parents they began accompanying her to the office.
“It had a real impact on how I view myself and my self-esteem,” she said of her experiences of victim-shaming.
As reported by the Montreal Gazette, Mei-Ling took her complaints to Concordia’s Dean of Students Andrew Woodall, who also consulted with the director of the Office of Rights and Responsibilities. In that meeting, she was told the university could take no actions against the students, since the Facebook conversation was private.
“They didn’t seem to care,” she said.
So she went to the Concordia’s Centre for Gender Advocacy and the Concordia Student Union (CSU) Legal Information Clinic, who put her in touch with the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), a non-profit civil rights organization serving clients who say they’ve suffered from discrimination. CRARR has since opened up the case on her behalf. They are looking for emotional and punitive damages and an independent task force to monitor allegations of sexism and racism.
CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi is pleased with the rapid response from the university (see below) but finds it is wanting since the university still hasn’t made it clear how it will proceed in dealing with the accusations.
Fo says the initial failure form the administration to act fast enough in addressing Mei-Ling’s complaints can count as discrimination itself. “The negligence perpetuates the effects of discrimination that the person comes to seek help for,” he explained.
Mei-Ling says her story has encouraged other women to privately come forward to her with their own stories of sexual harassment and misogyny in the organization.
Though she says she’s no longer interested in working with ASFA, she hopes her story leads to real and positive changes in campus culture and ensures future instances of this nature are dealt with in a better and more supportive manner.
“Why am I doing it? Because the next person probably wouldn’t,” she said.
Here is the full statement from President Shepard:
On April 1, the Montreal Gazette reported that a Concordia student has filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission, complaining of sexual and racial harassment and discrimination against two former fellow executives of the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA).
I am deeply troubled by the reports I read online last night and we are looking into the circumstances of the university’s response.
Any sexist and racist behaviour is deplorable and must be condemned.
The safety of our community is paramount. This is why, in December, I requested a review of our sexual assault policy – a process that includes the issue of sexual harassment. Our review will provide recommendations on simplifying the process for reporting and combatting such behaviour.
The social media landscape is still relatively new territory for universities and we are all finding our footing. We are grappling with ways to deal with unacceptable behaviour within this new reality. Questions of what is private and what is personal, as well as where universities have the power to intervene, must be addressed.
Members of our community have resources available to them when such issues arise. Each case is different and there are different options for responding to these situations.
We regret that we may not have communicated these options clearly enough to our student. We have reached out to her to provide our support.
We are committed to creating a safe environment for everyone and combatting racist and sexist behaviour.