Canadian university students petition for online classes amidst COVID-19 concerns

On March 10, students from various Canadian universities launched online petitions urging their administrations to consider suspending all in-person classes.

These petitions have since gathered thousands of signatures.

After seeing the University of Washington’s success with its petition, McGill University’s Ready McGill, a student-run emergency preparedness initiative, initiated the movement in Canada with an online petition on to suspend all in-person instruction and shift to online lectures. The petition is now closed and reached nearly 9,000 signatures.

Ready McGill said they were disappointed by McGill’s “wait-and-see approach.”

“[McGill University administrators] want us to get sick first before they would consider cancelling school, which might be politically convenient for the administrators, but really disastrous for us the students and faculty,” Ready McGill wrote in a statement to The Concordian.

Comments are flooding the online petitions, some criticizing the universities’ business-as-usual attitude despite the high possibility of a widespread outbreak on campus.

Concordia University and the University of Toronto followed suit and launched their own petitions after seeing the traction McGill’s was getting, garnering 11,000 and just under 19,000 signatures, respectively.

“I am a student concerned for not only my health but the health of those around me,” wrote Concordia journalism and political science student Caitlin Yardley in the comment section of the petition. “I live in a building with predominantly elderly people and although I would likely recover from contracting the virus, my neighbours might not. For the health of the community, please suspend classes.”

“A lot of students are quite concerned about the situation. And of course, everyone wants to protect their own health and safety first,” said the president of the Students’ Society of McGill University, Bryan Buraga, in an interview with The Concordian.

“The level of extent to which they believe that the university should close varies,” Buraga added. But he feels that there is a “prevailing sense” from the students that the university should cancel in-person classes.

Concordia philosophy student David Becker created Concordia’s version of the petition in hopes that the support and signatures it received would pressure the university’s administration to act.

“I think it is important that this becomes a story because most schools in North America are trying to find a solution to keep their students safe and Concordia doesn’t seem to be doing anything,” said Becker.

Over 200 U.S. universities including Harvard University, Columbia, MIT and UC Berkeley temporarily closed to prevent the possibility of transmission among their students.

Concordia spokesperson Vannina Maestracci released a statement about the university’s current course of action. The plan was to initially convert only six classes with over 250 students enrolled to online.

But after Legault announced Friday the shutdown of all Quebec daycares, elementary schools, high schools and universities until March 27, a statement was sent to all Concordia students that classes are to be cancelled until Monday, March 30 by the university’s president and vice-chancellor Graham Carr.

While the school is shutdown, Concordia professors will convert all in-class lectures to an online format by March 23, while the university prepares a plan for what comes after March 30 with the instructions from the ministries of education and public health. There are currently no updates regarding all exam schedules and the delivery of upcoming finals, but Concordia is working on a plan for students to complete the winter semester.

“We are finalizing a plan to allow us to deliver instruction online through a variety of technologies such as Zoom, that we have in place,” Maestracci said. Zoom is a video conferencing software on which university professors can hold their lectures and meetings with students online. New York University and University of Washington converted some of the classes to online instruction using Zoom.

Both campuses at Sir George Williams and Loyola are closed to all students as of Friday, March 13. Concordia employees began working remotely on necessary university operations during the shutdown.

While school is cancelled, it is recommended to frequently wash your hands with soap, avoid sharing utensils and other personal items, and keep a social distance from others for the next upcoming weeks according to the Gouvernement du Quebec.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Paving the way to Indigenizing Concordia

“These Indigenous teachers, they’ve overcome all those barriers all through their lives, in high school and going through university,” said Director of Concordia First Peoples Studies, Cathy Richardson/Kinewesquao. “It shows that they’ve really advanced themselves through education and they are ready to step up, and take on these leadership roles.”

In January, Concordia became the first university in Quebec to offer an Indigenous program, strictly taught by Indigenous people.

The First Peoples Studies, which was created nearly a decade ago, currently has 117 students, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. The program, which includes courses on language, culture and history, offers knowledge on Indigenous social and political issues.

While it used to be only Richardson/Kinewesquao, Dr. Louellyn White, a Mohawk woman from Akwesasne and Dr. Elizabeth Fast, with Métis and Mennonite ancestry teaching, the FPST program can now count three new Indigenous part-time teachers and two Indigenous teaching assistants.

When Richardson/Kinewesquao was hired last June, part of her mission was to Indigenize Concordia.

“What we typically find in universities are scholars, anthropologists, historians with different backgrounds teaching about Indigenous people,” she said. “What we want are Indigenous people with their own life experiences, with their people and community, with an Indigenous worldview and perspective. We want them to teach, because the pedagogy and delivery are also Indigenous, not just the content, to get away from that; not to only talk about them, but to teach about me, and us and we.”

This change also came as a result of many complaints from students, but also from across the board, said Richardson/Kinewesquao.

“We had quite a lot of complaints in the past about teaching style or things a teacher said, not knowing they weren’t saying the right thing,” she said. “But you don’t know what you don’t know. I do think the complaints, from an Indigenous point of view, were justified. I met with students and heard what wasn’t going well, but it takes time and we are trying.”

Autumn Godwin, a student in the FPST program, has experienced first-hand the lack of Indigenous teachers and the colonial roots of the curriculum within the department.

“[Indigenous faculty and staff] are an amazing team, super supportive but they’re stretched thin,” said Godwin. “I’m grateful for Concordia doing this, I just wish to see that we have a little bit more support when it comes to having more land-based programs and bringing in more future [scholar] talks but again, we’re stretched thin.”

One of the things that Richardson/Kinewesquao is currently working on, from now until the summer, is reviewing the FPST curriculum. The department created a review committee, with all but one member being Indigenous.

“The world turns, it’s really different than what it was 10 years ago,” she said. “We need to have more courses on land rights, on LGBTQ2+ (Two Spirits) issues. We need to talk more about the ceremonies, the environment and human rights.”

Universities across Canada have been responding to calls for action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, but having a university as supportive as Concordia makes a difference, Richardson/Kinewesquao believes.

“When I started, I had a community already. I had the people from the Aboriginal Students Research Centre, I got Donna Goodleaf in the Teaching and Learning Centre, and Manon Tremblay in Indigenous Direction. The people in the School of Community and Public Affairs are very helpful and supportive, even the Dean has been very supportive of me, so I feel like I’m well held-up and it’s gonna be okay moving ahead. But it’s always going to be slow when you work in a big institution, in a big university, we have lots of little barriers to overcome.”


During an event titled Four Directional – Four-Chair Panel hosted as part of First Voices Week on Feb. 4, students, Indigenous elders and faculty discussed how colonialism is still prevalent in education today and how it continues to affect both students’ and educators’ lives.

Many will find out, to their dismay, that despite Concordia’s most significant efforts to decolonize its curriculum, the school remains subject to a sizable amount of criticism, which universities face nationwide.

“Indigenizing the curriculum [at Concordia] benefits both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students,” said Director of Decolonizing Curriculum and Pedagogy, Donna Kahérakwas Goodleaf. “Every student can gain from an enriched educational experience.”

Goodleaf, who recently served as Concordia’s interim senior director of Indigenous directions, is now in charge of advising and making suggestions to faculty on how they can integrate the recommendations set out in the IDAP, which emerged in 2019 in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations.

She stresses that students need to be the ones to ask themselves what kind of education they want to receive, emphasizing that they have more power than they realize, and that they have to “take ownership of [their] educational curriculum.”

“I think it’s great, especially for the Haudenosaunee class where you have a Haudenosaunee woman teaching it,” said Godwin. “You have that matrimonial aspect that’s included as well.”

Although much progress has been made in the FPST program, a significant amount of work remains in other faculty departments.

“I’m getting all these invitations now from these different faculties,” said Goodleaf. “But I’m like an after-thought.” She paused as the audience took this information in; a remark that left the room in breathless silence. Goodleaf went on to say that in order to decolonize these events, Indigenous peoples have to be invited to participate in their creation.

The director emphasized that including the voices of First Nations peoples, Métis and Inuit on every level is crucial in order to decolonize academia––in other words, an invitation will not be sufficient.

Elder Vicky Boldo, from the Aboriginal Student Resource Centre, said that, like Goodleaf, she too noticed that faculty members would invite her to events but would never involve her in the actual planning of the event. Boldo, who is an adoptee from the ‘60s Scoop Era, pointed out that her Cree/Métis heritage did not make her a “spokesperson for multiculturalism,” and that faculty members should consider doing more than just inviting Indigenous peoples to fill seats.





Text by Virginie Ann & Laurence Brisson Dubreuil

Photos by Laurence Brisson Dubreuil

Graphic by Florence Yee



Canadian Universities urge exchange students in Hong Kong to come home

Protests have been ongoing since June amid Chinese government attempts to amend the extradition law

Canadian universities have been urging their exchange students in Hong Kong to return home as the tension between government officials and protestors continues to escalate.

While Concordia University hasn’t released official statement asking students to return early or to put off their exchange, it has been making sure students are up to date on the current political climate of the area.

“We make sure that the students are properly informed of the situation before they go,” said Christine Archer, manager of Concordia’s Education Abroad Programs. “We go according to the travel bans on the Canadian Immigration and Citizenship (CIC) website,”

There are currently no travel bans to Hong Kong on the Canadian Travel website, however, the organization warns any travellers to be extremely cautious.

The protests began in June when the local government attempted to amend extradition laws, allowing criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. This was seen by many as China’s attempt to gain more influence over the semi-autonomous territory, which was interpreted as a risk to Hong Kong’s independence.

Originally a British colony, Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997, when it was decided that while the territory would belong to China and it would have its own legal and political autonomy. They have been functioning under the motto “one country, two systems.”

The protests started off peacefully, but have since become violent. On Nov. 12, protests moved from the streets to many of Hong Kong’s university campuses.

On Nov. 17, protesters and police clashed at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, causing a nine-day siege. Since then, most protestors have escaped, surrendered or have been captured by the police reported the CBC.

Some Canadian students in Hong Kong have been cutting their exchanges short and leaving the territory early.

“We did have one student there this semester,” said Archer. “Her host institution ended classes on Nov. 15 and she came home right after.”

According to Archer, currently all of the Concordia students who had planned to study abroad in Hong Kong have changed their minds and have asked to be placed elsewhere.

“Back in 2015, it was stable and I really enjoyed it there,” said former Concordia exchange student Étienne Crête of his exchange to Hong Kong. “It’s one of my favourite cities in the world, but I wouldn’t go back right now. Not until the situation calms down.”

While the situation has gotten better recently, universities across Canada continue to closely monitor the situation, looking out for the best interest of their students.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

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