On Jan. 25, Judith Dworkin, the director of McMaster Hillel, delivered a presentation to the President’s Advisory Committee on Building an Inclusive Community in Council Chambers of Gilmour Hall.

Dworkin’s presentation came in the wake of the swastikas found in the men’s bathrooms of Burke Science Building last spring. It also followed a wave of anti-Semitic incidents in Hamilton, such as the swastikas drawn on sidewalks and on a rail trail in the city and the hate mail received by Temple Anshe Sholom in December 2017.

“[After these events transpired], the Jewish community was in shock,” said Dworkin.

In her presentation, Dworkin outlined a number of definitions of anti-Semitism, traced the origins and history of the swastika.

“[The swastika] is particularly traumatizing to the Jewish community and other communities who perished in the Holocaust,” she said.

In addition to increasing awareness, Dworkin’s presentation ignited dialogue about how the university and community should tackle anti-Semitism in the future.

“McMaster Hillel believes that the university should provide resources to students which will help educate the campus community on the topic of anti-Semitism, specifically in areas on how to recognize, where to report and what to do if experienced,” said Michal Coret, president of McMaster Hillel.

Following the presentation, PACBIC members discussed how the university should both prevent swastika graffiti from reappearing on campus and address anti-semitism more broadly.

A key recommendation put forward entailed putting up signs in washrooms on campus, which would serve to both highlight that swastika graffiti is prohibited and give students direction in the event that they come across it.

PACBIC members also expressed interest in adding facts about marginalized groups to these signs, which would be part of a larger effort to increase intersectional education within the McMaster community.

Chukky Ibe, McMaster Students Union president, suggested that university courses be created to educate students about the histories of oppressed groups.

“McMaster Hillel believes that the university should provide resources to students which will help educate the campus community on the topic of anti-Semitism, specifically in areas on how to recognize, where to report and what to do if experienced.”

Michal Coret
McMaster Hillel

“We need to talk more about anti-Semitism and marginalized communities and use an academic approach to make an early intervention,” said Ibe.

Another proposal consisted of building a resource identifing anti-semitism through the McMaster Equity and Inclusion Office, which would be similar to the Challenging Islamophobia on Campus Initiative Report published in February 2017, which addressed another form of religious discrimination.

“The EIO, the office of the [McMaster president Patrick Deane], McMaster chaplaincy and other faith-based groups, Student Support and Case Management Office and others will continue to provide education and programs in support of an inclusive community,” said Pilar Michaud, director of human rights and dispute resolution at the EIO.

McMaster Hillel aspires to continue to work with the EIO to combat anti-Semitism.

“Our hope is that the Equity and Inclusion Office will help provide university resources on campus and ensure Jewish students are able to access them when necessary,” said Coret. “We are optimistic that these resources will be available in the near future.”

The university and student groups continue to work together to identify and combat anti-Semitism on campus and in the community.

By Donna Nadeem

McMaster University recently hired their first associate vice president (Equity and Inclusion). Arig al Shaibah, a vice-provost from Dalhousie University, will be starting her term on April 1.

Al Shaibah plans on engaging with the campus, local and historically underrepresented or underserved communities to insure that she is hearing all voices to understand and learn of the challenges and opportunities. She wants to ensure that she is aware of the various perspectives of the diverse communities in order to build strong ideas and strategies to advance the equity and inclusion goals at McMaster.

“McMaster is clear in its commitments, has invested in programs to support equity and inclusion and has been active in making sure the systems, structures and symbols are in place that are necessary for institutional change,” said al Shaibah.

“I have always been personally passionate about advancing equity and inclusion, perhaps in large part given my own lived experiences.”

Arig al Shaibah, Incoming associate vice president (Equity and Inclusion)

“My first task is to meet members of the campus and local communities — to listen and to develop our relationships as a foundation for working together moving forward. Trust and transparency are critical to doing this work ethically and effectively,” she added.

Currently, al Shaibah is the vice-provost and acting executive director at Dalhousie, and has also spent many years at Queen’s University, where she achieved a PhD in Cultural and Policy Studies. Her dissertation was about educational equity in higher education. At Queen’s, al Shaibah worked as the assistant dean of student affairs (student life and learning), where she focused on residence life, student transition and academic success.

At Dalhousie, al Shaibah worked as the vice-provost (Student Affairs) and acting executive directors (Human Rights & Equity Services). Al Shaibah also taught courses in feminist pedagogy and critical race studies during her time as a professor.

She also spent around a decade working for non-profit community organizations which support and advocate for diverse populations and for the past 15 years has worked in the university setting, helping advance equity and inclusion goals.

“I have always been personally passionate about advancing equity and inclusion, perhaps in large part given my own lived experiences. As I became more knowledgeable about inequities locally and globally, I began to feel a great sense of responsibility to use my agency personally and professionally to make a difference,” said al Shaibah.

Shaibah’s passion and experience about equity and inclusion through her own lived experiences made her become even more committed to supporting those who face inequities both locally and globally.

“Although the work can be emotional and challenging, I find it extremely empowering and rewarding to see efforts resulting in change,” she explained.

McMaster has put in efforts to support equity and inclusion programs, through their Equity and Inclusion Office that ensures that students, staff and faculty are all treated respectfully in all areas of campus life. Arig al Shaibah hopes to improve and clarify issues with inequities and inclusion.

“McMaster has expressed a commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion and there are obvious signs of this commitment across the institution. It will be important to consider where McMaster has been, where we want to go and how to get there together.”

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In each of the past three months, at least one racially charged event has made local headlines, from the ‘alt-right’ posters in November to the swastikas spray painted onto the escarpment Rail Trail earlier in February. With that said, student groups on campus have made it their prerogative to combat harmful rhetoric through research, consultations and education.

On Feb. 22, the McMaster Equity and Inclusion Office published a report called “Challenging Islamophobia on Campus Initiative Report”. Written in response to the violent backlash against Muslims following the 2015 Paris attacks, this report outlines the research carried out by the office and their recommendations from their findings.

“The backlash created a climate of fear within the Canadian Muslim community including here at McMaster,” said Raihanna Hirji-Khalfan and Khadijeh Rakie,the staff members tasked with the initiative, alongside the release of the report.

Through roundtable discussions with Muslim students and faculty, the report found Islamophobia exists on campus and intersects with other identities and poses a unique experience for racialized students on campus.The report noted jokes equating Islam to terrorism, discomfort surrounding the portrayals of Muslims in media and the silencing of voices when speaking against Islamophobia as some key issues.

The report also discussed the unique experience of Black Muslims on campus.

“During the roundtable discussion, a Black, visibly Muslim student shared that following deadly attacks attributed to Muslims and Islam there was an expectation for her to speak up in class and denounce the attacks,”  the report noted.

The report recommended creating better resources for marginalized students as a way to limit the percolation of Islamophobia on campus, as well as recognizing the threat of Islamophobia. It made note of the Islamophobia they received while conducting their research, particularly from professors emeriti who circulated a newsletter denying the existence of Islamophobia while the researchers ran workshops.

The report also discussed the need for institutional mechanisms to address Islamophobia on campus. The report argued for the implementation of clear punitive measures in the face of hate crimes in order to create a safer campus.

anti-racism-sketck_forwebMany groups on campus have echoed the points made by the report in their past work. The McMaster Womanists, in collaboration with the McMaster Indigenous Student Community Alliance, McMaster Muslims for Justice and Peace and Solidarity For Palestinian Rights (McMaster) held an anti-racism action initiative in November.

This meeting asked students and Hamiltonians to discuss what steps the community should take in order to combat racism both on campus and within the city.

The meeting’s executive summary made many points, most notably arguing for more accountability of those who commit hate crimes and allowing marginalized groups to participate in decision making to ensure their voices and concerns are heard.

Other activist groups are currently working to bring injustices to light, such as the aforementioned MMJP. MMJP is currently advocating on behalf of the deceased Soleiman Faqiri, a Muslim man with well-documented schizophrenia, who died in police custody under suspicious circumstances. They have created a campaign called #JusticeforSoli, and ask the public to not only ask questions about the suspicious death but also question the treatment of racialized individuals and those with mental illness within the prison system. Their work has created a dialogue around his death and has been discussed in other media outlets such as CHCH.

While their work has received positive attention, student activists are often met with safety concerns, from having their personal information shared to receiving death threats.

Lina Assi, a Palestinian student activist, has had her information shared online without her consent and regularly receives death threats in response to her activism work.

“The issue of security is that there’s no protection for student activists, there’s no outreach for us with respect to legal matters to protect ourselves from harassment from the community,” said Assi.

Within the McMaster Students Union, anti-racism work is often facilitated through Diversity Services, a service meant to support racialized students on campus. Diversity Services currently offers Anti-Oppression Practices training, which is meant to introduce students in leadership positions to concepts relating to race and inequality, and how to maneuver these concepts in their roles within the union. Currently, only other services which request AOP training receive it.

“Through the training, people engage in thoughtful discussions about complex topics relevant to their positions. The goal, then, if for them to bring the ideals they’ve learned and employ them in their job, volunteer positions, and everyday lives,” said Ryan Deshpande, director of Diversity Services.

Deshpande uses AOP training as a way to better educate students on issues pertaining to race and each session proves to be a different experience.

“Facilitating [AOP training] is not easy – it’s emotionally draining, and many times me and my co-facilitators find our identities and experiences under attack when challenging people’s notions of oppression,” he said.

Desphande hopes to see AOP training become more formalized to increase the number of facilitators and make it more accessible to the student body.

While xenophobic acts have occurred on campus, it is clear that many groups on campus are working together to educate and create a more inclusive future. For anyone who has experienced or seen bigotry on campus, contact the Equity and Inclusion Office, whose office is located in the McMaster University Student Centre, room 212.

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