aime avolonto toronto

People are accusing York University of years of anti-Black racism against professor

More than 6,000 people have signed a petition in support of a professor who is facing termination and alleging anti-Black racism at York University. 

Dr. Aimé Avolonto, who has been a professor of French Studies at York's Glendon College since 2004, is levelling allegations of racism, harassment, and unfair termination against York University and its staff.

Avolonto's complaints date back to 2017, but were only recently brought to public attention by a CBC documentary called Black on Campus.

According to the petition, created last week, York U president Rhonda Lenton has "renewed her attempts to fire Prof. Avolonto" as a repsonse to the broadcast. 

"Ever since Prof. Avolonto filed a complaint in 2017 about the racist behaviour of two white administrators, he has been subjected to an unrelenting wave of retaliation and retribution," the petition says. 

"He has endured racist mobbing, a vicious smear campaign, hacking and surveillance of his email, and a multitude of false allegations against him. The experience has harmed his mental health and driven him to attempt suicide more than once." 

Avolonto was elected chair of the department in 2014 and re-elected in 2016. Since 2018, he has taken York U and six of its employees to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. 

Last week, Avolonto held a press conference, which included members of students associations and Deena Ladd of Workers' Action Centre, all of whom vouched for Avolonto. 

At the press conference, James Clark, a former staff representative of York's faculty association, said: 

"One of things I noticed as a staff representative with the association is how much the myth of the liberal university, or the progressive university, in many ways becomes a barrier to speaking out about sytemic anti-Black racism and other forms of oppression because the brand of the university becomes more important than what happens to people at the university." 

But York University is standing firm in its position that Avolonto's claims are "completely false and without merit."

"It is unfortunate for all concerned that Professor Avolonto has repeatedly introduced misleading and factually incorrect information into an already challenging circumstance," York University spokesperson Barbara Joy told blogTO. 

Following a multi-year external investigation conducted by Roger Beaudry of Aptus Solutions—a process which the petition alleges prioritized testimonies from white interviewees over Black witnesses—York U is now countering Avolonto's claims with some of their own. 

According to Joy, York University received its first complaint against Avolonto in 2016, followed by additional allegations the following year.

"Following a thorough, independent external investigation, multiple reports have concluded that allegations against Professor Avolonto of workplace harassment, including gender-based and sexual harassment, were founded," said Joy.

"The University takes its responsibility to maintain a safe workplace seriously and is acting accordingly." 

The investigation's fourth report was delivered in March 2021, characterizing Avolonto's actions as "vexatious" and "malicious." 

The petition is now demanding that York cease its termination procedure again Professor Avolonto and allow him to return to work at the university, from which he has been on a paid leave of absence since December 1, 2018. 

Supporters are also demanding that fees paid to investigator Roger Beaudry be disclosed to the public and that a new independent investigator with "formal training or expertise in investigating anti-Black racism" be appointed to review the situation. 

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