A handmade poster depicting a black woman improperly caring for a child has sparked fierce debate online, and prompted the Nova Scotia Community College to apologize and call the artwork “unacceptable.”
The poster came to light Monday, after Vanessa Fells posted a picture on Facebook.
The Yarmouth, N.S., based black educator, who often speaks to students and organizations about racism and race issues, had been at a conference on the weekend held by The Black Educators Association, when she was approached by a NSCC Burridge campus student.
“They were upset because this is happening and they didn’t feel they could speak about it,” Fells said. “They were a black student and other students in the school seemed to have no problem with the fact that this was on the door of the Early Childhood Education classroom.”
The poster, which was part of an annual Halloween door-decorating contest, appears to show a black woman with braids holding a crying baby, while also clutching a coffee and cigarette. The words, “How not to ECE!” are written at the top.
“It depicts all the negative stereotypes about black women and the black community,” Fells said.
“It depicts a black woman who is dressed provocatively and looks like a prostitute and looks like a person of loose morals.”
Fells says the poster speaks to a larger issue that goes beyond the NSCC. Her Facebook post denouncing the poster has garnered more than 300 positive and negative comments. Some say they are angry about the poster, while others say they don’t see what’s wrong with it.
“You’re telling us that our feelings about it and that our history basically doesn’t matter because we just need to get over it. But how do we get over it? It’s right in your face,” she said.
“And you’re telling me students walked past this every day, the teachers, administration walked past this and no one said anything?”
NSCC confirms the poster was up for several days before it was taken down because of a complaint from students.
Rosalind Penfound, the vice-president of organizational development for the NSCC, says the college is conducting an investigation to find out how and why the poster was put up.
“We know that this was not good. To say it’s troubling is an understatement,” Penfound said.
“We understand it has caused hurt and harm and we want to do better.”
Penfound says the college has brought in staff from other regions with expertise in supporting African Nova Scotians to the Burridge Campus to work with the staff and students. They have also been reaching out to the community and will be planning meetings to further discuss the issue.
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They are also consulting the codes of conduct for students and teachers to see whether any rules were violated.
Penfound says they will be treating this as a learning opportunity, and will be working to prevent any future incidents from happening.
Fells echoes that sentiment and says she’s glad to see the NSCC is taking the issue seriously.