Capilano University leadership owe Black and Indigenous students more than a statement of acknowledgement
Maria Penaranda // Editor-in-Chief
Jo Whimsy // Illustrator
As the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction after the deaths of George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet and others, Capilano University (CapU) President Paul Dangerfield released a written statement in June titled: “Times of tumult and tragedy.”
“With deep concern and sadness, Capilano University acknowledges the violence, turmoil and tragedy escalating in the United States,” the statement says. “This is a time of sorrow, frustration and anger for many, especially in Black communities. It is also an opportunity for deep reflection upon power, privilege, hardship and pervasive inequities in our own society…We strive to be a place where ideas and experiences can be shared safely and where support is available to address even the most painful of social issues. Racism has no place here.”
At its best, the statement reads as a somewhat vacuous declaration of solidarity. At its worst, it frames racialized violence as something exclusive to the United States and non-existent in Canada, and erases by omission the fundamental factor behind this “violence, turmoil and tragedy”: racialized violence (especially by police) against Black and Indigenous people of colour (BIPOC). But aside from the tactless wording, the statement’s biggest shortcoming is that it refuses to deliver any course of action for CapU itself. Statements of ‘solidarity’ do nothing for BIPOC students; real solidarity is rooted in action.
BIPOC students who took summer classes were and are dealing with the trauma, pain, and exhaustion of witnessing and absorbing the constant brutality and violence against BIPOC, made hyper-visible through social media. These students have not been given any concrete support from the University. A few days after Dangerfield’s statement was released, the Capilano Students’ Union (CSU) sent a letter asking faculty to provide academic accommodations to Black students over the summer semesters. Although the few faculty that have responded (at the time of this piece) provided positive feedback, it’s disheartening knowing that not every faculty representative the letter was addressed to responded.
In April, the university responded to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on students by allowing us to substitute any letter grade from the spring 2020 semester with a grade of CR (credit) that does not impact our GPA. Is it so much of a leap to allow this same opportunity to Black and Indigenous students who took summer courses this year?
At the time that Dangerfield’s statement was released, I was taking three summer classes and struggling hard to keep up. I am, however, registered with Accessibility Services because of my Bipolar diagnosis, and was able to get accommodations for my courses with no questions asked. If things like mental illnesses and learning disabilities are valid factors in allowing students academic accommodations, shouldn’t the daily weight of existing in a racialized body be a valid factor too?
In August, I interviewed my close friend and fellow communications student Maria Santana on what it was like for her to navigate online classes this past summer as a Black student. “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,” she told me. “It feels [like] it’s against me. That’s what school feels like right now, like it’s against you.”
Her words are reflective of the moral struggle other BIPOC students are presumably going through right now. How can you give your money, energy, trust and goodwill to an institution that doesn’t acknowledge your circumstances and humanity? As I’ve mentioned before, Dangerfield’s statement is disheartening not only because it frames racialized violence as something exclusive to the United States, but also because it offers Black and Indigenous students at CapU no concrete support. University of British Columbia (UBC) president Santa Ono’s statement, in comparison, details the steps he will be taking to build a more inclusive campus community, which include meeting with UBC’s Black Caucus and recruiting, retaining, and supporting Black students and staff.
Dangerfield’s statement, to me, is a PR checkmark of performative allyship, reminiscent of companies like L’Oreal that release statements out of obligation in order to avoid backlash, rather than out of genuine reflection, empathy, and effort.
“School is not a learning institution when it comes to unlearning things,” Santana also told me. “You have to include Black writers, you have to include these things in the way that you teach. It’s not a topic.”
The words “it’s not a topic” have echoed in my mind since the moment she spoke them. Black, Indigenous, and other racialized students at CapU need more than statements. They need active and concrete support from university leadership.
This can be done in many ways: allowing academic accommodations for BIPOC students during times of heightened stress from witnessing racialized violence, meeting with the Students of Colour Liaison Feven Kidane to discuss the best ways to support racialized students, hiring Black and Indigenous professors, ensuring that course content doesn’t mention racialization as an afterthought, but rather centers the perspectives of racialized students—the list goes on.
There are so many opportunities for change, but a statement without action won’t get us anywhere.