CSU calls on faculty, deans to provide academic support for Black students

Black Lives Matter protest signs on sidewalk

Ongoing protests against active police brutality coupled with Covid-19 increase hardship for racialized students

Alisha Samnani // Managing Editor, News Editor
Maria Penaranda // Editor-in-Chief

The Capilano Students Union (CSU) sent a letter on Jun. 11 asking faculty members to provide academic accommodations to Black students throughout the summer 2020 semesters. This comes after President Paul Dangerfield released a written statement addressing “the violence, turmoil and tragedy escalating in the United States.”

Protests against racialized police brutality have been held across North America following the death of George Floyd under Minneapolis police custody on May 22, with Vancouver, Toronto, and Montréal amongst numerous cities holding events.

“On behalf of our students and the Black community, we ask you to proactively provide academic accommodations to Black students through the summer semesters,”  reads the CSU letter, signed by President Emily Bridge. “While there are ways in which students may ask for accommodations themselves, such as approaching accessibility services or counselling, these are institutional barriers that many don’t have the ability to interface with at this time,” the letter continues. 

Maria Santana, a communications student who recently completed two summer courses, spoke about the difficulties of navigating online summer classes as a black student during the tragic events surrounding the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. 

“I think the reason why it’s been impossible for me to produce things in class right now is because it feels like I’m betraying myself,” said Santana. “It feels [like] it’s against me. That’s what school feels like right now, like it’s against you.” 

Santana, who had been struggling to keep up with her summer courses, reached out to both her professors—one in the faculty of Arts & Sciences, and one in the Faculty of Business & Professional studies—to ask for academic accommodations. A friend of Santana first contacted the professor from the faculty of Arts & Sciences to explain Santana’s situation, as Santana was initially hesitant to reach out for fear of being dismissed.

Santana says this professor was understanding and made academic accommodations for her.

However, the professor from the faculty of Business and Professional studies, Santana says, did not make a strong enough effort to provide academic accommodations. According to Santana, this professor said they would be deducting marks for submitting her assignment late. 

“I asked him for help and he seemed to be understanding, but then at the end [he said] ‘Well, at the end of the day we’re all going through a pandemic. Just do your best,’” she recalled. 

“As a…professor who reads and writes, you…have to know what’s going on, and the fact that I felt like I had to keep explaining myself on the reason why things were so hard for me just made me very frustrated,” Santana shared. “Like, you can see in my face that I’m a black student. You know what’s going on. What do you expect me to say? To cry for you for half an hour explaining how hurtful it is for me to see people [who look] like my Dad being killed on video every week? And us knowing that this happens on a daily basis for years… like, do I have to explain that? You’re a professor, you don’t understand the intersection of things in the learning institution?”

“And still, on top of that, like, are you even looking at me…when I’m talking to you? Because I don’t think you would say that if you were really looking at me. If you could really see me, you wouldn’t say that. You wouldn’t think that. You would know where I’m coming from,” she continued. “My grade is going to be less the same way a grade would be less of any white kid in that class who’s sitting in their house and forgot to submit their paper, you know? Because they’re all ‘going through a pandemic.’”

“There’s no diagnosis for being black,” Santana emphasized. “It’s not validated… It’s not considered, it’s not a thing even…It’s just a feeling— I mean it’s not a feeling, it’s a thing— but all I can do is take it as a feeling, because that’s all that it means in this world.” 

Santana’s words are reflective of the concerns of other racialized students, who believe the university has a long way to go in terms of incorporating and actively following anti-racist practices. 

“School is not a learning institution when it comes to unlearning things. You learn how to become a professional, you learn how to write, but you don’t learn how to be a citizen. School doesn’t integrate anti-racism,” said Santana. She emphasized the need for professors to move beyond the tendency to only mention BIPOC during a single week or unit. “You have to include black writers, you have to include these things in the way that you teach. It’s not a topic.”

CSU Students of Colour Liaison and Jazz Studies student Feven Kidane says that providing adequate time for Black and Indigenous people of colour (BIPOC) to rest and recuperate is just as important as discussing recent events surrounding the Black Lives Matter protests. “BIPOC have been discussing these issues for a long time,” says Kidane. “The spotlight is on these issues now, but they’re not new. Collectively, we are exhausted.”

Kidane urges faculty to be extra considerate of BIPOC at this time, “Check in with your students before they come to you. Ask them if they need resources for counselling,” said Kidane. “If you don’t know any resources, send your students to me; I can show them that there are resources available to them.” 

Bridge says she has received positive feedback about the letter from a couple of individual instructors so far. “Everyone I’ve heard from has been appreciative and supportive, and keen to help students in any way they can.” The letter will be circulating to all faculty and staff throughout the summer and fall semesters.

As far as what else faculty can do, Kidane suggests taking the time to learn and discuss racial issues amongst themselves as well as their students. “Working current events into lessons, incorporating bits and pieces of real-world events into discussions with their students. Even amongst themselves, having those discussions about the impact these events are having on their students is important.”

“If faculty and staff want to learn and help but are unsure how, they can also ask me,” says Kidane. “There are people in our office who are paid to help them go through the work to learn.”

For additional resources and support, students and faculty are encouraged to reach out to the CSU Students of Colour Liaison at colour@csu.bc.ca.


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