The Black Student Union advocates for students to be heard
On Feb. 3, just a few days into Black History Month, a Concordia faculty member who guest lectured in an undisclosed class said the N-word. The faculty member and the class in which the incident took place have not been named in order to avoid any ill-treatment.
Pierrette Manege, a student in Women’s Studies and Immigration Studies, and Amanda Asomani-Nyarko, an English Literature major, came forward last week after hearing the slur uttered in their class room.
They said that during a conversation pertaining to feminism and the power that certain words hold, the white lecturer gave a trigger warning and then listed a couple of words that could be considered offensive.
“She was like, ‘oh, words such as coloured’, and then she said the N-word, and then she said Black … It was just words that targeted the Black community,” said Manege.
Surprised and confused, Manege recognized that this was not okay with her.
“I’ve had instances where I haven’t said anything and I felt really guilty. So this time I was like, I’m going to put it into the chat and just let her know that I don’t feel comfortable with what she just said. Specifically, her saying the N-word fully as a white woman,” said Manege.
Asomani-Nyarkowhen noted this isn’t the first time she’s heard a professor say the N-word in class.
Reflecting on this particular incident, she said, “I was numb, and then my numbness turned into anger, and then confusion as to why this is happening. And then I wanted to say something, but then I also felt like, they’re gonna think I’m just being sensitive or the angry Black woman, you know?”
In the end, Asomani-Nyarko decided to express her agreement with Manege’s comment in the chat, stating the two were not okay with a white professor using the N-word in any context.
When the speaker saw that there were messages in the chat, she asked them to either turn their mics on or she’d read the messages aloud. When she got to Manege and Asomani-Nyarko’s comments, the speaker got “visibly uncomfortable,” said Manege.
She said, “She became very defensive, and, in her defense, decided to justify her use of that word.”
Often, white professors will use the ‘academic context’ armour to get away with saying this slur in classrooms. Amaria Phillips, a co-founder and president of the Black Student Union disagrees with this defence.
She said, “There’s no tolerance, not even in an academic setting to say, a slur that … not only has been used in the past, but it’s still used in the present. It’s still used now, in this day and age against Black people, to demean them and to hurt them.”
Not only does this seem like common sense, said Phillips, but in the political climate that we find ourselves in — with the uprise of the Black Lives Matter movement and now during Black History Month — Phillips finds it unacceptable that Black students should have to feel unsafe in classrooms.
Phillips added that Black students are already discriminated against outside of school. She added, “Coming to classes, still [having to] hear the N-word, and then be told, ‘Oh, your opinion doesn’t matter about the N-word.’”
Phillips spoke about how the N-word never needs to be said out loud. She said, “Why not just say “the N-word”…. I don’t understand why you have to pronounce the whole word. And again, it goes back to kind of like proving that [white professors] could do it.”
Tanou Bah, co-founder and Vice President of the BSU, and Phillips explained why this word should be banned from campus. Phillips said, “I think that Black students especially, and Black people in the Black community have been telling non-Black people ‘can you stop’ for years, and yet, just again, it’s like they don’t care.”
Concordia University has responded to this incident, stating, “Our goal is to work collaboratively towards a resolution and prevention plan that recognizes the concerns and experiences of our students and supports the discussion of difficult knowledge.”
They have implemented the Black Perspectives Office and a Task Force on Anti-Black Racism, in an effort to give Black students the agency they deserve. While these have been helpful, the Black Student Union, a non-profit organization that is not currently registered with the CSU, has taken the main stage in advocating for Manege and Asomani-Nyarko, as well as other Black students.
The BSU’s role at Concordia
At Concordia, all undergraduate clubs and fee levy groups (one funded by students for students) fall under the CSU’s umbrella. These groups have to register through the CSU.
For the BSU, this process has yet to take place. Phillips explained that when the idea for the student association came to mind, the initial goal was to form a group to celebrate and advocate for Black students with no ethnic specificity.
She said, “So there was just one for Caribbean or African [students]. But there was not one for, you know, Black people, and Black students. And like, if you are American, where do you fall into?”
The group recognized that many predominantly white universities have Black student unions, or something similar to ensure representation, and decided to pursue this goal. At Concordia, this representation would fall under the CSU if it wasn’t for the Black Student Union.
Isaiah Joyner, the general coordinator at the CSU, explained that the BSU approached them to try to start the process of being a registered student association. He said, “So typically, what you would see is organizations, or like a lot of fee levies would start off as a CSU club.”
However — and this may just be a case of miscommunication through Zoom and dozens of emails — the BSU decided to go down a different route. They are currently a non-profit organization, bypassing the CSU — for now.
If the BSU wants to become a fee-levy organization, the process may not be so straightforward. Joyner explained, “Concordia is a little tricky, because one, they don’t collect race-based data … We wouldn’t be able to just levy the Black students, we have to levy all students for a certain credit to give [the BSU] a budget and let them operate, and do all that good stuff.”
This would pose issues with any students wanting to opt out of the Black Student Union, because typically students can not opt out of representative organizations.
However, the BSU is something that would be beneficial to overall student life, no matter how complicated it may be to institute it.
Phillips expressed there may have been some apprehension when the idea of the BSU was first brought up. She explained that the goal of the BSU was to ensure representation of Black students at a higher academic level, among other things.
“When we voiced that, that’s when we got a lot of opposition. And you know, we got advice, but it wasn’t as helpful as we wanted it to be. And, yeah, I think that that opposition kind of discouraged us a little bit too,” said Phillips.
Joyner explained that this is a tedious process that all organizations must go through. He said, “We gave them all the information, we let them know the different processes, so as to why they haven’t followed up and tried to do it, like, through the CSU channels … I guess it’s not what they’re envisioning.”
“We’re still here with open arms and we want to support it. These are important issues that Black students are facing,” said Joyner.