george brown racial slur

Toronto college investigating after speaker uses racial slur in class

Toronto's George Brown College, one of the largest academic institutions of its kind in Canada, has pledged to take action after a guest lecturer both spoke and showed a written image of the N-word during a presentation to more than 100 human resources management students on Wednesday.

"George Brown College is aware of a disturbing and troubling incident involving the use of the N-word by a guest speaker who is not employed by the college during a classroom case study presentation yesterday," reads a letter published by the college's president, Dr. Gervan Fearon, on Thursday, March 16.

"We acknowledge that giving embodied voice and life to the N-word and other racial slurs is completely unacceptable, inhumane and undermines efforts to create a safe and broadly supportive and inclusive learning environment. We condemn this behaviour in the strongest terms and are taking this matter extremely seriously."

CBC Toronto has identified the guest lecturer as Jane Ashfield, deputy director of people services for the City of Markham. Ashfield has reportedly been placed on leave by her employer in the wake of the George Brown incident.

According to the CBC, Ashfield was presenting a case study during a virtual class for more than 100 students when she displayed a slide containing the N-word. She is also said to have read the word aloud when detailing a real-world scenario about two firefighters who had lost their jobs for posting offensive content online. 

When confronted by students, the lecturer reportedly apologized immediately, and then again as class was ending. Students brought up the matter with the course's instructor nonetheless, sparking an investigation into how something like this could have happened.

"As soon as our college learned of the incident, College representatives were instructed to immediately launch a formal investigation by our Office of Anti-Racism, Equity and Human Rights (OAREHRS) to ensure that appropriate actions are taken to address this issue and prevent this from occurring in the future," said Fearon on Thursday.

"This incident is harmful and can be a traumatizing experience for many of our students. We are connecting directly with the students from the class to provide any and all supports necessary and have made counselling support available through our Counselling and Student Well-being Team."

Students with further complaints are urged to connect with the college's Office of Anti-Racism, Equity and Human Rights (OAREHRS) to make a complaint with a Human Rights Advisor.  

"We are taking concrete steps to combat anti-Black racism on campus, including ensuring our employees receive Anti-Racism training, implementing a comprehensive and ongoing college-wide Anti-Racism Action Plan and signing the Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion," wrote Fearon.

"Consequently, it is disheartening when incidents such as this occur. It further emphasizes the work our college and society must do to continually advance principles of equity and inclusion, as well as to recognize the harm done when these principles are not upheld."   

Noting that the college, which has three main campuses in Toronto, remains committed to fostering a safe, respectful and inclusive community, the institution's president once again called the incident "unacceptable."

Lead photo by

George Brown College

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