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UBC student wants apology after he says he was barred from building due to his race

Accusations of racial profiling lead to an investigation at UBC
Accusations of racial profiling lead to an investigation at UBC

A student at the University of British Columbia says he was denied entry to a building on campus recently based on the colour of his skin.

Savoy Williams, a second year master’s student at the Social Justice Institute, said in a statement that on June 8 he went to Buchanan Tower at UBC with written permission from his supervisor to use her office.

He says he had a letter in his possession showing he was allowed to use the office and detailing the safety measures he would take to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He says he then contacted UBC security, as required during the new pandemic rules, and gave the security officer the permission letter.

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According to a statement released by the Graduate Student Association on behalf of Williams, the security officer questioned the authenticity of the letter despite being shown a valid ID.

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Williams says he suggested the guard call his supervisor but says the guard argued he could have forged the letter and phone number.

A custodian reportedly recognized Williams and vouched for him but Williams says the guard dismissed this and continued to press and question him.

Williams has now filed a complaint with human resources but says they are pressuring him to dismiss race as a factor in the incident.

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In a statement, the Graduate Student Association says it is “appalled by this blatant misuse of power in the name of safety.”

Rae Ann Aldridge, the executive director, Safety & Risk Services for the University, confirmed Friday the school is aware of a student’s complaint against campus security on June 8.

“Campus security has previously reached out to the student to apologize for how that interaction affected him. We take his concerns very seriously and we deeply regret the impact of this interaction on him,” she said in a statement.

Aldridge added UBC is looking into the matter and will be following up with the student directly to make sure they are aware of support services available.

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She said UBC will also be working with an external agency to provide additional training and support for staff to better address issues of “anti-Black, anti-Asian and anti-Indigenous racism and bias.

“Events around the world have raised the awareness of the ongoing impact of systemic racism. Campus Security, indeed all of UBC, are strongly committed to addressing racism and bias on our campuses,” reads the statement.

“Equity, diversity and inclusion are foundational to building a respectful environment among students, faculty, and staff.”

In August, 2019, the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences at the university banned a man from attending its annual meeting for three years after it was found he showed “unconscious bias” against a Black scholar who faced false allegations of stealing a laptop.

According to a report released at the time, Shelby McPhee said a man questioned his right to be on campus, took photos of him and then accused him, without justification, of stealing his laptop.

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READ MORE: Prof urges B.C. to collect data on race, ethnicity to better understand COVID-19 impacts

In a statement on the university’s website on June 1, president Santa Ono said UBC is “not immune to racism and injustice.”

“On behalf of the university, I condemn and denounce all incidents of anti-Black and anti-Asian racism and the continued racism and oppression that is directed at Indigenous communities,” Ono wrote.

“We must work together to dismantle the tools of oppression and white supremacy that remain prevalent and entrenched in our everyday systems.

“It is my hope that at least here at UBC, we can work to model a different kind of community – one where we embrace difference and work to build each other up while enacting values of dignity, mutual respect, and justice.”

The Graduate Student Association says it is calling on Ono and UBC to uphold this commitment in responding to this incident involving Williams.