Uproar ensues over racialized student group at Ryerson
Two white journalism students at Ryerson were asked to leave a meeting organized by the Racialized Students Collective.
The March 11 meeting advertised by the group on Facebook was billed as a place for "Racialized students who are interested in action and awareness-raising for a more inclusive campus." The callout said, "This is a space to voice concerns and barriers affecting students of colour."
Trevor Hewitt and Julia Knope told the organizers that they were there to cover the meeting for a class assignment and that they had no personal experience with being racialized. At that point they were asked to leave the meeting.
"I could tell that they were upset so I told them that they could contact me after to talk about this," said Chrys Saget-Richard, one of the coordinators at the Racialized students Collective.
Saget-Richard says carving out spaces for marginalized students is a priority for the collective. "Our goal is to create room for people who are racialized where they don't have to explain themselves, spaces where they can tell their story without being policed."
For Saget-Richard this is not possible if the spaces include journalists reporting on a story or people who don't share the same experiences of racism.
Trevor Hewitt, a third year student at Ryerson who just started studying journalism, says he understands the need for safe spaces for students of colour and thinks the story has blown up out of control.
He says he was under the impression that all meetings organized by campus groups were open to all students.
"I was bummed I couldn't write the story about the collective," says Hewitt and adds, "Maybe I should have looked into it a bit more, I'm not denying that, but I was just frustrated, I wish it was more clear to me that this meeting was not open to students who didn't self-identify as racialized."
The incident was first covered in an article by the Ryersonian. The article titled "White students barred from funded RSU student group event," sensationalized the incident. A Reddit thread soon followed.
"The idea that this is reverse racism is silly," says Al Donato, a third year journalism student and employee with RyeAccess.
She explains that students from various marginalized groups need safe spaces from time to time, spaces that allow them to talk openly with others from their community.
"I facilitated a queer person of colour student social this year where a lot of heavy personal stories were shared, the kind of things we don't get into when white straight students are around," explains Al Donato.
Donato notes that campuses across the city have similar policies intended to create safe spaces for marginalized groups of students. In fact the Ryerson Centre for Women and Trans People clearly posts a sign on their door indicating that their space is intended to be a "safe space for self-identified women and trans people."
"I think this is irresponsible journalism," says Donato.
Rajean Hoilett, President of the Ryerson Student Union, says the article in the Ryersonian took him aback.
"The article doesn't make a strong attempt to prioritize or give voice to radicalized students, like many other conversations it prioritizes the voices of white students," says Hoilett.
Hoilett points out that the article shows a photo of the two white students and does not bring in the voices of any of the members of the collective until the tail end of the piece.
Emily Rivas the arts and life editor at the Ryerson says she was not personally involved in the story but hopes that the dialogue continues in a constructive way. "I hope that from the Ryersonian perspective we can follow up with the Racialized Students Collective to give them the opportunity to speak more about what happened."
Follow Sima Sahar Zerehi on Twitter @SimaSaharZerehi.
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