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OPINION: CSSA-gate at McMaster: The scars of exclusion How the MSU managed its decision to disband Mac CSSA is unclear at best and racist at worst

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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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