After a summer of sustained uprisings over police violence against Black and Indigenous Americans and Canadians, we can’t go back to “business as normal,” says the co-organizer of a strike for academics happening this week.
Beverly Bain teaches women and gender studies at the University of Toronto’s historical studies department. She and Min Sook Lee, an associate professor at OCAD University, co-organized Scholar Strike Canada, a series of digital teach-ins focusing on an end to police violence against Black and Indigenous people.
The two felt they “had to do something as scholars,” Bain told HuffPost Canada. “We are part of these communities … We have students who are part of this community.”
WATCH: A timeline of violent police wellness checks. Story continues below.
Scholar Strike Canada follows a similar strike in the U.S. started by Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Butler was inspired by WNBA and NBA players boycotting their games following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.
“We see that there is that escalation, and we can’t pretend that we can just go back to our institution after what we are witnessing and pretend that we can just move on with business as usual,” she said.
The Canadian strike is on Sept. 9 and 10, when many college and university students are heading back to primarily online classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, 2,000 scholars from across the country are participating, Bain said. Instead of their regular teaching duties, professors and lecturers are asked to attend the digital teach-ins and invite students to them as well.
“In our institution, we’re seeing an extension of the carceral state … by the way that campus police [are] deployed … in ways that are harmful to our students and to our faculty,” she said.
In 2019, a student at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus said she was handcuffed by campus police after seeking help for suicidal thoughts from the university’s counselling centre.
The majority of precarious part-time jobs and contract work at many universities, including the University of Toronto, is done by racialized, Black or Indigenous people, Bain added.
“We have to take a stand,” she said. “We have to create sustainable jobs, tenured jobs and secure jobs for our faculty and our staff.”
Bain said it’s not enough for universities to simply release an anti-racism statement and “assume that that will fix everything — because it doesn’t do anything. It’s performance.”
“Seeing their professors stand up and take action against these forms of violence is reassuring to them.”
Scholar Strike Canada has several demands, including removing campus police, addressing the underrepresentation of Black and Indigenous faculty at Canadian institutions, recruiting and retaining more Black, Indigenous and racialized students, improving student mental health resources and making education more affordable.
Topics covered by teach-ins include police abolition, land issues and treaty-breaking, anti-Black police violence, campus police, migrant workers and Indigenous responses to Black resistance. Presenters include author and activist Desmond Cole, educator and community activist El Jones and Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder Sandy Hudson.
For students, seeing their professors take action in this way will send a positive message, Bain said.
“Seeing their professors stand up and take action against these forms of violence is reassuring to them,” she said. “It says to them that their life and their struggles and the risk they take matters to us, and that we are willing to stand with them.”
The university’s faculty association said in a statement it encourages its members to “pause … and to listen, reflect and join in a broader public dialogue and educational events related to police violence from historical and contemporary perspectives.”
Kelly Hannah-Moffat, vice-president of human resources and equity at the University of Toronto, said in an emailed statement that the university supports the participation of its members in the strike.
She also said the university’s campus police currently receive anti-bias and equity, diversity and inclusion training, and are partnering with the university’s anti-racism and cultural diversity office to update their training programs. Student safety and wellbeing is the “primary concern” of campus police, Hannah-Moffat said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Jacob Blake was killed by police. He was shot by police and is paralyzed.