Town Hall on Anti-Black Racism: Why there is nothing wrong about Black-only spaces

 This event was done in part to value and protect spaces for Black students to share their experiences and voice their opinions freely

Concordia’s President’s Task Force on Anti⁠-⁠Black Racism held an online Town Hall on Anti-Black Racism on Feb. 10 during which students and alumni gathered to discuss the preliminary recommendations put out by the Task Force in Nov. 2021.

The online event was exclusively open to Black Concordia students and alumni with the goal of creating a safe space and prioritizing Black voices.

The event gathered about 30 individuals from different departments and was coordinated by three members of the Task Force’s leadership committee — Camina Harrison-Chéry, Alysha Maxwell-Sarasua, and Isaiah Joyner.

“In terms of interactions, people were very vocal, Concordia students are always ready to share their experiences,” said Harrison-Chéry, communications student and external affairs and mobilization coordinator at the Concordia Student Union (CSU).

“We had some really great discussions, and it made me recognize that we need these spaces more often — spaces where we can prioritize Black voices being heard,” said Maxwell-Sarasua, political science student and intern for the Black Perspectives Office.

“There’s a sense of safety in terms of being in a group that understands you and shares the same experiences as you,”  said Maxwell-Sarasua.

“This was to prioritize our safety essentially because unfortunately, despite people’s best efforts and best intentions, they might not understand how they continue to perpetuate the harm that we’re trying to stop,” said Maxwell-Sarasua.

The event was exclusive to Black students and alumni in an additional goal of protecting their privacy and encouraging participants to speak freely, without any judgment.

“On the sensitivity issue, we [organizers of the event] signed up for this to act as representatives, but they [other participants] did not sign up to be the display,” said Isaiah Joyner, former general coordinator of the CSU

“Right now, we’re in brainstorming mode, but there’s going to be a time for allyship, there’s going to be a time for when people want to support the Black community,” added Joyner.

Main Feedback from participants

The Task Force offered 12 preliminary recommendations detailed in their report, as part of their two-year mandate to address systemic anti-Black racism at Concordia.

In getting students and alumni to register for the Town Hall, individuals were asked to fill a form indicating which recommendations they wished to prioritize during the meeting.

The following three are the recommendations that were the focus of this Town Hall.

  1.       Create a certificate and minor program in the short term that focus on Black and African diaspora studies in the Canadian context and commit to the ultimate creation of a major program.

Participants had two main strands of thought regarding this recommendation, says Maxwell-Sarasua.

“One was that it can’t just be an isolated certificate or course that you can opt into — it should be part of a core-curriculum within all faculties.”

“The other strand was to see how to corporate a diverse view of Black and African diaspora in terms of the curriculum and having an intersectional approach to building these programs while recognizing that we’re not all a monolith — we don’t all come from the same places or have the same experiences.”

  1.       Implement a mandatory and continuous university-wide training program on anti-racism that includes a specific chapter on anti-Black racism.

“The main points for that one was mainly to offer Concordia students a kind ground line and basis of information about microaggressions,” says Maxwell-Sarasua.

However, participants during the Town Hall said they were skeptical about a one-off training that many would forget shortly after completing it, according to Maxwell-Sarasua.

“I think the main focus was that there should be lived, and practical experiences implemented into the training,” says Maxwell-Sarasua, “it shouldn’t just be given by someone with a PowerPoint, rather it should be offered by local community members who can give more of a practical base rather than just generalized theories of microaggressions.”

  1.       Create a permanent student centre servicing Black students.

“Now that we have the Black Perspectives Office, it’s kind of growing itself and has the potential to become this Black student center where you’ll have an office space and more social space for students,” says Harrison-Chéry.

Participants shared how important they felt it is to have these dedicated spaces on both campuses, which are often predominantly white spaces, adds Harrison-Chéry.

Another goal of this centre would be to reflect the diversity of students and understand different perspectives, including those of Black students who live in residences, or international students.

“The goal is really to have a Black students center that revolves around all those different needs that Black students have across campus,” says Harrison-Chéry.

Forced to repeat messages 

Despite this being the first time the Task Force opened up its floor to hear from  Black students and alumni about its preliminary recommendations, many sub-committees and the CSU have previously held similar student consultations regarding anti-Black racism.

“The CSU had a town hall specifically related to the Black Lives Matter campaign and we noticed a lot of things overlap and similar discussions,” said Harrison-Chéry.

“It’s important to acknowledge that these aren’t new ideas that we’re communicating,” she added.

As part of the sub-committee that deals with history, Harrison-Chéry said she often comes across documents from the ’60s and the ’70s of Black students voicing similar opinions as today.

“Black students say the exact same things and the exact same demands so hopefully this institutional push means that there’s no need for town halls like these in the future,” she adds.

More work needs to be done

“Even though this work won’t affect us right now in the short term, we know in the long run this is what needs to get done,” said Maxwell-Sarasua.

“I find that there’s this sense of erasure — that this has been done by many people before us, so there’s this sense of ‘how much longer do we have to yell for us to be heard.’”

Maxwell-Sarasua added that though we are far from the 1968 computer centre incident era, “we still have a lot of work to do.” The 2015 documentary Ninth Floor depicts the events also known as the Sir George Williams Riot, where Montreal students occupied the university’s computer room for 13 days to protest discrimination — one of the most important student protests in Canadian history.

“It’s not being told to Concordia students even though it’s part of Concordia history,” said Maxwell-Sarasua.

Similar to this Town Hall event, the Task Force is hosting a Roundtable on Campus Safety and Security on Feb. 17 for Black students and alumni to share their ideas on making safer and more welcoming and supportive spaces.

Visuals by Alex Hawksworth

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