By Heidi Lee
Over 40 Ryerson University faculty members and staff have signed a statement in support of a two-day labour action to protest against anti-Black and anti-Indigenous police violence in Canada.
On Wednesday and Thursday, academics in higher education across Canada will pause teaching and administrative duties to address violence against Black and Indigenous communities. The campaign is also hosting free digital teach-ins on both days to educate the public on racism, colonialism and policing.
The Scholar Strike originated in the United States after Anthea Butler, a professor from the University of Pennsylvania, was inspired by the WNBA and NBA’s decision to strike after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Butler organized a similar action for academics to address racial injustice.
In an email to The Eyeopener, Kiké Roach, Unifor National Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson, stated she will participate and protest in the scholar strike because it is important for her to stand with others to demand change as a worker in an institution with a lot of power.
She also mentioned that Ryerson’s recent Anti-Black Racism Campus Climate Review Report reveals how anti-Black racism has impacted students, staff and faculty members.
“It is high time for Ryerson to go beyond symbolic statements condemning racism”
“Students have consistently stated that they are not seeing any significant improvements in addressing these issues,” she stated. “It is high time for Ryerson to go beyond symbolic statements condemning racism.”
“We must acknowledge the particular ways Ryerson itself has perpetuated racism and see that a specific plan is adopted with concrete actions taken to combat it.”
Roach also stated that Scholar Strike Canada goes beyond a focus on ending anti-Indigenous and anti-Black police violence, adding that organizers of Scholar Strike Canada have listed seven demands to end all forms of discrimination in institutions.
Their demands include: supporting the demands for defunding the police; removing campus police; addressing the underrepresentation of Black and Indigenous faculty members; committing to “recruit, admit, retain and mentor Black, Indigenous and racialized undergraduate and graduate students;” providing more mental health services, affordable education, sustainable jobs and housing for students and cultural professionals.
In addition, Scholar Strike Canada’s statement calls for the support of the campaign by CUPE 3261 to stop the University of Toronto from contracting out caretaking services.
Lynn Lavallée, professor and strategic lead in Indigenous resurgence in the Faculty of Community Services, said the strike is about what activists can do to raise awareness so there can be a future impact.
Lavallée is an Anishinaabek Qwe registered with the Métis Nation of Ontario. She noted that the strike isn’t the only time people should be aware of issues facing Indigenous people.
She said although most people are aware of the death of George Floyd, they haven’t engaged further in conversations about the injustice that Indigenous and Black people face on a daily basis.
“People may be aware of things that fall within their small circle, [news] that they are looking at and social media they are involved in,” she said. “But for instance, how many people are aware of residential school survivors writing letters to every senator to make sure that Lynn Beyak doesn’t get reinstated as senator because of her anti-Indigenous racist views?”
“[The teach-ins] will allow attendees to be more aware of how racism is integrated into their everyday lives”
She added that the recent arrest of Karl Dockstader, a journalist from Oneida Nation of the Thames, while covering a land defend action at 1492 Land Back Lane is also one of the many cases that more people are not aware of.
Lavallée said she is planning to mention the digital teach-ins to her students to encourage them to participate in the events on the two days and try to have a conversation with them the following week.
She said she hopes the lectures will allow attendees to be more aware of how racism is integrated into their everyday lives, and have the resources to call it out.
The digital teach-ins will start with a presentation by journalist Desmond Cole on police abolition, followed by various presentations by activists, artists and scholars from the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, York University and Ontario College of Art and Design University.
Among the presenters are Courtney Skye, research fellow at the Yellowhead Institute and Megan Scribe, acting assistant professor in the department of sociology at Ryerson.
Scribe, a member of Ininiw iskwew, Norway House Cree Nation, will share her doctoral research findings on Indigenous girls in the carceral system. In addition, Skye will be speaking on policing and the breaking of the land treaty at 1492 Land Back Lane. She is a Mohawk, Turtle Clan from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory who was arrested at 1492 Land Back Lane while conducting research.
Skye said the panel is designed to discuss the complex historical, political and social issues at 1492 Land Back Lane. “I think folks have dismissed the land dispute as a community issue rather than contextualizing it within the broader Canadian colonial framework that generates conflict within communities,” she said.
According to a statement via Ryerson Today from interim provost and vice-president, academic Saeed Zolfaghari, Ryerson supports all faculty, instructors, staff and students who wish to participate in the strike.
“While activities on these two days may take many forms, we encourage those who wish to take part to engage in constructive conversations with colleagues and classmates about the systemic racial injustice we are resisting together,” Zolfaghari’s statement reads.
For Kristin Smith, an associate professor at Ryerson’s School of Social Work, the strike is an opportunity for them and their students to express their collective outrage at the ongoing police killings of Black and Indigenous people in North America.
Smith said people from Black, Indigenous and other marginalized communities are “disproportionately killed by Canadian police compared to their share in the overall population,” adding that most victims of police brutality are struggling with mental health and substance abuse.
“Sammy Yatim, Andrew Loku, Abdirahman Abdi and Chantel Moore are just a few names that come to my mind,” they said. “[I think] the police must be abolished and we need to develop a radical re-visioning of how to keep our communities safe from harm.”
“For myself and many of my colleagues, this has required us to engage in deep critical self-reflection and to make changes to what and how we teach on these topics”
Smith also spoke on the anti-racist work that social workers specifically must address. They pointed to social workers’ role historically in residential schools and the Sixties Scoop, the mass removal of Indigenous children from their families and communities to forcefully place them in the child welfare system.
They added that social workers are also responsible for child welfare interventions that “disproportionately affect Black and Indigenous communities.”
“As a discipline, social work must make atonement for the many wrongs and injuries suffered by those who have come to the attention of social workers,” they said. “For myself and many of my colleagues, this has required us to engage in deep critical self-reflection and to make changes to what and how we teach on these topics.”
“This transformation is an ongoing process and we still have so much work to do in order to make our classrooms safer for Black and Indigenous students.”
Magdalena Ugarte, an assistant professor at the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson, said in an email that the Scholar Strike is not only a way to show solidarity but also a chance to educate her students on the links between urban planning, racial segregation, anti-Black and anti-Indigenous police violence, and other forms of social control and dispossession.
Ugarte said urban planning has contributed to the systemic inequities and violence experienced by Black, Indigenous and other marginalized communities through residential segregation, exclusionary zoning and the so-call urban renewal—prioritizing economic benefit over the land rights of communities.
She also pointed to the role of urban planning “in the creation of the Indigenous reserve system in Canada and other places with a settler colonial history” that has been enabling land usurpation and exploitation.