In what has been a tumultuous week for Dalhousie University, there is hope that a public battle over free speech, white fragility, and inclusivity may finally be put to rest – for now.
But some students and faculty members – past and present – are divided on how the week’s events have affected the school’s reputation.
“This has been a hard week for a lot of students,” said NSPIRG board member and psychology graduate student Laura Cutmore. “There are a lot of problems at Dal.”
Vice President of Student Affairs Arig al Shaibah announced on Oct. 24 that Dalhousie was withdrawing disciplinary action against Masuma Khan, Vice President for Dalhousie Student Union, after she posted comments about Canada 150 on Facebook.
Khan introduced a motion as part of the student union not to endorse Canada 150 celebrations, which prompted online backlash. She retorted on Facebook by saying, “fuck you all” and “white fragility can kiss my ass, your white tears aren’t sacred, this land is.”
These comments led to a complaint, a biting op-ed in the National Post, and an investigation done by the school.
For assistant professor Ajay Parasram, just because the school withdrew their initial decision, doesn’t mean this ordeal is over, especially as deadlines loom for grad school applications.
“This is going to be a major deterrent for women of colour who may be wanting to do grad school at the department of history,” he said.
Parasram says he knew people who wanted to apply for graduate studies in the history department, but stated that their decision to attend or not will mostly be based on funding.
Still, he sympathizes with any woman of colour who may be second-guessing their interest in Dal.
“I wouldn’t blame anyone who wouldn’t want to come here,” he said.
Parasram says they won’t know for sure how this affected admissions until February.
For students already attending the university, the week’s events have prompted reflection on Dalhousie’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity.
Back in April, the university introduced the Diversity and Inclusiveness Strategy, which included several initiatives such as the creation of the Dal Thrive mental health project and expanding Human Rights and Equity Services.
“It’s clear that their own policies are failing them,” Cutmore said. “The school has put (Khan) into increased harassment and risk.”
Khan has stated publically that she has been the victim of Islamophobic attacks and threats against her body.
Cutmore added that this week has shown that Dalhousie University would sooner prioritize “white people being seen as fragile” than women of colour, referencing the Dalhousie Dentistry scandal from two years ago.
“This has affected (Dal’s) reputation poorly,” she added.
Craig Hinley couldn’t agree more.
Hinley, a former Dal employee and member of the employment equity committee in the 1980s to 1990s, wasn’t in favour of the school disciplining Khan with the choice of counselling or writing a reflective essay. In fact, he says they should have gone further.
“If expulsion is the answer, so be it,” he says. “The woman has offended a lot of people.”
According to Hinley, disciplining Khan was the right call by the university.
While Cutmore thinks this week has shown the worst that Dalhousie has to offer, it also shows just what students and faculty are capable of when tested this way.
“This is how things get better, by fighting it,” Cutmore said. “We’ll keep fighting to do our best to make Dal a safe space.”