Burning questions

Rating: NNNNNOn a dreary Tuesday, February 26, at high noon, the choreography of student life is in full swing, awash.


Rating: NNNNN

On a dreary Tuesday, February 26, at high noon, the choreography of student life is in full swing, awash in hiphop, at the Ryerson University cafeteria.

Some eat. Some sleep. Some clack away on keyboards or gaming consoles, others laugh uproariously or yak loud enough to drown out the voices of a few dozen demonstrators at the entrance. Two of them are holding up a giant No Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, Racism sign.

There are camera crews and folks with pen, pad or recorders at the ready.

A couple of weeks ago, a bulletin board outside the campus office of the East African Students of Toronto was set ablaze. Police are currently investigating. Some on campus suggest the incident is related to a recent highly divisive student election where one candidate was endorsed by the East African group.

Others think the politically charged slogans on the board United To End Racism, Education Not Occupation, No Justice No Peace, Boycott Israeli Apartheid and De-Colonize Ryerson are what prompted the attack.

The incident quickly became a flashpoint for student groups who see the fire as a symptom of larger systemic issues of racism, according to a recent press release signed by the East African Students, United Black Students at Ryerson and Ryerson Students Union.

It calls for an end to Eurocentric cur-ricula, security profiling and streaming, and highlights the teaching facultys lack of diversity.

Heather Kere, vice-president of education in the Ryerson Students Union, characterizes the incident as a targeted political message and says she hopes a stand will be taken against all forms of racism that manifest themselves at Ryerson.

CKLN radio show host Ahmed Habib charges Ryerson with promoting a racist curriculum.

Strangely, Samih Abdelgadir, senior VP of the East African Students of Toronto, the group at the centre of the firestorm, is cautioning against talk of racism even though his group signed the press release on systemic issues.

Says Abdelgadir, I know Im in the minority, but you cant hold a demonstration, call the media and start claiming racism without evidence.

But what about the incidents reported recently on other Canadian campuses, from derisive graffiti to a mindless slave auction funder held during Black History Month at U of Waterloo, and Internet groups like a Ryerson-based one complaining about the presence of race-based (as in non-white) groups on campus? Arent these seemingly unrelated incidents part of larger issues at play?

Its not like that at Ryerson, says Abdelgadir, whos also a student member of the universitys board of governors. The student body here is more culturally diverse and mixes together like at no other campus.

Joel Duff, organizer for the Canadian Federation of Students (Ontario), says, I dont think that theres been an increase in on-campus hate. What were looking at are high-profile incidents that have been reported often these types of things arent. But even if its only a perception that the fire was racially motivated, what do we have to lose by responding?

Rona Abramovitch, Ryersons provost and VP academic, finds herself saying what administrators are often forced to say at times like these: the university is committed to equity and diversity, to the dignity of all community members and the fostering of the safest and most inclusive environment possible.

Should go without saying at the most cosmopolitan campus in the centre of the most cosmopolitan city in the world.

sigcino@nowtoronto.com

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