Making space, elevating voices: Dal community members take part in Scholar Strike activities

- September 11, 2020

OmiSoore Dryden (upper left), James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies, leads the virtual Teach-In for Black Lives event.
OmiSoore Dryden (upper left), James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies, leads the virtual Teach-In for Black Lives event.

Inspired by labour action taken by WNBA and NBA players in protest of police violence and anti-Black racism — action that took place following the shooting in Wisconsin of Jacob Blake —  American scholar Anthea Butler at the University of Pennsylvania sparked a nationwide movement around a “Scholar Strike.” The idea was for academics to choose to take part in labour action, teach-ins and social justice advocacy around these important issues.

That movement came to Canada this week under the umbrella of Scholar Strike Canada. Activities took place on September 9 and 10 to align with the start of the academic year in many universities and the close proximity to Labour Day.

Members of the Dal community took part in the Scholar Strike in different ways. Some were signatories to the Scholar Strike Canada statement of support. Others took time to attend an in-person event, held on the Studley Quad, titled “Be Heard: Black and Indigenous Voices” that offered a space for any Dal students, staff or faculty who identify as Black, Indigenous and/or a person of colour to speak or perform.

There was also a virtual teach-in for Black lives hosted by Dal’s James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies OmiSoore Dryden and Halifax poet, scholar and activist El Jones that included scholars from Dalhousie as well as peer institutions across Nova Scotia.

You can view archived video of both events, in full, via Facebook:

Below are just some of the insights shared by Dal community members during these Scholar Strike events:

Deep Saini, President

"Racism will wane when we all stop accepting it as part of our culture, when we call it out when we see it, and when we confront it when we see it. That's where my focus will be for the term of my presidency. How can we shift the culture of this institution and, through that, hopefully the culture of our society?"

OmiSoore Dryden, James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies

 “As professors, is it important to discuss the uprisings in our classes without reservation, to distill between racist stereotypes, to understand that watching Black women and men die on screen becomes the present-day visual of lynching postcards. Black students are deeply affected and harmed by these images, as are your Black colleagues.”

Theresa Rajack-Talley, Vice-Provost, Equity and Inclusion

"When you see these atrocities, these atrocities are not statistics and they are not data in a book. It's about human beings, people like us, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, babies. If those atrocities continue, this whole Black Lives Matter movement, this whole upheaval across North America and Canada, the killing of innocent Black people and Indigenous people — these are not statistics. When we say call their names, it's important because we have to remind ourselves and we have to remind other people that these are human beings. And it's not just those who are killed, it's the families and communities that are affected by it."

Sherry Pictou, Schulich School of Law Professor

“What are we reconciling to? What does equality and inclusion mean? Does it mean Canada, including academia, will only reconcile in so far that white structures and worldviews are maintained? That Canada and academia will only include us if we abide by those structures and worldviews?”

Keisha Turner, Student Success Advisor in the Bissett Student Success Centre and staff co-chair of the Black Staff and Faculty Caucus

"I stand here today to remind you that what we're doing here today in this very moment is brave and absolutely necessary. It's indispensable. This work right here is what will continue to propel you, me and all of our Black and Indigenous communities forward as we fight against the racist and colonial acts of police brutality against us here in Canada."

Isaac Saney, Director of the Transition Year Program at Dal and University Teaching Fellow

"Gathering here today is critically important as it allows us from our position in the academic towers, sometimes referred to as the Ivory Towers, to use our position to actually give voice to those who don't have voices, to give space to those who often are the most marginalized and who often have very little opportunity to put their views forward."

Kevin Hewitt, Physics Professor and Chair of Senate

"What I've seen here over this past year is that Black lives, our history and so on, are being moved from the margins to the centre, and there's been, of course, negative responses to centering Black lives in the discourse. I've seen that through various attacks within Nova Scotia, Canada, and, of course, the U.S. In my role as chair of Senate, we've tried to bring the issues affecting Black lives to the centre by prioritizing recommendations that have been laid out in various reports."

Naiomi Metallic, Chancellor’s Chair in Aboriginal Law and Policy, Schulich School of Law

“This fixing and tweaking around the margins of existing systems, such as the criminal justice system, it needs to go beyond that. Looking at Indigenous-led solutions, which has to involve recognizing Indigenous people’s jurisdictions and laws and supporting them with proper resources. This idea of Indigenous jurisdiction, particularly with respect to justice and safety and resolving their own disputes, that has been something that has been central to so many reports in the last 30 years… but yet despite the same recommendations over and over again, we still are not seeing action being taken.”

Richard Devlin, Acting Dean of the Schulich School of Law

“Recently the (Law) Faculty Council unanimously endorsed the creation of an EDI committee with a very strong mandate, and this we hope will help redouble our efforts. We don’t think we’re engaged in radical transformative change — we would like to — but we are making the effort to move things forward as best we can within the structures of the university . . . It’s a start, it’s not the end, and we’re continuing to work on the challenges that are presented.”

David Anderson, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine

“The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified cases of social unrest and examples of racist behaviour. This pandemic has also highlighted social inequalities and examples of discrimination, and specifically this pandemic has exposed how systemic racism can cause health inequalities that are harming Black, Indigenous and racialized communities. The Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie, in partnership with our neighbouring faculties and the communities we serve, has both the social responsibility to add our voice to the chorus for change and to make changes that demonstrates our commitments to equity, diversity and inclusion. We know we will not be judged by our words, but our actions.”


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