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The Black student-athlete systemic review barely scratches the surface of issues at McMaster

By: Shae-Ashleigh Owen, Contributor

CW: anti-Black racism

On June 25, 2020, McMaster University President David Farrar published a letter promising to address systemic institutional racism and any obstacles to equity and inclusion at Mac. Alongside these promises, Farrar mentioned that the university’s recently released Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and 2019-2020 Action Plan will challenge anti-Black racism and support Black students and students of colour at McMaster. The letter also stated that they will finally address the underrepresentation of Black faculty members at the university. 

Among their attempts to address anti-Black racism, McMaster announced a systemic review of the Black student-athlete experience, headed by Ivan Joseph. The university invited both past and present Black student-athletes to share their experiences in the athletics department. 

This review was officially launched July 27 when Fabian Foote, a McMaster football alumnus and Toronto Argonauts defensive lineman, tweeted about facing systemic racism during his time at Mac.

The review, which was completed on Oct. 27, found that there was a history of systemic anti-Black racism in the Department of Athletics and Recreation. As a Black student, hearing about Black students’ experiences with racism was saddening, disappointing and traumatic. However, the results of the review did not surprise me. 

Experiences of those who participated in the review included: having a “jailbreak-themed” party where white students dressed up as criminals and wore cornrows in their hair; mentions of racial slurs used by alumni, fellow teammates and a coach; cancelling Black History Month celebrations; degrading comments based on race; there was even an accusation that a Black student-athlete was selling drugs.

In response to this, Farrar launched an Action Plan which aims to increase representation, implement advocacy roles and targeted supports and scholarships. On Oct. 29, the Department of Athletics and Recreation announced that 10 new athletic financial aid awards will be established for Black student-athletes each year. 

 

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I want to highlight the fact that Black students are singled out based on race regardless of scholarships. According to a census conducted in February 2020, 60 per cent of Black youth expect to gain at least a bachelor’s degree in comparison to 79 per cent of other youths. The census concludes that this gap is likely due to discrimination.

Experiencing systemic racism like this is not exclusive to Black student-athletes. This includes the McMaster Students Union and academia as a whole, as these areas of student life are not exempt from anti-Black behaviours and actions. Statistics, such as the census, show that we need more scholarships for Black students at McMaster, as Black youth are statistically less likely to gain a bachelor’s degree compared to the general population. By providing scholarship opportunities, Black students will have at least one less barrier to receiving a postsecondary education.

As a Black student, hearing about Black students’ experiences with racism was saddening, disappointing and traumatic. However, the results of the review did not surprise me.

Like many other Black students, I have faced anti-Black racism during my time at Mac. My own experiences include people shuffling their bags away from me because they seem to be afraid of stealing — no, I do not want your bag nor what’s in it, thank you. I have even heard, “Oh, you speak great English,” even though English is my first language.

In class, I feel like I have to work 10 times as hard as the non-Black students just to get the same amount of respect and acknowledgement. I often get labelled as the “angry Black woman” due to my dominant personality, which I can assume my non-Black classmates do not have to worry about. I’ve heard fellow Black students talk about the subtle racism they had to face in their classes, both by classmates and even professors.

I even had to face systemic racism from the MSU when the Pride Community Centre was closed down midway through the winter 2020 semester, right after their 2SLGBTQA+ BIPOC-focused campaign which mainly highlighted Black and Indigenous 2SLGBTQA+ folks. This decision made by the 2019-2020 executive board hurt members of the BIPOC community at McMaster. As the only Black volunteer of the PCC at that time, this deeply hurt me too. 

Statistics, such as the census, show that we need more scholarships for Black students at McMaster, as Black youth are statistically less likely to gain a bachelor’s degree compared to the general population.

I applaud the school community for recognizing the systemic issues that Black students face. This has resulted in clubs including the ratification of the Black Student Association and other Blackfocused clubs. However, if Mac truly wants to help the Black student community, their actions need to be taken further. 

Reviews of racism and oppression need to be extended towards more areas of student life, including security, club life and especially education because although we pay the same tuition as everyone else, we face more barriers in getting our degree. I would even suggest that reviews need to be extended to other minority groups as well. This is a good and important start; however, there is so much more work to be done.

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