Refusal to be ‘silent and complicit’: Faculty participate in Scholar Strike to protest racism, police brutality

On September 9 and 10, UBC professors and PhD students joined thousands of academics across Canada and the United States for the Scholar Strike to protest anti-Black, racist and colonial police brutality.

During these two days, professors, staff and students paused their administrative duties to draw attention to the global efforts to end racism and injustice, engaging in teach-ins about racial inequity and violence.

Sparked from a tweet by University of Pennsylvania Professor Dr. Anthea Butler, this call for racial justice was inspired by the WNBA and NBA strike. Butler said in a CNN op-ed that she realized workers can cause the most powerful change by withholding what others see as their most important feature: their labour.

Dr. Sara Ghebremusse, an assistant professor at the Allard School of Law said she hoped the collective action would lead universities across Canada, including UBC to respond to demands in the Scholar Strike statement.

“This labour action is part of the ongoing call for universities to redress their racist practices,” she said.

As a Black woman in the “predominately white academy,” this movement is particularly personal to Ghebremusse, as ongoing incidents of anti-Black police violence and racism prompts a constant reminder of how Black people are often dehumanized, regardless of their background.

“I experience and witness racism throughout my institution,” said Ghebremusse. “Since I refuse to be silent and complicit, I complete the work that I think is necessary to make my institution a more welcoming place for Black students, staff, and faculty.”

Education Studies Professor Handel Kashope Wright said to The Ubyssey that anti-Black racism ia “alive and well in academia” but noted it “usually manifested in much more subtle ways than the horrific killing of Black folks, including by police.”

Wright took a different approach to the strike and didn’t stop teaching. Instead, he devoted part of class time to address the issue of anti-Black racism.

As a Black professor who works on representation and social justice issues, he said he believed it was more important to contribute to addressing the issue with his students than to withhold his labour and expertise while taking an active stance against anti-Black racism.

In support of the strike, the UBC Equity & Inclusion Office (EIO) along with the Office of the Provost & Vice President Academic released statements.

“We all play a role against hatred, oppression, violence and injustice and in finding a way to support and elevate those who have been traditionally, systemically, and historically marginalized,” the Office of the Provost & Vice President Academic wrote.

More than a two day strike

Beyond statements of solidarity, UBC faculty members expressed their commitment to actively end forms of racist, institutional, and systemic forms of violence through educational spaces.

Raised in the US and born into a family with mixed races of Black, Filipino, Kanaka Maoli (Hawai’ian Native) and white, Chris Patterson — an assistant professor in UBC’s Social Justice Institute — has broad and up-close experiences of anti-Black and anti-Asian racisms that have impacted poor communities of colour. Patterson recognizes how racism is part of our atmosphere and culture.

“My archive is our culture: literature, video games, and the world around us,” said Patterson, “Whether we are talking about concepts like ‘freedom,’ ‘sovereignty,’ or even ‘the human,’ all of these concepts have depended upon de-valuing Black lives, Indigenous lives, and the lives of exploited Asian and Latinx migrants.”

Patterson, who participated in the strike, spoke of how violence against Black people, Indigenous people, Asian migrants and settlers “hurts us all.”

“It is in all our interests that we support movements for racial justice and decolonization.”