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Black law students speak out after vandalism of posters at Osgoode

Forum held to discuss issues facing students
|Written By Gabrielle Giroday

Law students say they are committed to fighting racism after the recent vandalism of two posters at Osgoode Hall Law School commemorating Black History Month.

Michelle Miles, vice president of the school’s Black Law Students’ Association, says two posters of black Canadians put up at Gowlings Hall were defaced shortly after they were installed on Jan. 31, as part of a larger exhibit featuring 15 to 20 leaders.

“We were quite saddened, especially because we recently put the posters up. It celebrates Black History Month and the contributions of these black Canadians in the legal profession,” says Miles, a 3L student at Osgoode.

Tristan Davis, the association’s president and a 3L student at the school, learned about the incident from the school’s associate dean the morning after the vandalism happened. Students moved ahead with a planned kick-off celebration for Black History Month, he says, and a separate forum was held to discuss community response to the vandalism. Davis says that, during the forum, there were other issues that were raised by participants.

The leaders of the association say they’re planning to share recommendations with the school about how to address racism and discrimination going forward.

“What really came out from the meeting to us was that . . . a lot of the people thought it was representative of the anti-blackness that many of us find on campus, and a lot of students anonymously expressed that they don’t feel absolutely comfortable on campus with regards to how they are treated because of their personal identity,” says Davis.

“[There are] the deeper problems that we really wanted to get to the heart of before we make any formal recommendations to Osgoode administration.”

Davis noted the law school’s administration had been supportive to students after the vandalism occurred, and Miles says there was extensive feedback from students who were upset by the news of the vandalism.

The hall is accessible to all members of the public, so Davis says the vandalism could have been done by someone who is not a member of the law school or part of the university.

The posters that were defaced were removed, says Davis, and will be reprinted, and the school’s administration has offered to cover that cost.

Davis says they’ll be reaching out to black alumni from the school for their feedback, before sharing their recommendations with the university’s administration.

After the vandalism occurred, a student at the school launched a petition online.

The petition aims to have permanent, framed photos added to Gowlings Hall, featuring the country’s first black, indigenous, female legal professionals, as well as pioneers from different immigrant communities.

More than 1,800 people have signed the online petition so far.

“The struggle of these early pioneers paved the way for the rest of us — most of us wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them,” says the petition.

“Let's honour them — permanently.”

Benjamin Berger, a professor and associate dean at the school, says York University’s Security Services is investigating the incident, and it's opened a file on the matter with the Toronto Police Service.

He praised the “incredible leadership” of the student association in its response.

“Obviously, it’s a deeply saddening and troubling incident, and our first and primary response is to listen carefully to the BLSA, to their experiences, their wisdom, their wish for responses, so that’s very important to us . . . to be driven by the communities most directly affected,” he says.

“It’s a reminder of the need always to remain vigilant in ensuring that Osgoode realizes its anti-oppressive, anti-racist equality, inclusionary values, and there’s always a need to stay attentive and responsive to any instances that arise where those values aren’t reflected as they ought to be, in the experience of students in the school,” he added.