Opinion by Al Donato
On March 13, The Ryersonian reported that two white first-year journalism students weren’t allowed to join a Racialized Students’ Collective (RSC) meeting on March 11. It’s caused massive shitstorms online and has proven that ultimately, the newspaper is run by people who can’t comprehend why students of colour might need a racialized-only safe space.
Notably absent from The Ryersonian story is that a majority of the RSC’s events are open to white people. The space for the March 11 event, however, was requested by racialized students, and reporting on the event by any person was not allowed.
“I think the RSC has been perpetuated as a collective that doesn’t do any work with allies, which is untrue,” said Vajdaan Tanveer, an RSC coordinator. “Most of our events are open, we provide educational materials online and we’re willing to have conversations with white students about what allyship looks like.
“You would not expect a reporter to go to an AA meeting or any support group and report on it. Even if you were racialized and trying to report on that meeting, we would have asked you not to.”
Chrys Saget-Richard was the RSC coordinator who told the two students to leave, but promised to speak on the record to them afterwards. They never contacted Saget-Richard.
“I just feel so defeated,” Saget-Richard said. “One more time, we have to explain ourselves. We need to justify our existence, our reason for centralizing our voices, our reason for taking space. It took two white students to take what we’re doing, manipulate it in a way and give it out to the world where it’s more legitimate than any of the work that we’ve done.”
The pervasive argument online — that the white students were being racialized — is flawed.
Racism isn’t discrimination based on race, it’s the power to benefit from prejudice. Can white people be discriminated against? Yes.
Unlike white people, racialized people have never had the power to oppress, wrongfully arrest, steal land from or murder white people while being supported by the government, the justice system and major institutions.
So when a white person enters a discussion about race with people of colour, their presence alone oppresses what can be said.
“That’s why we need to carve these spaces for racialized folks so they can speak their mind without fear of being judged,” RSC coordinator Ali Moeng said.
When the students chose to go to The Ryersonian, rather than enter into a dialogue with the RSC on their safe space policies or decide to call ahead for more information on the meeting, their intentions were clear: they didn’t care about learning and sharing experiences of racialization.
They came to pilfer a story out of the support group. And when they didn’t get one, they decided to become one.
In journalism, everything is deliberate – from whose quotes are most important and therefore come first, to what’s intentionally left out. The Ryersonian story leads with and is completely dominated by the white students’ perspectives, engulfing most of the word count. It was only towards the end (and as a result, the least important voice) that the RSC was briefly quoted.
Saget-Richard, who goes by they pronouns, was referred to throughout the Ryersonian story as a woman. All coverage thus far has failed to mention this erroneous misgendering.
This isn’t the first time the Ryersonian has misgendered a trans individual — not even the first time this year. In February, the newspaper wrote an opinion piece on Bruce Jenner, confusing gender and sexuality as one and the same.
Throughout all of this, it’s clear that the Ryerson’s journalism curriculum fails to adequately inform students of the power imbalances between journalists and marginalized groups.The Ryersonian reporter’s byline has since been removed. The white journalism students had the accompanying photo of them replaced.
The RSC doesn’t have that luxury. They’ve been harassed, have received online threats (including an ominous “You’re on our list” email) and are in fear of being attacked walking around on campus. Still, they’re doing their part in reaching out to white allies. “Reverse Racism: Let’s Talk About It”, takes place on March 31, and will be a workshop dedicated to explaining racialized-only safe spaces. It’s yet another way the collective will have to prove their work deserves to exist.
Almost every public space and media outlet is centralized to the white experience. This is no more epitomized than in Ryerson’s journalism program, where most of the faculty is white.
Both students have spoken to various media outlets, saying they understand racialized students’ need for safe space.
But at the end of the day, The Ryersonian, run by the school of journalism, thought this was the story that mattered: the woes of white journalism students trumped the marginalization of racialized students.
That’s the real story.
Al Donato is a third-year journalism student and person of colour who works right beside the Racialized Students’ Collective in one of six equity centres run by the Ryerson Students’ Union. Donato is also a former Eyeopener editor.