Anti-Black racism alive and well on Manitoba campuses: student and professor

A Winnipeg student and professor are speaking out about anti-Black racism on campus here at home after a Black law student in Ontario was partially banned from school for a fight he had with a white student — who didn’t face the same consequences.

Students, staff and faculty at some of Canada’s largest universities say they have experienced anti-Black racism on campus, and that they were targeted if they spoke out about their treatment, an investigation by The Fifth Estate has found.

In one case, Jordan Afolabi, a law student at the University of Windsor, bumped into a white student at school, and it escalated to a fight.

Both students filed internal reports with the university’s Office of Academic Integrity, but only Afolabi was banned from campus, with the exception of attending classes. 

  • WATCH | The Fifth Estate: “Black on Campus” on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on CBC-TV or stream on CBC Gem.

Later, administration called campus security on Afolabi when he stopped by to check on the status of the report after his campus ban had lifted.

“It’s terrible how common that sort of thing is,” Keesha Harewood, an English major at the University of Winnipeg said on CBC Radio’s Up to Speed on Monday.

And Manitoba campuses are not exempt, she says.

Paul Lawrie, associate professor of History at the University of Winnipeg, says universities are making efforts toward appearing more diverse, but in terms of systemic racism, ‘the deep work that needs to be done hasn’t been occurring.’ (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Racism isn’t always explicit like it is in Afolabi’s case, says Paul Lawrie, an associate professor of African-American history and associate dean of arts at the University of Winnipeg. It’s systemic.

People participating in academia are “operating within a structure which is fundamentally predicated — historically, socially and economically — on the exclusion of Black people,” he said on Up to Speed.

It can also look like being the only faculty member of colour, or not reflecting the lived experiences of Black people in curricula.

For decades, Black people and allies have called for structural changes to be made. In the last year, though, those calls have grown louder through growth of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Those calls haven’t been heeded in a meaningful way yet, Harewood and Lawrie say.

“What I’ve seen is an effort for universities to appear more conscientious, to appear more considerate, to appear more diverse, but the deep work that needs to be done hasn’t been occurring,” Harewood said.

That deep work — tackling the structural inequities — is the most difficult, Lawrie says.

“We need to look at the ways in which administration relates to Black students. We have to look at things such as supports, both financially and otherwise for Black students, retention and recruitment of Black faculty and … continue to open up spaces at universities that allow Black excellence to flourish,” he said.

But that work shouldn’t be placed on the shoulders of Black students, staff and faculty.

“I think our leaders need to put new systems in place to hold our current systems accountable,” Harewood said.

“We know what needs to be done … but there’s hesitation to confront the atrocities that are happening.”