WATCH: Sean Mallen speaks to one of the students in the centre of a hot debate around racialization on campus.
TORONTO – One of the two white students asked to leave an anti-racism group said she understands why racialized people want a safe space.
The incident happened March 11 when two undergraduate journalism students attempted to attend the Racialized Students’ Collective on campus.
The Ryersonian, the school’s student newspaper, identified the students as Trevor Hewitt and Julia Knope and said the two were hoping to write a story about the group.
But still, according to the newspaper, they were told they weren’t “victims of racialization” and asked to leave.
“The work of the Racialized Students Collective to combat racism on our campus is very important work. And part of that work is creating spaces that prioritize the voice of racialized students on our campus,” Rajean Hoilett, the president of Ryerson Student’s Union and a former coordinator for the collective said in an interview Monday.
The collective holds monthly meetings on campus during which racialized students meet and talk about the racism they’ve faced on campus and what they can do to stop it.
“It is a space where folks share some very vulnerable stories and are less inclined to share their stories when they know it will be the front page of an upcoming newspaper,” Hoilett said.
The group’s mission, according to its website, is to create an “anti-racist climate on campus that will foster a healthy and rich working and learning environment for all.”
Knope said she and Hewitt were the first ones at the meeting and when others arrived were asked if they had ever been racialized. Knope and Hewitt both said no and were asked to leave but were offered interviews after the meeting.
Knope questioned that mission statement during an interview with the Ryersonian suggesting excluding some people seemed “ironic.”
But during an interview with Global News she said she has since changed her mind, saying she understands why people “want a safe space.”
“It’s a public space and it’s funded by the school and I think that in a perfect world everybody should be let into all meetings but I haven’t been through the same issues, I can’t say I’ve been through the same issues as racialized students at our school,” she said.
Others, however, don’t think the two students should have been asked to leave. The comment section of the Ryersonian story was bombarded with allegations of racism and hypocrisy, mostly from anonymous posters.
“This is ridiculous and you brainwashed lemmings posting are even worse,” one commenter named Ticklec wrote. “Did any of you have eggs thrown at your house or bricks hurled thorough your windows because of your background? Oh by the way I’m Greek and it happened in Toronto in the 60s. Apparently though I’m privileged. Last I checked no special spaces are open for me to get a job. Bunch of cry babies. Fighting racism with racism. What a joke.”
Others though were empathetic to the Racialized Students’ Collective.
“Non-story. It would be like calling the Black Congressional Caucus racist because they don’t have white people in it. So dumb. Minority victims of prejudice/racism shouldn’t have to be whitesplained for having a group that deals with their particular issues. The new racism today is accusing minorities of reverse-racism,” MovieJay wrote.
– With files from Sean Mallen