By Allan Woods
A complaint has prompted Ryerson’s harassment office to cancel a mock slave auction to raise money for a student trip.
Fourth-year graphic communications management students organized the event for last Tuesday to support a graduation trip to Margarita Island in Venezuela.
The posters had an image of a ball and chain with the words “Slave4aDay!” printed on them.
“The posters were made up on a whim,” said event organizer Marco Temada.
He and fellow organizer Susan Sirovy put 10 posters on GCM bulletin boards in Jorgenson Hall.
The event was restricted to GCM students.
Campus groups administrator Leatrice Spevack said the slave auction was brought to her attention Nov. 10 by a continuing education student.
“When I first heard about it I thought, ‘Uh-oh! That’s not good,’” Spevack said. “Immediately I wanted to do something about it. [The student] was distressed, with good reason.”
The student demanded a written apology and the immediate removal of the posers.
On Nov. 15 the auction organizers delivered a letter of apology admitting their error: “We did not choose our words carefully and did not think of the ramifications that would be involved,” it read.
Before delivering the letter, Sivory and Tamada approached Specack asking if they could run the same event under a different name Servant for a Day instead. Spevack approved. “To me, being a servant is a profession,” she said. “People of all colours can be servant. I think the Academy of Butlers in England would be quite pleased that they used the word.”
The new posters called the event “The somehow more politically correct ‘Servant for a Day!’” A disclaimer at the bottom of the page noted the event is a fundraiser and the word servant is not meant to be offensive.
But the continuing education student was furious she wasn’t consulted about the alternate posters, Spevack said.
The student took her complaint directly to discrimination and harassment prevention services director Janet Mays, who ruled the event had created a “poisoned environment” and should be cancelled.
Mays refused to comment on the case. She also requested the complainant’s name be withheld from publication, because the student is afraid of the ramifications of her identity being known.
“We’re disappointed she had to go to that extent,” said Tamanda. “It’s become ridiculous.”
GCM chair Mary Black defended her students, who still haven’t found an alternate source for funds. Although Black said she understood the complainant’s initial reaction, “I think she wanted to paint my students black.”