TORONTO, Nov. 27 /CNW/ - At a Halloween party on October 29, 2009 five University of Toronto students dressed up to mimic the Hollywood version of the Jamaican bobsled team from the film Cool Runnings. Their costumes included the use of face-paints - four to darken and one to lighten skin tones. The party was hosted by the student societies of St. Michael's College, University College and Victoria University. When students on campus raised concerns, controversy arose concerning what was meant by the costume. Many students and faculty identified the costumes of four of the students as a form of blackface and voiced their collective dismay, given the long history of blackface performance and minstrelsy in demeaning black people and systematically caricaturing black cultures.
The Black Students Association (BSA), supported by the University of Toronto Students' Union (UTSU), organized a town hall meeting on November 10th that was attended by more than 300 people. Although the meeting appeared to unfold in an orderly way with opportunities for thoughtful and meaningful exchange, the administration has heard a number of allegations that specific individuals have been the target of ridicule and harassment as a direct result of their participation in the town hall. Indeed some students have reported that they feel unsafe on campus because of their participation in the town hall and related discussions.
On November 19th, the Vice-Provost, Students convened an informal meeting with concerned students, faculty, the Anti-Racism officer and other members of the administration. As a result, several constructive initiatives were outlined and a letter from the Vice-President Human Resources & Equity and the Vice-Provost, Students was sent to the BSA on November 20th. This letter includes a summary of the initiatives to be undertaken by the administration, and is now posted at on the Equity web site at http://www.equity.utoronto.ca/letter.html and the Vice-Provost, Students web site at http://www.viceprovoststudents.utoronto.ca/reports/letterbsa-bf-20091120.htm. Copies of the letter were also sent to the leadership of St. Michael's College, Victoria University, and University College.
On behalf of the University of Toronto, we affirm publicly that our community should be a safe place for producing knowledge, discussing ideas, and building a multicultural community that serves as a model of intercultural learning and academic excellence. Our offices will continue to work, in collaboration with relevant student groups, and interested faculty members, on initiatives that will enhance awareness and understanding of the impact of racism in its myriad forms, and we will disseminate information about these initiatives widely at the appropriate time.
Angela Hildyard, Jill Matus,
Vice-President, Human Resources & Equity Vice-Provost, Students
SOURCE University of Toronto
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