Photo C/O Tamas Munkacsi

By J., Contributor  

If you need any additional proof that the McMaster Students Union made the correct decision to revoke MSU club status for the McMaster Chinese Students and Scholars Association, then look no further than Mac CSSA’s own lawyer.

On Nov. 3, Mac CSSA made an appeal to reverse the SRA’s de-ratification of their club, during which Mac CSSA’s lawyer revealed that “Chinese consulate officials have attended informal Mac CSSA events” and “those visits by officials were solely for the purpose of just explaining consular services … like if there’s an emergency event, contact us [the Chinese consulate]”.

This may seem benign, until you consider why Mac CSSA was de-ratified in the first place. According to Mac CSSA’s public statement, they reported Uyghur activist Rukiye Turdush to the Chinese consulate after she gave a speech on campus that criticized China’s genocide of Uyghur Muslims. Alarmingly, Mac CSSA later argued that Turdush’s talk was considered an “emergency event” due to “thousands of Chinese students at McMaster experiencing immense emotional distress” as a result of Turdush’s speech.

Mac CSSA does not represent all Chinese students, and their response is actually quite insulting to the Chinese students at McMaster, myself included, who instead condemn the concentration camps in Xinjiang. Additionally, I cannot imagine the emotional distress that Uyghur students at McMaster must be experiencing, as they risk potentially being reported to the genocidal regime currently destroying their people, should they dare respond to the Chinese nationalists who openly defend a government that commits genocide against Uyghur Muslims.

However, more importantly, the statements from Mac CSSA’s lawyer are clear evidence that Chinese government officials — while on McMaster’s campus — instructed students to inform them of emergency events, with an “emergency event” loosely defined to cover whatever causes “distress”, which apparently can include criticism of the Chinese government.

The reporting of Turdush’s talk to the consulate shows how these Chinese diplomats’ instructions have been successfully heeded. Given that consular officials hold an extraordinary position of power, their alleged dissemination of such instructions on campus is deeply problematic, regardless of how “informal” these visits are.

Currently, universities around the world are trying to fend off increasing interference from the Chinese government. Australia is formally investigating such interference amidst incidents which include a Chinese diplomat inciting death threats against a democracy activist at the University of Queensland. Meanwhile, the United States recently required that Chinese diplomats notify U.S. authorities prior to visiting universities. Similarly, we must also firmly respond to such intrusions on our campus, while also remaining measured.

This is not the time to vilify Chinese students at McMaster. Already, the McMaster Chinese Students Association has received crude comments on their Facebook page, even though McMaster CSA is completely unrelated to Mac CSSA. Homogenizing Chinese students at McMaster in any capacity is extremely dangerous, as it plays directly into the propaganda line of the Chinese Communist Party: that all Chinese people are united behind the CCP. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Likewise, it is equally dehumanizing to dismiss legitimate criticism as racist or anti-Chinese, as that erases the real and valid experiences of minorities who have been oppressed by the CCP. For example, last week’s article, “CSSA-gate at McMaster: The scars of exclusion”, declared that the “real test for racism, in my view, is ... in how you treat those who don’t agree with you, and who do things that make you uncomfortable”. My response: tell that to the Uyghurs who are suffering in concentration camps for the high crime of not being sufficiently Han Chinese, or the visible minority students who, after Mac CSSA’s actions, became fearful of openly criticizing the Chinese government. 

I am Chinese too, and I am proud of my heritage — but I refuse to parrot the nationalism that leads some to defend the Chinese government in oppressing my people and in inflicting horrific suffering upon millions from Xinjiang to Hong Kong. That is also why I am alarmed to see Chinese diplomats interfering in campus politics by instructing students to report on vaguely-defined “emergency” events.

Moving forward, we must improve efforts to support, integrate and include students who come from countries where liberal democracy is not the norm, and where basic rights — such as those of expression, assembly and press — are alien concepts. We must also remain wary of Chinese government attempts to monitor and control students on campus, whether through diplomats or proxy organizations. 

Finally, we must remember that Chinese government interference on campus is a political problem, not a racial one. After all, ethnic Chinese voices are among those most critical of Chinese Communist Party oppression, as we are one of its main victims.

 

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Photo C/O Kyle West

By Anonymous, Contributor

As a non-Chinese faculty member, I have been following events unraveling around the Student Representative Assembly’s decision to de-ratify the McMaster Chinese Students and Scholars Association. As an associate chair of my department, I interact with undergraduate students on a daily basis, which is why I was troubled to hear about how the Student Representative Assembly proceeded with the de-ratification of a student-run group on campus. Recent reports reveal that SRA representatives believed that they had placed Mac CSSA on probation for six months, while the group itself was not notified. Furthermore, Mac CSSA was de-ratified during a meeting on Sept. 22 for which the club was not given due notice. 

From reading the SRA meeting minutes and watching live streams of the SRA proceedings, I was struck by the unanimity of it all. Many questions were raised but not discussed and many comments were made but not challenged. Some SRA members even mentioned the absence of Mac CSSA or any rebuttal document at the final de-ratification meeting. Yet, no one in that room tried to table the motion to de-ratify Mac CSSA. What would have changed if the proceedings had been delayed to allow for a chat with the Equity and Inclusion Office, to consult a lawyer and, at the very least, to allow CSSA members to attend the de-ratification meeting? By not properly engaging with opposing voices in the SRA chamber, the rush to judgement that occurred with the de-ratification of Mac CSSA seems to have emerged from a groupthink mentality. 

Given my experience as an equity-seeking person myself, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, watching this unfold has made me extremely emotional. By speaking with one voice, rushing to judgement and bypassing the regular procedures, the SRA’s actions threatened not a single group on campus, but the entire institution. This type of prosecution, though clearly not at the same level of magnitude, has shades of the Lavender Scare or even McCarthyism. In those times, as the guilt of the accused was decided prior to the public accusation, any irregular process to convict them was sufficient. Never mind that once accused, there was no chance of defense. Only after the Sept. 22 de-ratification and after Mac CSSA had initiated an appeal process themselves did the SRA give Mac CSSA a chance to answer questions regarding the allegations put forward to de-ratify them. The evidence presented by Mac CSSA in their appeal was dismissed and the SRA denied their appeal.

I’m not defending the actions of Mac CSSA and I’m not even saying that the MSU is wrong to censure a club. But I strongly believe that the cornerstones of our democracy are the right to a fair trial, the right to defend oneself and the right to be presumed innocent. In a fair system, if your arguments are valid, your evidence is sound and your process is unbiased, there is no reason to fear the presence of the accused. Particularly when dealing with an equity-seeking group, it is imperative to ensure that all the necessary steps of a process have been taken with care so there is no questions about the outcome. Even if the outcome may not be different, a fair and transparent procedure is necessary. The process is what protects our values. It is what protects us from fear-mongering, from undue influences and partisanship. 

Joshua Marando has admitted that he made such mistakes with regards to CSSA “not being informed at the meeting” as well as the miscommunication of the “initial probation”. While he referred to them as “big oversights,” they were downplayed as “not intentional by any means,” implying to me that even a compromised process can be justified.

The SRA should not be allowed to get away with this. When we compromise procedural justice, even the most righteous of intentions can lead to significant unintended consequences. In this case, the irresponsible management of Mac CSSA’s de-ratification has had profound consequences. Due to my position as an associate chair, I interact with many Chinese undergraduates, graduate students, staff and faculty colleagues, all with varying views. This incident has led to the alienation of a large group of people who may have differing political views, but who are still important members of the McMaster community. 

As a student government body that represents people with diverse backgrounds, it is critical for the MSU to maintain an impartial political stance, and treat everyone equally and fairly, which includes international students. The MSU should not forget that Mac CSSA is a club of their own fellow students. They are not some nameless and faceless foreign government entity that some SRA members may have implied in the height of their groupthink euphoria. 

The Mac CSSA de-ratification reveals the kind of power the SRA has — in terms of club de-ratification, they are able to act as witnesses, judge, jury and executioner in a decision-making process. It must be made clear to them that such power comes with the trust of the McMaster community, which should be used to strive for equality and inclusivity, instead of dividing the campus by abusing it. 

This should really be a wake-up call for the MSU that undue procedures can be a slippery slope that you cannot come back from. The step to de-ratify a club that consists of fellow students is a serious one and deserves thoughtful action. With that being said, this Mac CSSA-gate fiasco could provide an opportunity to establish precedents and norms to prevent it from happening again, similar to the development of the Miranda rights for people accused of criminal actions. 

The MSU should really reflect on why they were so quick to compromise their own processes — what was their justification and what would have been the harm of following the correct procedures? The MSU should take measures to counteract groupthink by assigning a devil’s advocate or equity champion, by consulting a specialist before making a decision, by involving third-party members to get impartial opinions or by setting up a rule that the leadership should be absent from discussion to avoid overly influencing decisions. 

The MSU should also be aware of the systematic barriers and implicit biases that may have played a role in their flawed procedures. They have an obligation to reach out to the less privileged groups of students to help them be a part of the community, to have a voice at the table, to communicate and connect and to be valued. 

As David Farr, acting president of McMaster, recently said, “Equity, diversity, and inclusion are critical to our academic mission and vital for innovation and excellence.”

The MSU should play a leading role in that mission, rather than acting against it.

 

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By Anonymous

Recently, the McMaster Students Union de-ratified the McMaster Chinese Students and Scholars Association due to its “alleged links to the Chinese government” according to the CBC News. The report from the news article was unprecedented for the MSU and alarming for me and other members of the McMaster community. Based on the online meeting notes (2002-2019) of the MSU’s governing body, the Student Representative Assembly, an alleged connection with a foreign government has never been a factor in the de-ratification of a visible minority group. 

While Columbia University and the University of Cambridge had previously banned their CSSA clubs, both universities re-ratified the clubs in a matter of weeks after resolving their violations. Therefore, to the best of my knowledge, it would be one of the first times that alleged connections to the Chinese government have played a role in the de-ratification of any CSSA.

If the MSU is now deciding to factor in an alleged association with a government as a reason to ban a student club, then they need to come up with an exclusion list of “unacceptable” countries. If that list starts with China, where does it end? And what kind of campus environment will it create?

The CBC article may not fully reflect the true process of the Mac CSSA de-ratification — the meeting notes record the decision as being based on a violation of Section 5.1.3. of the MSU clubs operating policy, aka “actions, which endanger the safety or security of any person or property.” The CBC article politicized the de-ratification, demonizing China with absolute certainty. Yet the SRA did not make any public statements to provide a counter narrative

The CBC article politicized the de-ratification, demonizing China with absolute certainty.

As a result, this sent a hurtful and damaging message to the Chinese community on campus. Most of my Chinese friends are angry and confused at this attempt to openly disenfranchise them. Some have discussed their frustration in private with tears in their eyes, assuming that taking pride in China is not allowed in Canada. Some people believe that they have to lie low to abide by Canada’s rules. Some question if they will be able to extend their visa, find a job or apply for immigration if they express opinions different from the MSU. 

As a proud Chinese student who was born and raised in China and decided to make Canada my new home after great consideration, I was shocked at how this decision goes against every value I believe Canada stands for. What the MSU did, in my opinion, is a classic example of racism, even though it is covert. While criticising the Chinese government alone is not racist, disbanding a Chinese student group based on their political expression, free speech and ancestral origin is absolutely racist and unacceptable. 

Here is how: it is almost like dictating to us, you must be anti-Chinese government to become one of us, otherwise you should go back to China. In my view, even the anti-government Chinese students are also affected by such restrictions, as their right to freely determine their political beliefs is also compromised. No one should need approval to hold a lawful political stance. Under the SRA’s rhetoric, members of the Chinese community, regardless of their political stance, have become second-class citizens as we must have our beliefs certified to enjoy the freedom of association.

The real test for racism, in my view, is not in how you treat “model citizen” minority groups who align with your beliefs, but in how you treat those who don’t agree with you, and who do things that make you uncomfortable. 

The real test for racism, in my view, is not in how you treat “model citizen” minority groups who align with your beliefs, but in how you treat those who don’t agree with you, and who do things that make you uncomfortable.

The CSSA incident is precisely the test. At the centre of this incident is the open letter claiming that Mac CSSA notified the Chinese consulate about a public speaker in McMaster who supports Uighur separatism in China — the letter turned out to be prepared by an alumnus without informing Mac CSSA, as the alumnus had instead consulted the prior president of Mac CSSA. Disregarding the fact of who prepared the letter, I would still have great sympathy for their impulse to speak out. As China has gone through centuries of blood and wars, a unified China is precious for many Chinese students and other peace-seeking people on campus. Regrettably, this letter was interpreted by the SRA as extremist, dangerous and instructed by the Chinese government

Additionally, the SRA meeting notes claimed that there would be “no consequences” of disbanding CSSA. What about the thousands of Chinese international students who were denied a service they came to rely on under the MSU? What about the support CSSA provides to the international students who will be “shamefully neglected” if it were disbanded? As stated in the meeting minutes, no one from Mac CSSA was contacted to speak at the de-ratification meeting. Since the SRA effectively barred CSSA from the meeting without telling them about it, no one was left to advocate or to help the Chinese community at McMaster. 

Since the SRA effectively barred CSSA from the meeting without telling them about it, no one was left to advocate or to help the Chinese community at McMaster. 

The SRA's decision to de-ratify CSSA was an example of the racism that Chinese students routinely face. It is assumed that because we are Chinese, we must have the worst intentions. Because we are Chinese, we must be silent and submissive and never “rock the boat”, even when our services are denied. And because we are Chinese, believing in a unified and prosperous China means that we are brainwashed and should not be embraced by Canada. This is the message the MSU sent by this exclusion. 

This is why it is important to tell the Chinese students that McMaster needs their voices. My dear Chinese students, the MSU owes you the right to speak your mind on these issues. My dear Chinese students, whether you support the Chinese government or not, please step forward. In this country, no one should have the power to dictate your beliefs based on your Chinese origin. My dear Chinese students: be independent, be loud and be proud.

 

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