University professors in Calgary invited to participate in two-day strike protesting systemic racism
CALGARY -- Universities in Calgary and across the country have made the move to support professors in pausing their teaching and administrative duties on Wednesday and Thursday as part of the push for racial justice.
The two-day event, known as Scholar Strike Canada, is aimed at protesting anti-Black policies, racism and police brutality in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere.
Professors will not be in class if they choose to participate in the strike and will instead organize free public digital teach-ins on systemic racism within communities from both a historical and contemporary perspective.
Both the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University are in support of the initiative.
"I think it's the right thing to do," said Alex Vainshtein, a student at the U of C.
"if they have a voice and can use it to benefit oppressed people, they should do that."
Ed McCauley, U of C president and vice chancellor, says he hopes the event will bring about positive change.
"One of the key roles of a university is to have difficult conversations and fearlessly tackle big issues for the betterment of all," said McCauley in a statement. "The University of Calgary strongly condemns anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism and racism in all forms. This is a defining issue of our times."
Dr. Elizabeth Evans, MRU's interim provost and vice-president, echoed the sentiment.
"History has proven academia has a key role in advocating for a just society," she said. "Supporting this strike is just one thing we can do to help bring about necessary and overdue change."
Scholar Strike was started by University of Pennsylvania professor Anthea Butler, who decided to strike in the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting by police.
The event has since inspired more than 500 professors across Canada to take part with a list of demands to evoke change within communities.
Some people say the Canadian movement poses challenges since it falls during both the first days of university, and the virtual classes of the pandemic.
Though it won't look like a traditional strike, supporters say the meaning remains.
"The point of a picket line isn't just to stop people to getting somewhere to work, but to also advertise the issues and spread those," said Roberta Lexier, MRU associate professor of General Education and Humanities.
Both campuses are spreading the issues through online workshops and encouraging discussion.
"We kind of have to protest by ourself, socially distancing protesting," said MRU student Onyinye Edwulgo. "Putting it on your social media just being in solidarity."
MRU Student's Association President Spirit River Striped Wolf said Scholar Strike is a good step, which he hopes is supported beyond the movement.
"We do hope that professors are held accountable if they create hostile learning environments that make students of colour feel unsafe," said Striped Wolf.
U of C Student's Union President Frank Finley said the university has made some progress recently.
"They have hired a vice-provost to do some of this work full time and I think it's some of those meaningful actions that will actually result in change along with these kinds of Scholar Strikes," said Finley.
It is momentum some professors hope to build upon.
"It's something I've given increasing thought actually is how I incorporate that kind of thing in a sensitive way into how I teach," said Louis Passfield, Professor of Sport Science at U of C.
Scholar Strike Canada has supported calls to defund the police, remove campus police, address underrepresentation of Black and Indigenous faculty and actively recruit, mentor and retain Black, Indigenous and racialized students.
The U of C hopes to continue the conversation by hosting a series of free workshops on racial justice in the coming weeks and months.
According to the post-secondary institution, the workshops will underpin a strong university action plan currently under development by Dr. Malinda Smith, the school’s vice-provost equity, diversity and inclusion and Dr. Michael Hart, vice-provost Indigenous engagement.