Photo: Black Lives Matter; taken from Wikimedia Commons

Numerous UBCO professors are taking a stand against racism by participating in an organized Scholar Strike. The Scholar Strike, which occurred September 9th and 10th, is in support of Black and Indigenous people. This strike seeks to protest “anti-Black, racist and colonial police brutality in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere.”

The Scholar Strike allows for supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement and academics to move beyond empty statements, performative allyship, or hashtags, and be more accountable and intentional with their activism. It also allows for educational conversations about racial justice and promotes racial advocacy.

During this time, scholars in higher education paused their teaching and other administrative duties in an effort to educate themselves and the public. This was done through public digital teach-ins which sought to educate on “state-sanctioned violence as part of the systemic violence that materially disenfranchises Black, Indigenous and racialized people, and is a contemporary function of slavery, carcerality and colonialism in the world today.” These teach-ins were presented and moderated by notable scholars, activists and more — such as poet, activist and educator El Jones.

One such teach-in, titled Educators for Black Lives, was moderated by Janelle Brady who is a PhD candidate in OISE’s Social Justice Education department. The presenter for this teach-in was Sandy Hudson, a Toronto-based organizer, communications specialist, political strategist, public intellectual, writer and abolition activist. During Educators for Black Lives, Sandy Hudson discussed how important it is for scholars and students to take action:

“I think it is so important for us to say, ‘look I can’t just go to class amongst my classmates who might be Black, who might be Indigenous, who might be dealing with these things in a very real way and just pretend to sit here as though everything is fine.’ We should be doing everything that we can using whatever power we can — whatever politics of refusal. We should be engaging in the politics of refusal because this issue is just so urgent.”

Sandy Hudson and Janelle Brady went into depth about the history of policing, defunding, and abolishing the police, in addition to public health based alternatives to policing and incarceration. The history of policing is rooted in slavery as well as the genocide of Indigenous peoples, and these institutions continue to operate in this way. Recent studies show that Black and Indigenous peoples are overwhelmingly over-represented in fatal shootings by police forces in Canada.

Sandy Hudson discussed how scholars, especially teachers, should make demands to have police removed from schools and university campuses. Currently, there are police officers engaged at campuses all across North America and the way that students are policed on these campuses has been to the detriment of BIPOC.

There have been cases of police presence at both UBC campuses that have resulted in harm to Black, Indigenous and racialized students. Santa Ono, The President and Vice-Chancellor of UBC, made a statement earlier in the summer in response to a video of an RCMP officer abusing a UBCO student during a wellness check request:

“I have called for an external review of Campus Security at both UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan. The purpose is to examine policies and practices for systemic bias and institutional racism, and to ensure that the goals and mission of Campus Security are aligned with UBC’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. It will also consider how best to clarify the relationship with the RCMP to give greater transparency to the UBC community. The review will provide recommendations to eliminate bias based on best or alternative practices from other jurisdictions. These recommendations will be made public.”

This review is only a small stepping stone for working towards decreasing institutional racism and preventing such circumstances from occuring again. However, working towards decreasing inequality in an institution cannot be accomplished without the active aid of its scholars.

UBCO’s Role in the Scholar Strike

Similar to other scholars, numerous UBCO professors have cancelled their classes on these strike days in solidarity with Black and Indigenous people. Among these professors is Dr. Melissa Jacques who kindly contributed a written statement explaining why she decided to partake in the Scholar Strike. The following is a small excerpt of Dr. Jacques statement:

As someone who teaches “critical thinking”—who makes statements about the relevance of the humanities to the larger world—I see the Scholar Strike as an opportunity to walk the talk. Rather than accept the self-serving view that the academy is somehow exempt from the conflicts and tensions of the world, we are being asked to see it as a reflection of and complicit in the world’s many forms of violence. Racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia are rife within university communities. Systemic inequities are pervasive, effectively limiting the participation of people who are traditionally (institutionally) disenfranchised. These inequities are the continuing result of unconscious bias, conscious discrimination, and an ideology of meritocracy that ultimately serves the status quo.

Furthermore, Dr. Jacques provided a very powerful quotation by Min Sook Lee from the first video of the digital teach-ins:

We’re living during one of the biggest civil rights movements of contemporary times. The moment to make change real is now, and education, we know this as activists, as scholars, as artists who work for social justice, education isn’t about teaching students how to make the trains run on time. It’s about working with students to engage in the issues of our times. [ …] This moment is too too important for us to sit back and do nothing. Change will not be gifted to us; we make change happen together, collectively.

The Scholar Strike is an important event for professors and other scholars to participate in as it shows their solidarity and support of Black and Indigenous people. This strike was one example of an opportunity for scholars to show they are not complicit with institutional racism and to show that they value an equal and just academic experience.