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


The power of Indigenous humour — sharing Indigenous experiences and voices through laughter

Guest speaker Stephanie Pangowish discussed how humour is an integral part of Indigenous communities

Stand-up comedian, Northern Style Women’s Traditional dancer, educator and backup singer, Stephanie Pangowish does it all.

Part of the Anishinaabekwe from Wiikwemkoong on Manitoulin Island, Pangowish is known for her community involvement.

In an online seminar organized by the Feminism and Comedy Working Group at Concordia on April 1, Pangowish spoke about the importance of Indigenous comedy and storytelling.

“Humour was always part of our family – growing up, I’d listen to elders joke about hard situations to minimize them, or I’d see my family tease each other out of love and appreciation,” said Pangowish.

Pangowish was even further drawn to comedy when she started watching comedy specials on television with her parents.

“When I saw someone on stage make this big auditorium full of people laugh, I knew there was good medicine attached to humour.”

As she grew older, Pangowish noticed that, despite humour being an integral part of her communal life, it was often overshadowed by stereotypes surrounding Indigenous communities.

The books written by authors who had not experienced Indigenous cultures, “failed to include our humour in their narrative,” she said.

Resilience through Indigenous humour

While visiting different Indigenous communities across North America, Pangowish realized she could connect with anyone through their humour despite speaking different languages or having different ceremonies.

“When I first started getting into comedy, I noticed that humour in our community was used to soften some of the experiences of everyday life,” said Pangowish.

“That is one of the things that helped our people become more resilient.”

Pangowish recalls that, even while attending the annual imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in Toronto, she noticed humour being widely integrated into the films that were being presented.

“Though these films were about residential schools or being removed from your land, there was still laughter,” said Pangowish.

When she began her masters studies, Pangowish explains that she was promoting the fact that Indigenous humour was a topic worth exploring. After encouragement from a classmate, Pangowish put forth a topic to the TEDxTalk panel and was accepted.

As part of her research on Indigenous humour, Pangowish began reaching out to different community members until she came across the findings of Dr. Michael Yellow Bird of the University of Manitoba, who focuses on the effects of colonization, methods of decolonization, and genetic science in Indigenous people.

Dr. Yellow Bird talked about the 5HTTLPR gene — a serotonin transmitter that is shared among many Indigenous community members around the world and mediates happiness, among other emotions.

“Our dances, ceremonies, prayers, celebrations and singing, are all part of our communal life which bring us good energy, and laughter.”

Pangowish explains that Indigenous humour helps to cope with difficult situations by making fun of them.

“We’ve taken misfortune and turned them into funny stories with lessons attached to it,” said Pangowish, during her TEDxCentennialCollegeToronto talk.

Educating through Indigenous humour

When Indigenous stories are being told through books or movies, the storytellers are often non-Indigenous, mostly white authors who often have no connection to the culture itself, explained Pangowish.

“I’ve always wanted to share that we are not just what society and media portrays us — we are not just those stereotypical images …  I use humour to make fun of those images, and talk about how powerful our people are, and how amazing our culture is.”

Though the Indigenous communities across Turtle Island — the Indigenous name that some Indigenous peoples use for North America — are very diverse, Pangowish explained that there are many aspects of humour that are similar, including teasing, making fun of difficult situations, and punching up instead of punching down.

By this, Pangowish explains that Indigenous humour avoids jokes about people with disabilities or minorities, for instance. Instead, it aims at institutions of power, such as governments.

“Sometimes there are controversial topics, but if you approach them carefully and are thoughtful with your words and delivery, there are many that we can joke about. But what I won’t do is oppress another group of people,” said Pangowish.

Through her stand-up comedy, Pangowish also aims at sharing stories beyond Indigenous communities to bring awareness to non-Indigenous folks.

“I wanted to bring forth our experiences to Canadians by trying to bridge the gap and talk about policies and other important aspects that are part of our life, that they might not be aware of,” she said.

During her acts, Pangowish includes jokes about policies such as the Indian Act or the First Nation Trust Fund, all with the intention of bringing awareness to these topics in a comedic way.

“The Indian Act that’s over 150 years old, determines who is Indian and who isn’t,” said Pangowish.

“If I were to have a child with a non-status Indian or Canadian, and my child goes through the same thing, my grandchild will not be acknowledged as an Indian through the act.”

Joking about the effects of policies such as the Indian Act is a way to discuss them and educate people about the experiences of Indigenous people, explained Pangowish.

Beyond poking fun at stereotypes and building inter-communal resilience, Pangowish explained that, “Humour is truly a huge part of who we are.”


Graphic from event page on the Concordia University website

Concordia Student Union News

Black History Month – but make it year-long

Concordia Student Union (CSU) puts a spotlight on Black excellence


For Black History Month, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) has been using their Instagram platform to feature Black activists, writers, artists and scholars on spotlight posts — a solid effort at highlighting the accomplishments and contributions of Black people throughout history.

As part of their latest Black Lives Matter campaign, this initiative aims to uplift and amplify Black voices during Black History Month. The campaign’s broader goal focuses on echoing the demands made by the Coalition to Defund the Police and the calls from the Concordia Black Studies collective.

“We decided to designate this project to Black History Month by showcasing a different person each day to learn about their role and how they’ve impacted society as a whole,” said Victoria Pesce, the CSU’s external affairs and mobilization coordinator.

These posts include figures such as Oscar Peterson, Mary Ann Shadd, Rev. Addie Aylestock, and more.

A blurry line between allyship and performativity

“My relationship with Black History Month has always been shaky,” said Sundus Noor, a second year Concordia student. “I notice that every February there are new initiatives and events that pop up in an effort to uplift Black communities, but I sometimes feel like those things can be done all year around.”

“In some cases, it ends up coming out as trying to profit off of the month or taking advantage by tokenizing people.”

Noor explained how it can be hard to know if the intentions behind someone’s actions are truthful. But, she believes the CSU’s initiative to uplift a community is well-intended.

“It makes you wonder whether someone genuinely wants to celebrate Black people, or if they want to do it because not doing so might make them look bad.”

“I believe the CSU’s initiative comes from a genuine place of wanting to do their duty and shine the spotlight on Black people who have contributed to our societies, but there is always room for improvement,” she said.

Noor expressed her concerns about the dangers of exclusively reserving these discussions and initiatives for February and forgetting them the rest of the year.

“We shouldn’t be dumping everything in one month and forgetting everything about it after.”

“What happens after Black History Month? People’s voices seem to be erased because the month is over, and I think that’s when it becomes a form of tokenization.”

Karim Fall, a Journalism student, echoed this point.

“I’m always on the fence when the month of February comes around because some people might partake simply because they see others do it and they want to avoid being the outlier.”

“In any case, it remains important that conversations are taking place during that month, and that is progressive in a sense because it gives people the chance to learn,” added Fall.

“I’m never going to be mad at a discussion happening because we should always encourage dialogue, but it also bothers me when bigger institutions ignore it as soon as we hit March 1.”

Broader goals: uplifting beyond social media

For many students, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it challenging to connect with the Concordia community and take part in these initiatives during Black History Month.

“I feel so far away from everything that is going on at the university at this moment,” said Florence Ojo, a student at Concordia.

Given that huge parts of our lives have been shifted to the online scene, the importance of social media engagement in uplifting Black voices has become crucial — even more so in the first ever virtual Black History Month.

Beyond virtual events, Pesce explained that the CSU has offered different workshops on topics like activism, allyship and police defunding to keep up the focus on what the Black communities need.

“We have to acknowledge how whitewashed our education is,” she said, “We don’t learn about the Black communities, or the Indigenous communities while growing up and that’s why it’s important to take every moment of the month to realize it.”

On the academic level, Pesce discussed the CSU’s efforts to hold the administration accountable and create different initiatives for the Black communities within Concordia, notably the Black Perspective Office (BPO).

“Similar to the sexual violence workshop, we’re working towards creating a mandatory workshop during which we would learn about the difference between, for instance, racism, oppression, discrimination, and more,” explained Pesce.

“It’s a part of our education that is lacking in our system.”

Fall echoes Pesce’s point, “The more I learn about Black history, the more I realize that it’s really world history.”

Similarly, Ojo believes that Black History Month is a great way to learn and amplify the voices of Black individuals, but we should not limit ourselves to a simple month of the year.

“We’re all here to learn and we should do that every day, not just during February.”


Screenshot of the CSU instagram page

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