A Congress 2019 participant who profiled and harassed a Black attendee was found guilty of “unconscious bias” in an independent investigation and has been banned from the conference for at least three years.
The Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences is an annual conference that attracts thousands of scholars and students every year. At its last meeting in June, a Black masters of political science student at Acadia University, Shelby McPhee, was confronted and accused of stealing a laptop by two white attendees. The attendees then harassed McPhee by taking his picture and saying they'll report him to authorities.
After hiring a human rights lawyer to investigate, the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Congress’s organizers, found one of the attendees had violated their Code of Conduct by “stalking, following, [and taking] harassing photography [and] recording[s]” of McPhee. The other attendee was not a conference participant and thus not subject to punishment.
According to the Federation’s official statement, the attendee will be forbidden from attending Congress for three years, until after the 2022 conference. He can not return unless he “takes full responsibility for his actions,” agrees to follow Congress’s Code of Conduct going forward and engages in “educational and critical thinking activities” that enhance his awareness of racial discrimination.
The Federation said they have learned from the episode and will use it to inform their policies going forward.
“We are immediately undertaking, in consultation with our members, a full review of our Congress Code of Conduct and the systems we use to support and enforce it, including staff education and communications protocols,” reads a statement on its website.
It also announced that it has revised the theme for Congress 2020 in response to the incident, titling it Bridging Divides: Confronting Colonialism and Anti-Black racism.
“We are committed to making these issues an integral part of future Congresses, and to working with our scholarly community to address racial and social injustices,” it wrote.
McPhee thought the attendee’s punishment fit the crime.
“I think a three-year suspension gives the individual time to consider his actions ... After careful consideration, redemption should be available to everybody,” said McPhee in an interview with The Star Vancouver. “It’s a step in the right direction.”