Concordia officially apologizes for mishandling 1969 Black student protests

The University recognized its role in anti-Black racism during Computer Centre incident

On Friday Oct. 28, 2022, Concordia’s President and Vice Chancellor Graham Carr formally apologised on behalf of the University for mishandling the events leading up to the 1969 Black Student Protests. 

“We recognize the deep and often dire consequences that the actions of the University had at the time, and how these consequences have continued to echo through the years,” said Carr.

Carr delivered the apology at a press conference on the Sir George Williams campus last friday. In attendance were Rodney John and Lynne Murray, two of the students whose complaints of racial discrimination at SGWU ultimately lead to the 1969 Black Student Protests.

The University’s apology comes after the President’s Task Force on Anti-Black Racism issued its final report on systemic anti-Black racism at Concordia. Assembled in the fall of 2020, the President’s Task Force was charged with investigating how anti-Black racism is perpetuated throughout Concordia. Its findings encompass over 88 recommendations for combating anti-Black systemic racism at Concordia, including acknowledging “the role of racism in the events of 1969 at Sir George Williams University.”  

“Sadly, the University’s actions and inactions were a stark manifestation of institutional racism,” said Carr. “The adverse effects of that behaviour reverberated widely, not just in Black communities in Montreal but also beyond, particularly in the Caribbean, where several of the Sir George students were from.”

After SGWU rejected the students’ complaints on Jan. 29 1969, 200 students took to the ninth floor of the Henry F. Hall Building in protest. Negotiations between the University’s administration and protestors broke down on Feb. 10 and the Montreal police were called in to resolve the conflict the following day. 

Riot police stormed the building, intent on dispersing the occupation by force. In response, protesters resorted to smashing windows and hurling University property onto the streets below. 

While police and protestors clashed, a fire began in the computer centre, the cause of which remains disputed to this day. Those who were still inside the building were forced to flee for their lives as crowds of onlookers chanted “let the n****rs burn.”

The riot’s aftermath resulted in over 97 people in police custody, $2 million in damages had been reported, and professor Anderson, who had been put on administrative leave during the unrest, was reinstated.

To this day, the Sir George Williams Affair remains the largest student occupation in Canadian history and a stain on Concordia’s reputation.

“For Concordia, reckoning with these events is a long overdue, necessary step. But it is not an end in itself,” Carr said last Friday.

For many, including co-founder and president of the Black Student Union (BSU) Amaria Phillips, this means ensuring that last Friday’s apology is followed up with concrete actions.

“I just really hope it’s not performative,” said Phillips. “I really hope that it’s sincere, with the intention of apologizing to make sure that we prevent anti-Black racism in the school and the University on campus for students, faculty and staff.”

According to Phillips, the BSU was heavily involved, both directly and indirectly, with the President’s Task Force on anti-Black racism during its mandate. She agrees with its findings and recommendations, but worries that the University’s commitment to tackling systemic anti-Black racism will wane if the public’s attention shifts.

“My fear is that, unless the story dies down, the cameras are off, and we’re not the focus of this anymore, they’re just going to let it slide through the cracks, and then we’ll slip back into that cycle,” said Phillips.

Music Quickspins

Anniversary QUICKSPINS: Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin

The catalytic debut to one of the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands, revisited

This week in 1969, Led Zeppelin released their self-titled debut album. The project would go on to set the precedent for the extraordinary work that would emerge from the four-piece English rock band and the three more self-titled albums that would follow. Led Zeppelin has since become one of the most revered rock bands of all time and is the pioneer for much of the sounds that we hear today.

The reception towards the Led Zeppelin LP was not initially met with the high-praise that it received in later years. Rolling Stone initially published a review of the album that saw the band hold a grudge against the magazine for decades, calling head honcho Jimmy Page “a very limited producer and a writer of weak, unimaginative songs.” Revisiting the album, it is impossible to overlook the amount of classics that were a part of the track list. “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” “Dazed and Confused,” and “I Can’t Quit You” are just a few gems that stand the test of time, as does the rest of the album. While it may not be the best in Led Zeppelin’s discography, it’s something pretty close to it.

Rating: 9/10

Timeless Classic: “Your Time Is Gonna Come”

Student Life

Lying down for a more peaceful world

Montreal celebrated International Day of Peace by honouring John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s bed-in for peace movement  

When John Lennon, Yoko Ono and her daughter, Kyoko Chan Cox, arrived in Montreal in the spring of 1969 for their stay at the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel, they brought peace and love to our city.

As John Lennon said, “Peace is not something you wish for. It’s something you make, something you do, something you are and something you give away.” The couple held their second bed-in for peace in Montreal, where they remained in bed for eight consecutive days and invited musicians to sing and journalists to talk about world peace. It was also in their hotel suite, room 1742, that Lennon and Ono composed the famous peace anthem, “Give Peace a Chance.”

Archives of podcasts, exclusive interviews and photos from the bed-in in 1969, inside suite 1742. Photo by Kirubel Mehari

This year, on Sept. 21, the International Day of Peace, Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel revealed a redesigned version of suite 1742 that reflects the iconic bed-in scene. “While recreating suite 1742, we realized that we wanted to bring back that powerful cry for peace and make it far-reaching,” said Philippe Demers, the CEO and senior partner of MASSIVart, a Montreal-based production and art agency that collaborated on the project. Real estate agency Ivanhoé Cambridge and Sid Lee were also involved in the remodeling.

According to Demers, it took his company and Sid Lee Architecture over two years to redesign the room. “We began on Nov. 13, 2015, the day of the terror attacks in Paris,” he said. “We felt that people did not understand what John Lennon and Yoko Ono tried to say here back in 1969. It made sense for us to bring their message back, which is a message of peace that is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.”

Montrealers gathered to lie down for peace in celebration of the International Day of Peace at the Place Ville Marie esplanade. Photo by Sandra Hercegova.

The concept of the redesign was developed by Sid Lee Architecture, which rearranged the furniture in the suite to match its 1969 layout and reproduced the famous handwritten Hair Peace and Bed Peace signs on the windows. The lyrics of Lennon and Ono’s peace anthem are inscribed on walls and framed photographs of their bed-in hang around the room.

The suite also has interactive features, such as a virtual reality video. “We began shooting with UNLIMITED to make a realistic virtual reality film which brings us back in time to the bed-in of 1969,” said Hanae Bossert, the project manager at MASSIVart. The video allows people to experience the original bed-in as if they were actually there. It presents a 360-degree view of the best moments of the event by condensing eight days into a few powerful minutes.

Montrealers gathered to lie down for peace in celebration of the International Day of Peace at the Place Ville Marie esplanade. Photo by Sandra Hercegova.

The room includes an archive cabinet with 12 interactive drawers filled with an assortment of photographs, podcasts, videos, testimonies and historical objects. These elements showcased the couple’s commitment to peace during that famous week nearly 50 years ago. “We also needed to include available archives for people to take the time to read and understand what the bed-in was all about—understand their message of peace and its importance,” Bossert said.

There are three objects around the room that present these archives in an interactive format—one of which is a telephone. “Just pick up the phone, and you’ll automatically hear a registered conversation of John Lennon speaking about peace because he spent so much time talking about peace to the entire world,” Bossert said.

There is also a television showing archive images of the bed-in, and a tape recorder which plays exclusive interviews from journalists with Lennon at the press of a button.

Sophia Alachouzos volunteered at the bed-in. Photo by Sandra Hercegova.

According to Bossert, she helped install about 150 pieces of art around the room, a process that was carefully overseen by Arthur Gaillard, the chief curator of MASSIVart. “It was a long selection process—we worked hand in hand with architects to find the right pieces of art which would endure with time,” Gaillard said. All the pieces that were selected were created by Quebec artists.

Also on the International Day of Peace, Sid Lee Collective and MASSIVart invited the public to attend the largest outdoor bed-in ever held in North America. Over 40 beds were placed on Place Ville Marie’s esplanade, each with a unique peace poster printed on its sheets.

Montrealers gathered to lie down for peace in celebration of the International Day of Peace at the Place Ville Marie esplanade. Photo by Sandra Hercegova.

These posters were part of the Posters for Peace exhibition which featured the work of 40 international graphic artists depicting their visions for peace, its current state in the world and what needs to be done to achieve it.

“We’ve learned that even the smallest actions can spark change,” said Philippe Meunier, the chief creative officer, co-founder and senior partner at Sid Lee. “With Posters for Peace, we want to give artists a global platform to express themselves on this issue and start a conversation, so that we can build a better tomorrow.”

Feature photo by Kirubel Mehari

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