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Shame on Dalhousie University: an open letter in support of Masuma Khan

October 26, 2017

As women and gender non-conforming trans people who have held elected positions at our college or university students’ union, we write to express our unequivocal support for Masuma Khan, the Vice President (Academic and External) of the Dalhousie Student Union.

Since speaking out against the whitewashing of Canada’s history through the Canada 150 campaign, Masuma has been the target of disgusting racist, Islamophobic, xenophobic and misogynist attacks as well as threats of violence, including sexual violence. Instead of defending and protecting this brave racialized, Muslim woman, Dalhousie University chose to initiate disciplinary action against Masuma at the request of a white male student.

In doing so, Dalhousie University, has further exposed Masuma to racist, Islamophobic, xenophobic, misogynist hate and threats of violence.

On Wednesday, October 25, Dalhousie University announced that they would withdraw the disciplinary action against Masuma. In the statement the University said that “this incident has demonstrated the need for an open, thorough discussion on campus,” without acknowledging that this “discussion” happened at Masuma’s expense. Nor did the statement include an apology. Masuma and her lawyer have made clear in the media that they were not consulted in the lead up to the decision to withdraw the action or in the development of an advisory group who will help plan a campus dialogue series.

The university could have stood by Masuma, but they didn’t. Instead they have sided with a flimsy attempt to cause harm to her, stoked the fires of hate, and pursued her for comments that are not only well within her rights to free speech, but that are a totally fair expression of frustration in dealing with white supremacy and white fragility at Dalhousie.

Women and transgender gender non-conforming folks elected to student union positions are constantly subject to criticism, harassment, intimidation, threats, attacks and violence both online and in person. This escalates anytime we speak up, especially if we are criticizing the systems of oppression that our country and institutions have been built upon. Too often these criticisms have to do with our looks, our identities, our bodies and far too often these threats are sexual. For those of us who are racialized they are almost always racist and for those of us who are Muslim they are almost always Islamophobic.

The notion that a critique of settler colonialism on Facebook might result in disciplinary action against Masuma is frankly, shocking. This attack on Masuma demonstrates that universities are still agents that maintain white supremacy, colonialism, racism, and misogyny and that anyone who challenges this should watch their backs.

Core to the systemic maintenance of white supremacy is clear evidence that Dalhousie’s administration values white male students with opinions that uphold a racist status quo over the rights, wellbeing and safety of women of colour, and Muslim women on campus.

Despite their rhetoric about championing diversity, the university’s crusade against Masuma, and her criticism of Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people, demonstrates once again that #dalhousiehateswomen, women of colour and Muslim women specifically.

It also demonstrates that Dalhousie is not serious about reconciliation with Indigenous people and nations, and that Indigenous students who surmount the many barriers to access post-secondary education will not be supported or safe from anti-Indigenous discrimination and violence once they are on campus.

During our time at our respective students’ unions, many of us vehemently opposed the development and implementation of non-academic student codes of conduct. We anticipated, and have since witnessed, these codes being used to stifle student dissent, specifically when the voices leading these movements are from marginalized groups. It is also clear in this instance that the university’s attack on Masuma is an attempt to undermine a progressive students’ union, which serves an important role on and off campus of challenging those in power. Students’ unions function best as autonomous bodies, completely separate from university administrations, and they typically have higher standards of democracy than the institutions they exist within. Students’ unions have been at the fore of struggles for equity, justice, and peace across Turtle Island (North America). If we wish this to continue to be the case we must challenge these attacks both on Masuma and student union democracy.

We would also like to underscore that it’s simply impossible for a racialized person to be racist towards a white person. Racism is a system of power relations. To be racist towards someone, one must have structural power over them. For an example of such power, universities need look no further than their own governance. In 2016, presidents at 13 of the largest 15 universities were white and 100 per cent of the Provosts or Vice Presidents (Academic) were white. This is something that as elected student representatives at universities and colleges across the country, we saw reflected in our senior administrations, Board of Governors and Senates – where decisions are made and the power rests.

Racialized people do not have such power. The fact that Dalhousie University is humouring any person’s claim that Masuma’s important critiques amounts to racism, shows the lengths to which Dalhousie will go to protect white fragility and white supremacy. White fragility, a term coined by Robyn DiAngelo, “is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.” Masuma’s reference to white fragility is not only appropriate, it is essentially proven by the nonsensical responses; from the white tears cried by Michael Smith, to the reaction of Dalhousie University.

Throughout this all, Masuma has called on her supporters to “centre the discussion around Indigenous issues, colonial structures and how they continue to perpetuate white supremacy” and to donate to “your local water protectors, your local Indigenous community centres or create a bursary program for the Indigenous youth in the territory you’ve settled in”. A beautiful and powerful example of solidarity and reconciliation, which we all should follow.  

As such, we would like to draw attention to the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which can be found hereSpecifically, in the current context, the calls to action regarding education.

In solidarity,

Over 100 women and gender non-conforming trans people who have been elected to students’ union executives at universities and colleges over the past 20 years

Bilan Arte
National Chairperson, Canadian Federation of Students 2015-17

Gail Alivio
VP Student Rights 2006-2007 & President 2007-2009, Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR)

Rabbia Ashraf
VP Events (2014-2015), VP Internal (2015-2016), President (2016-2017)
Women’s Constituency Commissioner, CFS-Ontario 2015-2016

Amanda Aziz
President, University of Manitoba Students’ Union 2004-2006
National Chairperson, Canadian Federation of Students 2006-2008
National Women’s Representative, Canadian Federation of Students 2008-2009
Student Representative, Faculty of Law Council, University of Victoria 2011-2012

Karolyn Aucoin
Association générale des étudiants de l’Université Sainte-Anne
Vice-présidente interrégionale (2014-2015)
U Ste Anne Rep, CFS-NS (2014-2015)
Deputy Chairperson, CFS-NS (2015-2016)

Noor Baig
VP Equity, University of Toronto Students’ Union, 2012 – 2013
Women’s Commissioner, Canadian Federation of Students Ontario 2012 – 2013
Amy Hammett
VP Student Affairs Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, 2010-2012

Asia Barclay, External Affairs Commissioner 2015-2016
Central Students Association (CSA), Local 54 of the Canadian Federation of Students

Odelia Bay
Vice-President Education, 2000-2001& President, 2001-2002, RyeSAC (Ryerson Students’ Union), CFS Local 24

Wednesday Bell
Board Representative for Guelph Queer Equality, University of Guelph Central Student Association 2012-2014
Councillor for Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies, York University Graduate Student Association, 2016-2017

Samantha Bokma
VP Activities (2011-12), VP Student Issues (2012-13), President (2013-14), Laurentian Students’ Union
Graduate Students’ Union of Memorial University of Newfoundland Department of Gender Studies Representative and Policy Coordinator (2015-16)

Shone Bracken, Director of External Affairs, Glendon College Students’ Union 2008-09

Danika Brisson
Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, VP Student Affairs, 2007-2009

Cindy Brownlee
VP Ryerson/Finance Student Association of George Brown College 2009-2011
Director Education and Equity Student Association of George Brown College 2011-2012
Mature and Part Time Student Commissioner CFS Ontario 2011-2012

Melanie Bourque
Vice Présidentes aux services (2012-2014), Présidente (2014-2015), Vice-Présidente Interrégional (2015-2016) Association générale des étudiants de l’Université Sainte-Anne
Canadian Federation of Students National Executive – Francophone Students’ Representative (2015-2016)

Meghan Caveen
Residence Rep, Algoma University Student Union, 2014-2015

Caitlin Campisi
lnternal Commissioner, University of Ottawa Graduate Students’ Association des étudiant.e.s diplômé.e.s., 2011 – 2013; Internal Commissioner, University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, 2015 – 2016

Eren Cervantes-Altamirano
Student Ombudsperson (University of Alberta, 2010-2012)

Sonia Chwalek
Communications & Corporate Affairs Commissioner, Central Student Association (University of Guelph), 2014-2016

Jamie Crane
Cape Breton University Students’ Union President 2004-2005

Emily Davidson
Nova Scotia College of Art and Design Students’ Union
Vice President Internal, 2007-08
President 2008-2009

Nicole Desnoyers
Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, VP Equity (2013-2014) and VP Services and Communications (2014-2015)
Women’s Representative, Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario (2014-2015)

Pascale Diverlus
Vice President Equity 2014-2015 Ryerson Students’ Union
Constituency Commissioner CFS 2014-2015

Cathy Dowd
Vice-President, University of Manitoba Students’ Union, 2004-2006

Anna Dubinski
CFS-FCEE Treasurer 2014-2016
CFS-NS Chairperson 2013-2014
King’s Students’ Union President 2013-2014

Roxanne Dubois
VP Finance, Student Federation of the University of Ottawa 2007-2009
CFS National Treasurer/National Chairperson 2009-2011

Chelsea Flook
Centre for Students with Disabilities at the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa 07-08 Chief Steward Unit 3, CUPE 3903 at York University representing graduate student assistants, 2009

Lucy Fowler
President (2014-2015) & Vice President (2013-2014), Lakehead Education Graduate Students
Chief Steward and Bargaining Member, CUPE 3905 Lakehead University Graduate Students Union, 2013-2015

Paige Galette
Vice-President Communications of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (2010-2012)
Francophone Students Representative on the National Executive of the Canadian Federation of Students (2011-2012)

Maria Galvez
Vice President University Affairs & Academics, University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, 2009-2010
Vice President University Affairs, University of Toronto Students’ Union, 2010-2011

Anna Goldfinch
Vice-President External, Carleton Graduate Students’ Association (2012-2013)
National Executive Representative, Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (2013-2015)

Rebecca Granovsky-Larsen
VP Internal, Dalhousie Students’ Union 2002-2003

Anne-Marie Grondin
University of Ottawa Criminology Students’ Association 2003-04, University of Ottawa Criminology Graduate Students’ Association 2005-06
Society of Graduate and Professional Students at Queen’s University VP Campaigns & Community Affairs 2010-12
Secretary-Treasurer, CFS National Graduate Caucus 2011

Denise Hammond
President Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson, 2014-2016
President Graduate Students’ Association (York University), 1999-2000, Vice President Equity Graduate Students’ Association (York University) 1998-1999

Jenn Hassum
University of Toronto Students’ Union President, 2006-2007

Ella Henry
Vice-President Education, St. Thomas University Students’ Union 2009-2010
President, St. Thomas University Students’ Union 2010-2011
University of Toronto Students’ Union Faculty of Law Representative 2012-2013, 2014-2015

Kelly Holloway
President of York University Graduate Students’ Association 2008-09

Sandy Hudson
VP Equity, University of Toronto Students’ Union 2007-08
President, University of Toronto Students’ Union 2008-10
Chairperson, Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario 2010-2012

Ash Hunkin
CUSA VP Student Services 2007/2008

Vanessa Hunt
VP Campus Life, York Federation of Students 2010-2011
President, York Federation of Students 2011-2013
Deputy Chairperson, Canadian Federation of Students 2013-2014

Sarah Jama
Student Representative Assembly, Social Science Caucus Leader: 2014-2016
Abilities Coordinator, McMaster Students Union 2014-2015

Karine-Myrgianie Jean-François
Secrétaire générale Association générale des étudiant.e.s du Collège André-Grasset (2004-2005)
Senate Director for the University of Ottawa Law Faculty (2006-2008)
Student advocate office’s campaign coordinator – Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (2007-2008)

Loveleen Kang
VP Campus Life ( 2007-2008) & VP Operations (2008-2009), York Federation of Students

Hannah Kaya
Vice President External, University of King’s College Students’ Union, 2016-2017

Kaley Kennedy
King’s Students’ Union, External Vice-President (2007-08) and President (2008-09)
CFS Nova Scotia, Women’s Liaison Officer (2006-07), National Executive Representative (2008-09), and Chairperson (2009-10)

Brittaney Kent
Director at Large (2015-2016) &Vice-President Communications (2016-2017), Nipissing University Student Union

Sania Khan
Vice President Equity (‘15-16), University of Toronto Students’ Union

Yusra Khogali
VP Equity, Scarborough Campus Students Union 2013-2014

Jessica Kirk
Vice-President Equity (2015-2016) & President (2016-2017), Scarborough Campus Students’ Union

Mary-Dan Johnston
VP Administration, St Thomas University Student Union, 2009 – 2012
Nora Loreto
Ryerson Students Union (2005-07 VP Education, 2007-08 President)

Kaitlynne Lowe
Dalhousie Student Union, Vice President Internal (2015-16)

Maya McDonald
Vice-President Equity, Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (2014-2015)

Sahra MacLean
External Executive, Camosun College Student Society 2010-2011
Canadian Federation of Students Aboriginal Caucus Chairperson 2012-2013

Jessica Magalios
Councillor-At-Large (2002-2003) & VP Academic (2003-2004), Memorial University Students’ Union
Chairperson, Canadian Federation of Students-Newfoundland and Labrador (2004-2007)

Rhiannon Makohoniuk
Dalhousie Student Union Vice President Internal 2016-2017

Gilary Massa
Vice-President Equity & Vice-President Education, York Federation of Students
CFS Ontario Constituency Commissioner
CFS Ontario Racialized Representative

Dominica McPherson
External Affairs Commissioner, Central Student Association (University of Guelph) 2012-2014

Jessica McCormick
Executive Director of External Affairs, MUN Students’ Union (2010-11), Chairperson, CFS-Newfoundland and Labrador (2011-12)
National Deputy Chairperson, CFS (2012-13)
National Chairperson, CFS (2013-2015)

Gayle McFadden
Vice-President Campaigns & Advocacy 2013-2015, Vice-President Operations 2015-2016, York Federation of Students
National Executive Representative 2016-2017, Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario

Sonali Menezes
External Affairs Commissioner, Central Student Association (Univeristy of Guelph) (2014-2015)

Amy Morris
VP Finance, Student Federation of the University of Ottawa
2005-07
Women’s Liaison and Treasurer
CFS Nova Scotia 1999-2000

Christina Muehlberger
President, Carleton GSA 2014
Ontario Graduate Caucus Chairperson 2014
National Graduate Caucus Chairperson 2015

Maggie Murray
CFS BC Campaign Coordinator (2009)
External Representative SU Local 73 Students Union of Vancouver Community College (2007-2010)

Stephanie Nakitsas
VP Campaigns, York University Graduate Students’ Association 2008-09

Alex McCarthy Noel
Chairperson, CFS-NL (2016-2017)
Treasurer, CFS-NL (2015-2016)
President, Grenfell Campus Student Union (2013-2015)

Lyndall Musselman
President of Students’ Union of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (SUNSCAD) 2005-07

Jennifer Nowoselski
Vice President Internal, Dalhousie Student Union, 2014-2015

Hildah Otieno
Vice President Student Rights, Continuing Education Student Association of Ryerson (CESAR) 2008-2009
National Executive Representative, Canadian Federation of Students Ontario, 2008-2009

Rahwa Osman
YVP External, U of Saskatchewan Graduate Students’ Association (2014 – 2015)
CFS- SK Chair (2014 – 2015)

Melissa Palermo
Ryerson Students’ Union, VP Education 2011-2013, President 2013-2014

Kimalee Phillip
President, Carleton Graduate Students’ Association 2009-2011; National Graduate Chairperson, CFS National 2009-2011

Scarlett Raczycki
Local Affairs Commissioner, Central Student Association at University of Guelph 2015-2016

Kathleen Reid
Vice President Student Life 2015-2016, President 2016 -2017, Dalhousie Student Union.

Angela Regnier, President University of Saskatchewan Graduate Students Association (2002-2004)
National Deputy Chairperson, CFS (2004-2007)

Yalitsa Riden
Deputy Chairperson, CFS-NS (2014-2015)
VP Finance (2013-2015), SUNSCAD

Anika Roberts-Stahlbrand
Woman’s Liaison Officer, Canadian Federation of Students-Nova Scotia (2014-2015)
External Vice President, King’s Students’ Union, 2014-2015

Rebecca Rose, Vice President Education 2004-05 & 2008-09 and President 2005-06, Ryerson Students’ Union

Carissa Rose Taylor
President, Brandon University Students’ Union (2012-2013)
Chairperson, National Graduate Caucus of the Canadian Federation of Students (2016-2017)

Gabrielle Ross-Marquette
External Commissioner, University of Ottawa Graduate Students’ Association des étudiant.e.s diplômé.e.s de l’Université d’Ottawa (GSAÉD) (2014-2015)
National Executive Representative of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (2015-2016)

Emily Rourke
Executive Director of Campaigns and Advocacy, OCAD Student Union, 2013-2015
Board of Governors Student Representative, OCAD University, 2015-2016

Anne-Marie Roy
Vice-President Communications 2012-13 & President 2013-2015, Student Federation of the University of Ottawa
National Deputy Chairperson CFS 2015-2017

Najiba Ali Sardar
Vice-President Equity, University of Toronto Students’ Union – UTSU (2014-15)

Michaela Sam
Vice-President Communications (2012-2013), Vice-President Student Life (2013-2014), President (2014-2015) of the King’s Students’ Union
Chairperson (2014-2016), Canadian Federation of Students-Nova Scotia

Gabrielle Samson
Présidente de l’Association générale des étudiants de l’Université Sainte-Anne (2010-2011)

Danielle Sandhu
President, University of Toronto Students’ Union, 2011-2012
VP Equity, University of Toronto Students’ Union, 2010-2011
VP Campus Life, University of Toronto Students’ Union, 2009-2010
Women’s Commissioner, CFS Ontario, 2010-2011

Darshika Selvasivam
Vice-President Campaigns & Advocacy 2009-2011, York Federation of Students

Alison Shott
VP External & Communications,University of Western Ontario, Society of Graduate Students, 2014-2015

Brittany Skelton
Local Affairs Commissioner Central Student Association Guelph University 2014-2015

Dina Skvirsky
VP Student Issues, Carleton University Student Association (CUSA), 2010-11

Grayce Slobodian
Vice President Campus Life of University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) 2013-2014
Vice President External of University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) 2014-2015

Caitlin Smith
Vice-President Finance & Services 2010-2011 & President 2011-2012, Ryerson Students’ Union

Jessica Squires
President (1996-1998), VP External (1998-1999), SUNSCAD
National Executive Representative (Nova Scotia), Canadian Federation of Students, 1997-1999
VP External, Dalhousie Association of Graduate Students, 2001-2003
VP External, Carleton Graduate Students Association, 2006-2008

Dr Josie Steeves
Vice President Academic, University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union 2007-2008
President, University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union 2008-2009

Rebecca Stuckey
Executive Director Student Life, MUN Students Union (2012-2013), VP Communications and Research Graduate Students Union MUN (2014-2015)
Deputy Chairperson National Graduate Caucus, CFS (2015-2017)

Sara Suliman
External Commissioner, University of Toronto Graduate Student Union 2008-2010

Taiva Tegler
External Commissioner, Graduate Students’ Association des étudiant.e.s diplômé.e.s. Fédération canadienne des étudiantes et étudiants| Canadian Federation of Students section 94, University of Ottawa 2011 – 2013

Kaitlyn Teller
Campaigns and Special Projects Director 2010-2012 & Vice President External 2012-201, Algoma University Students’ Union

Melissa Theodore
VP External, University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, 2013-2014
VP Equity, University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, 2014-2015

Melanee Thomas
President, University of Lethbridge Student Union, 2002-03
Executive Director, Council of Alberta University Students, 2003-04
National Graduate Caucus representative to the National Executive CFS, 2007-08
Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Calgary

Nadine Tkatchevskaia
VP External, Glendon College Students’ Union 2008-2011

Jessica Thyriar
VP Campus Life (2012-2013) & President (2013-2014) York Federation of Students
Racialized Representative, Canadian Federation of Students (2013-2014)

Sarah Trower
President, Student Union of NSCAD University 2012-2014

Nickie Van Lier
Civics; Environment Commissioner, University of Toronto Graduate Student’s Union (2015-2016)

Larissa Wahpooseyan
VP Finance, First Nations University Students’ Association (2014-2015)
Chairperson, CFS -SK (2016-2017)

Charmaine Waters
Students’ Union of Vancouver Community College BoG representative 2008-11
& Chair (2012-13)

Ashley Wilson
Director of Advocacy, Memorial University Students’ Union, 2013-2014

Alyssa Williams
Ryerson Students’ Union, VP Student Life & Events 2011
CFS Ontario Women’s Representative 2011

Kate Yakasovich
Former Vice President External, Algoma University Students’ Union
Director, University of Ottawa Graduate Students’ Association des étudiant.e.s diplômé.e.s., 2011 – 2012
Internal Coordinator, Women’s Resource Centre, Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, 2010-2013

Note: Additional signatures added on October 30

One Comment

  1. Alumni of Dalhousie University (PhD, Poli Sci, 2010). The university needs a stronger commitment to progressive values and academic freedom. I was horrified by Dal’s lame response to the Dentistry students and it’s terrible response to this issue. It is 2017, in the context of today’s political climate, the university should encourage critical voices and not punish them. Being a little “uncomfortable” is okay for a university. that’s the point, in fact. If not a university, then where?

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