University (yes, still) not doing enough to combat racism on campus

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Black person in red hood holds sign that reads “It’s a privilege to learn about racism instead of experiencing it!!!”
Black person in red hood holds sign that reads “It’s a privilege to learn about racism instead of experiencing it!!!” Unsplash

Comments from prof East have rep headed south

Content warning: This article contains descriptions of racism and Islamophobia that may be upsetting to readers.

In May of 2021, University of Regina Faculty of Science Professor Allan East came under fire for making racist comments in an email to a student. The purpose of the email was to inform the student that they would be receiving a failing grade due to cheating. The section that sparked controversy comes near the end of the email where East wrote, “I could not help but notice that all 14 of you cheaters have East Indian last names. None of the Canadian or other international students cheated. You must not cheat in Canada. Canadians do not like cheaters.”

Screenshots of the email made their rounds on social media where people like Aysha Yaqoob, an education graduate from the university, denounced the email and Allan East.

Yaqoob tweeted, “Days like today, I’m reminded that no amount of ‘diversity training’ or diversity statements can fix a racist and colonial institution.” Later, she commented on the apology email that Allan East sent because she believed it was not sufficient for his actions. The five sentence apology states that East was sorry for his actions and that, “his intention was never to be discriminatory or harassing.” In response Yaqoob tweeted, “in what world would you think your statement was okay to say?” Then, she demanded more action from the university.

As of publication, East remains employed at the University, although he is not listed as instructing any undergraduate-level courses in UR Self-Service in the Fall semester.

In an interview with the Carillon via phone call, Aysha Yaqoob spoke about the incident. She and a group of BIPOC education graduates formulated a letter and sent it to the new president Dr. Jeff Keshen. Yaqoob stated that the letter has three main calls to action: mandatory anti-racist training for all faculty and staff; a third-party office, where students could report similar incidents which the office could then investigate impartially; and that all investigations be more public so the students who are involved can know the results.

When asked if she had ever had an encounter with racism on campus, Yaqoob said, “the four years that I was there, I think every year there was something big that had happened and so from even earlier on, within three weeks of my English degree, my English 100 prof told me that ‘maybe English isn’t the right subject for me to pursue a career in’ and because ‘it’s not my first language.’ But he didn’t know that because I didn’t really speak up within the first three weeks. He just looked at my last name and just assumed that I wouldn’t know how to speak fluent English.”

On the more extreme side, Yaqoob told a terrifying story about being chased on campus by someone while they threatened to “rip my hijab off and cut my neck open.” This occurred after the mosque shooting in Quebec in 2018.

Over 100 students who have had similar experiences reached out to Yaqoob, some making comments about athletic teams in particular. In one instance, an Indigenous student claimed athletes were mocking powwow dances in front them and making ignorant claims that Indigenous students get a free ride in university.

While Yaqoob’s tweets have garnered a lot of support, they have also faced backlash from people supporting the racist comments made by East. Yaqoob expressed that she was frustrated by this because the negative comments were missing the point of her tweet by accusing her of supporting cheating. However, Yaqoob said, “if the investigation goes through, and it’s proven that they are guilty of cheating, the university has a separate policy on how to deal with that. That’s not what we’re dealing with. Right now, we’re dealing with the explicit language and the explicit racist rhetoric that was used within this email that was inappropriate.”

The way Yaqoob felt about the criticism is that education can be the answer, “Let’s educate people on why this is racist, or why this isn’t correct.”

In her own classroom she said, “all of the teaching that I do is through an anti-racist and anti-oppressive lens.” Her method of teaching and incorporating these values works by “recognizing the power dynamics that exist within society and how they play into the lived realities of racialized folks.” She spoke about how it’s easy to do it because for example, her students can read Shakespeare, but then also talk about police brutality, or write an essay and then talk about funding of schools on reserves.

When asked about where the line is as a professor with certain academic freedoms, she told the Carillon that “there’s a level of respect that needs to be within every form of communication. I hope that my students respect me. In reciprocity, I need to be able to respect them as well.”

As far as the consequences for East’s email, Yaqoob thought East did not deserve to be shown mercy and that the training course he was required to take after was too late. She said, “I can’t imagine writing out an email, knowing that what you put there was inappropriate, rereading it, and still hitting send.”

Yaqoob believes that the best example for the rest of staff and faculty would be the termination of Allan East from his current position.

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