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Calls for action arise after racist email sent to University of Regina students

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Calls for action arise after racist email sent to University of Regina students
WATCH: A University of Regina grad student is calling for action after an email emerged this week showing racist comments made towards students by a professor – May 31, 2021

An email containing racist comments sent to students by a tenured University of Regina professor is sparking outrage and calls for termination after screenshots were posted online, and has prompted the University to take corrective actions and disciplinary measures against the teacher.

Details on those actions and measures, though, have not been revealed.

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“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,” reads the email, sent to students by chemistry professor Allan East on May 10.

While they did not mention East by name, a university spokesperson confirmed in a statement Friday that an email “containing racist remarks” was sent to students by a faculty member.

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University of Regina grad student Aysha Yaqoob posted screenshots of the May 10 email, and a subsequent apology email sent out on May 27, after they were sent to her by the first email’s recipient.

“I was so disappointed with this email, and honestly just livid,” Yaqoob said Friday.

“The fact that this is 2021 and we’re receiving emails like this from an institution that says it’s doing all of these steps, with diversity and inclusion committees and anti-racism campaigns, I was really frustrated to see that this is ongoing.”

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Yaqoob says that while studying at the U of R as an undergrad, various racist incidents she encountered left her feeling less than welcome on campus, a feeling she says East’s email perpetuates.

“I never stayed on campus longer than I needed to. Within the first few weeks of my first year, I had to deal with an incident and so I did stay home often. I didn’t voice my concerns as much as I’d like. Any time I spoke up in class or presented about what it means to be a racialized student in education, it just didn’t feel safe on campus. It felt like a very colonial institution and made me feel like I didn’t belong.”

Yaqoob says that since she posted the screenshots Thursday evening, she’s already been contacted by three dozen students in relation to the email, and over fifty students in total saying they’ve encountered racism in some form while on campus.

She says it’s a sign that more needs to be done to promote inclusion and prevent racism and questioned the effectiveness of initiatives like the university’s “You Belong Here” campaign and wondered exactly what disciplinary measures were taken in response to the email.

In the email showing East apologizing, he is seen as saying, “Please know that I am in the process of receiving training and education to gain a better understanding of respect, equity and diversity in relation to the work and learning environment. I have learnt from my mistake and will ensure I strive to be more cognizant of my choice of language, and the impact it may have on others.”

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“This is a clear, explicit form of racism. When I look at this, I question the training and education the educators are getting. And training after causing harm and putting your students through race-based trauma is not going to change much. Students are already suffering because of the comments that you made,” Yaqoob said.

She said she’d like to see details about the disciplinary measures made public and would like to see training on diversity, equity and inclusion made mandatory for all faculty members.

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In a statement emailed to Global News Friday afternoon, a University of Regina spokesperson confirmed “that a faculty member sent an email that contained racist remarks aimed at a specific ethnic group of students in their class.”

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The statement goes on to say that “upon becoming aware of the email, senior academic and administrative staff took immediate action by launching an investigation into the matter and engaging with student leadership through the University of Regina Students’ Union.”

“Due to its obligations under privacy legislation, the University is unable to discuss the details related to the specific actions taken but can confirm corrective actions and disciplinary measures have been implemented,” the statement continues.

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Speaking Friday, University of Regina Interim President Thomas Chase said his office received at least ten separate complaints about the email after it was sent.

“When this email came to our attention from students we were deeply disappointed in the choice of the professor to address students in a way that is totally unacceptable, totally antithetical to everything the university stands for and totally unreflective of a campus that is truly diverse,” Chase said.

“We took steps immediately to address the issue. A process unfolded under the terms of the University’s ‘Respectful University’ policy and the collective agreement that governs our relations with the faculty association. I cannot comment on the specifics of the process but it got underway very quickly.”

He said that all faculty members are encouraged to review such policy upon hiring, but that review of such materials is not mandatory.

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“Is it strongly recommended? Yes. Our expectations of faculty and staff very high in this regard? Yes, they are,” Chase said.

Global News also reached out directly to East for comment but did not hear back before publication.

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The University of Regina Students’ Union echoed Yaqoob’s call for mandatory training, and also called for the professor to be fired.

“URSU is calling on the University to terminate the professor’s employment immediately and further develop mandatory anti-racism and anti-oppression training for all new and current professors, along with University of Regina staff and administration,” a URSU statement released Friday reads.

“We see a need for mandatory training to provide all students with a safer learning environment. Apologies are not going to prevent this from happening again.”

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