By Julianna Cummins
A death threat was mailed to a Ryerson student last week because of her involvement in a campaign to investigate racism on the university campuses of Ontario.
On Feb. 23, an envelope of newspaper clippings with racist phrases written on them was delivered to the Ontario office of the Canadian federation of Students (CFS).
The envelope included a photo from the Toronto Sun of Hildah Otieno, a continuing education student at Ryerson, taken at the launch of the CFS’s Anti-Racism Taskforce, and a controversial cartoon from the New York Post that showed two police officers shooting at a monkey.
The photo of Otieno and the cartoon had the words “REFUGEE DOG”, “KKK”, and “DIE N_____ DIE” on them.
Otieno is an international student from Kenya, the national representative on the Ontario board of the Canadian Federation of Students and one of the leaders of the Anti-Racism Taskforce initiative.
“You can’t imagine how it feels,” said Otieno. “It is really, really isolating and frightening too – it’s an attack on you and everyone in your community.”
Despite the frightening experience, Otieno said she will continue her work with the taskforce. That will include touring campuses across Ontario to bring awareness and compiling reports on instances of racism in post-secondary institutions.
“As we travel across the province, I’m hoping to share my story with people to give them the courage to speak out, because there are probably a lot of people that have this kind of thing happen to them but they never talk about it,” said Otieno.
Joel Duff, an employee of the CFS who assists in planning and executing events, said he was surprised by Otieno’s initial reaction to the death threat.
“Hildah is super strong. She’s just a really tough, vocal, really confident person…when this death threat came out, she was quiet for two days,” said Duff. “It was a reminder of why we’re confronting this kind of thing.”
The envelope delivered to the CFS offices had a return address of the Ontario Mental Health Association, said Duff. The organization later called the CFS to apologize and say that no one from their offices had sent the letter.
Rebecca Rose, vice-preisdent education of the Ryerson Students’ Union, said that this is the second time she’s seen a student leader receive a death threat, the first being former RSU president Nora Loreto last year.
In March 2008, then vice-president education Heather Kere received an e-mail she called a racist threat. The email accused Kere and the RSU for promoting black supremacy on campus.
“It’s not something that you like to think about when you’re organizing things,” said Rose of student activists receiving death threats.
“As they say, ‘serious people have serious enemies,'” said Rose.
A police investigation into the incident is ongoing.