*name has been changed to protect identity
Jamie*, a science student and former faculty rep, was not expecting they would have to file a human rights complaint against three fellow science representatives. But due to a lack of clear disciplinary action, they have had to go the McMaster Equity and Inclusion Office to report three students who repeatedly used the n-word on social media.
On Mar. 31, the day before the first day of Welcome Week representative training, one of the representatives in question posed a video of himself and two other representatives using the n-word onto his public Snapchat story. Unsure of their next course of action, Jamie recorded the video.
They decided to hold off on sharing it until Aug. 30, when they witnessed the planners taking decisive actions against other representatives who were behaving in a similar manner.
“So in my [rep group], there were two girls who were treating me like a [stereotype], using certain phrases and when I told them to stop, they just laughed. I brought it up to the [Welcome Week science] planners and they were cut the next morning,” they said.
“So the night this happened, I sent the video forward to my executive, who forwarded it to the planners. I figured 'oh if you're going to handle this issue you might as well handle this one,’” they added.
The planners then set up a meeting with Jamie the next day and promised all science representatives would receive additional training after Welcome Week. Jamie then contacted McMaster Students Union Diversity Services on Sept. 1, who tried to help them through the MSU branch.
Two of the representatives were still allowed to participate during Welcome Week and have not received any additional training.
According to Jamie, Diversity Services was not contacted to facilitate any additional anti-oppression practices training other than the general session given to all Welcome Week representatives during their Aug. training. Diversity Services later confirmed this via email.
After talking with the planners and the MSU vice president (Administration), Diversity Services relayed to Jamie that they could not further censure the representatives in question because they were not in their representative suits in the video. Jamie, however, questions the legitimacy of that ruling.
“In our first email from our planners, it said whether you're in the suit or not in the suit, you're still representing the Faculty of Science and science representatives,” they said.
After nearly two months, Jamie decided to post the full video in the Rep Network Facebook group on Oct. 27, where they asked why these students were allowed to continue to represent the Faculty of Science.
Within an hour, the video was taken down and Jamie was kicked out of the Rep Network group. They received an email from the McMaster Science Society president and the Welcome Week faculty coordinator, both of whom gave them different reasons for being kicked out of the group.
The former stated that the video had potentially triggering content and cited that for its removal while the latter stated they had not posted the video with the consent of those recorded. Jamie asked to be added back to the group, but still remains barred from it.
Both stated that disciplinary action had been taken, but neitthem would elaborate to Jamie what course of action had been taken. Two of the representatives were still allowed to participate during Welcome Week and have not received any additional training. The third rep in question was cut from the team because he failed to show up to a social event he had planned as an executive.
Following this experience, Jamie has filed a formal complaint with the Equity and Inclusion Office and hopes that no one else will go through such an ordeal.
“I'm hoping there will be a framework in the future, that way when someone comes forward with something like this, there's a protocol to follow and that in the event that the people involved are too close to the issue, that the planners and whoever else is involved can reach out to other bodies on campus,” they said.
“That way when you bring something up you're not left in the dark, the issue isn't brushed aside and something like this isn't allowed to flourish during the whole Welcome Week repping experience,” they added.
The McMaster Campus Store came under criticism this week for controversial choices in costumes available for sale. The store offered Halloween costumes for the first time this year as part of its expanded merchandise.
But not all the costumes went over well with McMaster students.
The selection of costumes available included racially offensive offerings such as “Sexy Indian Princess” and “Eskimo Cutie,” both designed for women.
Photos of the costumes were published in executive editor Jemma Wolfe’s editorial on The Silhouette’s website on Oct. 25, in response to the offerings in the Campus Store and cultural appropriation during Halloween. The images were circulated online, bringing the attention to the wider McMaster community—and provoking a major outcry.
Donna Shapiro, Director of the Campus Store, explained that the organization had not anticipated such a response.
“We didn’t really even suspect this angle as we started down this road,” Shapiro said. “I guess it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a party store to look at what costumes are available.”
Upon hearing of the available costumes, fourth-year Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour student Alan Rheaume started a petition asking that the Campus Store immediately remove the costumes, calling them “obscene and offensive towards Indigenous students at McMaster and aborad [sic]” and arguing that they violated the MSU’s Anti-Oppression Policy.
“I started the petition…so we could end this offensive business practice that has no place in an institution of higher education,” said Rheaume, who is a member of the McMaster First Nations Students Association.
“My goal was not only to get the costumes removed from the bookstore, but also to spread awareness about the widespread cultural appropriation inherent in Halloween celebrations.”
Rheaume’s petition, started on change.com, was established hours after the photos surfaced on Friday, Oct. 25. He was seeking 500 signatures; by the time it closed later in the weekend, 543 people had signed.
The Campus Store pulled the racist costumes less than 24 hours after complaints were made, removing them from sale before the store opened on Saturday.
Even through the controversy of the selections, observers praised the store’s swift response.
“I was happy on that front…for the [Campus Store] listening and being willing to respond like that,” said MSU President David Campbell of the quick remedy.
While the removal of the costumes was a welcome response, the problems associated with the sale of the costumes still resonated in the Mac community.
“Inappropriate Halloween costumes are not specific to McMaster, however we are concerned when such costumes appear within our own campus community,” wrote the McMaster Indigenous Studies Program and Indigenous Services in a comment to The Silhouette.
“[This] has been an embarrassment to the entire McMaster community, and hopefully these events can spark a dialogue on critical thought and informed decision making.”
The release referred to a third costume that was also deemed offensive for its endorsement of rape culture. In addition to the racially insensitive costumes, the Campus Store sold a football-themed costume marketed to women with lettering on the shirt saying, “tackle me.”
“The issue of costumes at the McMaster Campus Store extends beyond the problematic representations of Indigenous peoples, and Indigenous women specifically, as there were other costumes that were also offensive to other groups that condoned rape culture.”
The costume in question was pulled in the afternoon on Oct. 26, shortly after the original two were removed from sale.
The store had pursued Halloween costumes as a way to boost sales in October.
“Things slow down in the course materials area [in October], so we have some transitional space,” explained Shapiro. “Halloween was just a good fit because it happened to fit the timeline.”
The idea to stock costumes came from Deidre Henne, McMaster’s Chief Financial Officer and Associate Vice-President (Administration), who worked with the Campus Store to help boost revenue. The store has faced declining profits in recent years from decreased textbook sales, seeing a drop of 10 to 20 per cent per year, but is still mandated to contribute its profits, usually roughly $1 million, to the Student Affairs and University Operating budgets.
“They would not have sold costumes…had I not suggested it,” said Henne, who described the decision to stock them as “an innocent one.”
As proposed by Henne, the Campus Store sought a partnership with Party City, a New Jersey-based retailer. The company traditionally establishes a bunch of “pop-up” stores across North America seasonally for events like Halloween, but used their deal with Mac as an opportunity to pilot selling stock in a campus setting.
Party City rented the space from the Campus Store, and stocked the same selection of costumes that is available in their regular locations.
“There was nothing in front of that for vetting their costumes,” said Shapiro.
Considering the reaction, Henne concluded, “on-campus screening is probably necessary.”
“Hindsight is 20/20,” she said. “I think by bringing [these costumes] onto campus, it put a different lens onto it. I think in fairness it’s a good lens to put on it, it’s just about what appropriate actions the Campus Store should take when those things are arranged.”
It remains to be seen whether the Campus Store will continue to sell costumes in future years.
She is a woman known for her remarkable fight against racial injustice and advocacy for political prisoners. While Angela Davis now speaks about her past reflexively, it was her discussion of abolition and its connection to current disparities that drew 800 people to Liuna Station on Wed. March 27.
Davis was invited to mark the opening of the McMaster Centre for Scholarship in the Public Interest. Dr. Henry Giroux, the centre’s Director, emphasized Davis’ great commitment to engaged education.
“We invited Angela Davis here tonight because she has struggled greatly and with great dignity for decades to demonstrate that education is a form of political intervention,” said Giroux. “She has worked in difficult and shifting circumstances to remind us of the power of education as a central element of inspired self-government.”
Davis spoke for close to an hour, first sharing her own personal story. She described how she had an early exposure to activism.
She briefly discussed her now infamous early teaching career, which got her fired from UCLA, first because of her support for communism, then later for speaking out on behalf of political prisoners. Davis was later wrongfully jailed for her supposed connections with a murder plot.
She argued that the prison-industrial complex, a notion that was central to both her own personal experience and her talk, was first exemplified in slavery in the U.S.
The talk itself was meant to mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. But Davis’ aim was less commemorative and more critical of the underlying implications of the purported ‘end to slavery’ and its continued relevance.
“The civil rights movement was only necessary because the slave trade had not been fully abolished,” she said. “As a matter of fact, what we call the civil rights movement, we should call the 20th century abolition rights movement. Because it was about abolishing the vestiges of slavery. If slavery had been abolished…there would be no second-class citizenship.”
Davis argued that slavery was neither abolished nor antiquated. She noted how the actions of the civil rights movement were framed in a narrative that attempts to showcase the U.S as a model of democracy.
However, she asserted that the civil rights movement has been narrowly defined and restricted to instances like M.L.K.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, while suppressing activities of groups like the Black Panthers. But overall, she proclaimed that the emphasis on a continued need and struggle for freedom was integral.
While Davis spoke knowledgeably about the pre- and post-Civil War period, she especially captured the audience’s attention when she drew contemporary connections to slavery and the civil rights movement.
She used examples such as the Freedom from Apartheid Movement in South Africa, the Dalit Panthers and the Palestinian Freedom Riders as global movements that were inspired by the Black Freedom struggle.
Davis acknowledged that the current era is full of struggles that require social critique and discussion, similar to the dialogue that surrounded the civil rights movement. She urged that ideas should be fostered in the academy yet nurtured and used in practice on social issues.
She dismissed the notion that there is a “post-racial society” and the excision of poor people from public and academic consciousness. Davis stressed that critical education was key to questioning, addressing and restructuring oppressive social systems.
“The challenges of scholarship and activism are vast today…what is most important about this era is the consciousness and interconnectedness of various struggles. We can no longer focus on a single issue.”
Julia Empey, a third-year student in English and History with a minor in Religious Studies, came out of the event appreciating the magnitude of Davis as a speaker. Empey also noted that the gap between scholarship and activism was still present at McMaster.
“There is a desire to see it happen in some pockets of students…but to have that image realized is going to take a lot of work. How do we put these ideas in action? We’ve been told we’ve been given practical tools [through our education]. But we haven’t been taught how to use them.”
Davis concluded her talk by using part of a lesser-known speech from M.L.K., stating that, “most of what you know about M.L.K. is, he had a dream, right? And I’m actually kind of tired of that dream.”
Instead, Davis spoke about King’s desire to question, to urge broader restructuring and critical consciousness.
The overwhelmingly positive audience response and standing ovation may just prove to be one indicator of a revitalized sense of faith in a collective dialogue amongst Hamiltonians.
On the agenda, major items up for discussion were endorsing a Hamilton bike share program, anti-oppression training for MSU staff and SRA members, an MSU transit policy, changes to the student health plan and the final report from the democratic reform committee.