Co-organized by the University of Toronto Mississauga’s very own Professor Beverly Bain—a Black, queer, feminist scholar and activist who teaches in Women and Gender Studies in the Department of Historical Studies—Scholar Strike Canada organized a strike that took place on September 9 and 10.
Scholar Strike is an advocacy organization which was initially established in the United States following a tweet from Dr. Anthea Butler of the University of Pennsylvania. Butler was motivated by the WNBA and NBA’s strikes against playing in protest against racial injustice and put out a call for a similar labour action within the academic community.
On September 9, scholars across the country paused their teaching and took a step back from their administrative duties to organize live-streamed, digital teach-ins on police brutality, land issues and treaty-breaking, and other symptoms of racism and systemic violence that disenfranchise Black, Indigenous, and racialized communities around the world.
“Scholar Strike is open to everyone to participate in on college and university campuses— faculty, staff, grad students, and administrators who are committed to anti-racism, and advocating for racial justice for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) in all areas of society,” reads the Scholar Strike homepage.
Professor Bain, alongside her fellow colleagues, initiated Scholar Strike Canada after witnessing Anthea Butler’s calls to professors from universities across the country to strike against anti-Black racism.
The Medium sat down with Professor Bain to discuss her close involvement with Scholar Strike Canada, the outstanding country-wide support, and what she hopes for the future of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour in universities everywhere.
The September 9 and 10 teach-ins focused on Indigeneity, land defenders, policing and abolition, anti-Black racism, Black lives, Black academics teaching in universities and the conditions under which they are teaching, and campus police. Professor Bain herself directed a session with two other colleagues on removing campus police from universities titled the “Race to Incarcerate in the University.”
64,000 individuals participated in the event, which was deemed a massive success. “I was very honoured and grateful for the amazing teach-ins that took place; the scholarship, the activism, the art, the conversations, they were tremendous,” said Professor Bain. “I was so overcome by the amazing work and knowledge from the Black, Indigenous, and racialized scholars featured.”
The Scholars Strike aimed to “start revealing and exposing the universities’ failure to ensure that its systems and structures are immediately re-examined” and make sure that administrators are held accountable.
Professor Bain argued that the anti-racism statements put out by the universities, alongside various different projects and committees established to deal with racism on campuses, are not enough.
“That, in itself, does not guarantee that anything will change,” said Professor Bain. “It does not matter that we have all these committees, [because] when things happen there is no way to ensure that we will get results in those moments.”
Professor Bain also emphasized the lack of diversity at UTM and its administrative bodies, arguing that the university’s policies were designed to resist change and are eventually realized as mere performances.
“We are still operating with individuals in a structure that remains untouched because [its] policies were not meant to undermine the institutions, to change how things function,” said Professor Bain.
Professor Bain also pointed out a lack of diversity amongst the individuals in the UTM administration. “Whiteness still prevails within [our] institutions,” she said.
She stated that the UTM Media Centre currently has exclusively white personnel who have the authority to decide who is represented on their website. Professor Bain expressed her displeasure on the issue and questioned the legitimacy of their efforts to diversify their publications.
“How do we then confront what these policies mean if they are not doing the work to rapidly change who makes decisions about Black, Brown, and racialized lives on campus?” asked Professor Bain. “We have to trust them to know how best to represent us and when, and it’s tokenistic and disrespectful to Black, Brown, and racialized professors who are told that they must wait their turn.”
One of the very first demands listed on the Scholar Strike Canada website was to remove campus police from universities, colleges, and educational establishments across the country. Professor Bain discussed the issues with campus police and how to move forward regarding similar agreements with policing institutions.
“We have seen what has happened over the last year with the handcuffing of our students who have gone to the Wellness Centre for mental health support and have been put in handcuffs,” stated Professor Bain.
Several students faced a similar situation last year where, upon seeking help from mental health services on campus, they found themselves being escorted to the hospital in handcuffs by campus police officers. These students were primarily women and people of colour.
“For the university to say that what they’re looking at is better training for campus police is not what we want,” said Professor Bain. “We want them to be removed. [They are] criminalizing students and the University should not be an extension of the carceral state, which it is already.”
Scholars Strike maintains that Canadian universities can do much more for BIPOC staff and students. Professor Bain argues that university administrations need to stop contracting out jobs, which can be done by BIPOC faculty members, in an effort to release themselves from the responsibility of ensuring that their faculty have secure jobs. Professor Bain believes that for students of colour to feel valued on campus, they must see their professors of colour as being valued, which UTM has not been doing.
“[They] need to hire more Black, Indigenous, and racialized professors in full-time jobs,” stated Professor Bain. “It’s not enough to talk about the institution doing all of this anti-racism and anti-oppression work and their determination to make an impact. We have to start doing the work.”
As a Black, Caribbean, queer feminist, anti-capitalist, scholar and activist, Professor Bain argues that Black and Indigenous lives, especially women’s, are seen as disposable in North America. According to Bain, crimes committed against BIPOC citizens aren’t deemed as deserving of justice as those committed against white members of society.
“Black women are not [seen as] women. Their blackness is not understood. Their gender is not understood—they are an anomaly,” stated Professor Bain, going on to point out the similarities between the experiences of Black and Indigenous women.
“The killing of Black and Indigenous people has not abated and, as a result, we cannot continue to go on pretending that this is okay and normal and how life is,” stated Professor Bain. “We have to indict the carceral state. We have to defund the police. We have to demilitarize their institutions so that we can abolish [them]. We cannot continue talking about training. We cannot continue talking about fixing— nothing can be fixed.”
Professor Bain concluded her statements by emphasizing the urgency of this issue and how we need to change the narrative by re-envisioning a world of care.
“I am going to speak,” she stated. “There is an opportunity for change, and [that] is why I’m going to continue. I have to.”