When I first walked into The Ubyssey office I was incredibly nervous. I had to ask three different people where the room was before I eventually finally found it. Even though I was only three minutes late to the meeting the office was already jam-packed with bodies. For the long duration of the meeting, I awkwardly stood in the doorway, peeking through the crevices between other students just to get a glimpse inside.
I was starting to get used to these constant jitters. Yes, I was new to Vancouver and had never lived permanently away from home, but for the first time in my life, I was finding it difficult to make friends. I was never one to feel homesick or call my parents from a sleepover, but in the first weeks of school, I found it really difficult to picture this campus as my new home.
When the meeting finished, I took a deep breath before walking inside and quietly waited in line to speak to an editor whose work I had admired for quite a while. When I approached her she handed me her business card before quickly cutting me off. I beat myself up about it on the way home thumbing the cheap card stock between my fingers and feeling doubly stupid. I got lost along the way.
Four years later, I am finding myself sitting at her desk. It was not an easy road to get here. In the 102 years of The Ubyssey, I am the first Black woman to hold the position of editor, I am the second Black person to sit on the editorial period.
I know that holds a lot of weight.
I have spent the majority of my four years at this paper writing about Black people. This was never particularly intentional, it just happened. I once mentioned to a friend that I was scared of becoming a one-trick pony. Allowing myself to be that one girl complaining about racism… again. But I was forced to do it. No one else would.
If you weren’t aware of something. I’ll spell it out for you.
Being Black at UBC is hard.
Not in America, not in BC or Vancouver, but here on our very own campus.
I’ve had the opportunity to talk to faculty, I’ve been in on lengthy late-night conversations with friends. Sometimes it can feel like we are constantly having to fight a losing battle. Not just to have our struggles recognized, but to be taken seriously as people.
All my Black friends at UBC essentially say the same things. They don’t want to rock the boat when a white person screams the N-word at a party, they try not to overthink the fact that they couldn’t find a group for a class project or the fact that they were stared at when the class discussion turned to the topic of slavery.
But I don’t want to be the only person bringing these things up. I don’t want to be a one-trick pony. It’s exhausting and frankly, it’s not fair.
This year every editor of this paper is a minority in one way or another, but I’m sure they would all admit that they have their own biases and blind spots, even when they are aiming to be objective. I certainly know I do.
I hope that The Ubyssey takes this moment to reflect on its own history which has often been complicit in its lack of coverage on the Black community at this institution. Because there’s only so much I can do.
– Danni Olusanya, Culture editor
For 102 years, The Ubyssey has been putting out content that matters to students. For the latest part of those 102 years, The Ubyssey has platformed folks who aren’t being heard – often taking other campus groups or the university itself to task to do so. But for all those 102 years, The Ubyssey hasn’t been great at looking in the mirror.
Culture Editor Danni Olusanya is the first Black woman to ever be a Ubyssey editor and the second Black person to sit on our editorial, period. So while we’ve been criticizing UBC for not collecting data on students’ race, we’ve been sitting pretty with a diversity predicament of our own.
Despite electing staff representatives to hear out contributor grievances, despite a decentralized organizational structure, and despite a number of other internal policies and practices, we’re still struggling to be an inclusive, welcoming space. To address this struggle, we’re changing our tactics and making this policy change public, so it’s here for future editorials to uphold.
We’ve come up with a few goals that will help to keep inclusion and diversity in The Ubyssey’s mind for the current and future mastheads. They are:
- Holding semesterly staff training sessions on fostering inclusion and counteracting internal bias,
- Establishing a paid opinion columnist position to platform Black voices on campus,
- And providing semesterly print and online advertising space to the Black Student Union, while exploring similar advertising deals with other BIPOC student representation groups.
We’re not publishing this to glorify our allyship and win kudos – we’re writing this so that you can do to The Ubyssey what we’ve done to the AMS and UBC for decades and keep us accountable. We want to prove the incredible diversity of this year’s editorial isn’t a fluke, rather a point on a trend.
Finally, we wanted to address the question that invariably comes up when any editorial pens an opinion: ‘Isn’t news media meant to be unbiased?’
This idea has been addressed a few times now, but here’s our take: our journalism will always strive to tell the story fairly and accurately, but we’ll never be soulless robots, disinterested in the rights and safety of folks fighting to live their lives. Anti-Black racism isn’t subjective – it’s a fact that it exists.
One recent example of Canada’s unique brand of discrimination is that despite United States statistics showing that Black people are disproportionately dying from COVID-19, Canada still hasn’t committed to collecting race-based data on the disease. To ignore anti-Black racism is an injustice and to believe that Canada’s past and present aren’t plagued by racism is to be willfully ignorant.
George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Breonna Taylor, Pierre Coriolan and so many more – these names mean something to us and we won’t pretend they don’t. Black lives matter, and this isn’t up for debate. Closer to home, UBC is no stranger to anti-Black racism and violence, shown by the racial profiling of Shelby McPhee at Congress 2019 or violent arrest of former UBC football player Jamiel Moore-Williams for jaywalking.
We will always pursue coverage of stories like these but, with this public statement, we’re renewing our efforts to look at our own newsroom with a critical lens. We refuse to do our staff, contributors and readers the disservice of not pursuing a better Ubyssey for the present and future by ignoring our paper’s problems. We’ve been making content for students since 1918, and we owe it to everyone – within our office and out – to foster inclusivity and platform voices that deserve to be heard.
There are a few Canada-specific places you can donate to in order to help support the Black community, including Hogan’s Alley Society, Black Women Connect Vancouver, the Black in BC community support fund and Justice for Regis. Here is a list of Vancouver-based Black businesses you can support. For United States-based causes, a few options are Reclaim the Block and the Black Visions Collective.