Brock University will not discipline students who wore blackface as part of a Halloween costume of the Jamaican bobsled team.
The St. Catharines, Ont.-based school said the costume had a lack of "historical consciousness," and wasn't meant to be "racially offensive," according to the Toronto Star.
The four students of varying races dressed as the bobsled team from the 1993 film "Cool Runnings," and won a $500 cash prize by a show of applause at Isaac's Bar and Grill, the St. Catharines Standard reports. Isaac's is the university's on-campus bar and associated with the Brock University Students' Union (BUSU).
University spokesperson Kevin Cavanagh told the Star the participants had no intention of being inflammatory, but the BUSU responded by saying it was "aware of the historical context that this action can represent."
In 2011, students at the Université de Montréal’s business school were photographed wearing blackface during a Frosh Week event. Although it was also deemed racist and offensive by other students, the university said the stunt was unacceptable, but not meant to be racist.
BUSU president Roland Erman said that the student union would expand workplace safety and harassment training to include equity and human rights issues. He added that BUSU would also revisit how these contests are run in general, and include a supervisor vetting process before the competition.
Erman's statement came on the same day that academics affiliated with Brock's Labour Studies department (including its director) weighed in on the issue on Facebook.
The department said, "blackface is not simply a remnant of a racist historical past, but part of a broader set of cultural practices which maintain and normalize anti-Black racism and systemic oppression."
They reminded people that blackface minstrel shows used to take place in nearby Niagara Falls, and that faculty, staff and students must understand that dressing up that way isn't just a joke.
"Regardless of the intent or motivation of the students in question, donning blackface for Halloween is never okay; it is racist, full stop," the Facebook post said.
But Brock University president Jack Lightstone didn't quite take the same position.
In a letter posted on Tuesday, he supported BUSU's actions following the contest and said minstrel shows were likely not on the students' minds when they wore the costume.
"But it should have been, and would have been, had they had adequate historical consciousness."
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