A racism scandal has hit the University of Victoria.
Days after university leaders announced an ambitious plan to foster and support Indigenous culture, the university is looking into social media posts where individuals, presumably students, are mocking First Nations.
A Snapchat screenshot shared on Facebook Sept. 16 showed young men pretending to get drunk off Lysol disinfectant wipes, captioned with a racist slur describing First Nations peoples using the cleaner in the same way.
University of Victoria president Jamie Cassels said in a Facebook post that the university has now identified people we believe to be involved and are investigating the matter under the university’s policies on discrimination and harassment, and non-academic student misconduct.
“That such behaviour has taken place within our community is deeply concerning to university leaders and members, and is contrary to our commitment to an inclusive and respectful environment that provides a positive living, learning and working space for all,” said Cassels. “Yet we know that discriminatory and racist attitudes continue to exist, and this reinforces the importance of education and the responsibility of educational institutions to promote better understanding.”
Cassels went on to reaffirm UVic’s deep commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, to Indigenous students and creating more meaningful partnerships with Indigenous communities.
“We will not permit incidents like this to deflect our movement toward these important goals, but instead take them as proof of the need to redouble our efforts in the pursuit of reconciliation.”
Paul Marck, a spokesperson for the university, said there is nothing further to update beyond Cassels’ statement.
“There is no additional information to provide you,” he said. Anything further related to investigations, outcomes and university policies are considered confidential processes.”
Available online reactions covered a wide range of spectrum.
“Just sad,” wrote Emma Joye Frank, who identifies herself as First Nations, on FB. “Low lives doing their thing while trying to bring others down. You should really show more respect for the indigenous people of this land, and for yourselves.”
Others used more harsh language to condemn the actions and urged users to help the investigation. “UVic is investigating the pictures and need help finding out who they are, said Vic Austin. “If anybody knows who they are please send me links to their Facebook page.”
Others condemned the behaviour, but also counseled against blowing the incident out of proportion.
“They are just ignorant excited first year students,” said Sayna Sadres on Facebook. “Please don’t judge all of University of Victoria based on this. University of [Victoria] actually has a large indigenous education centre on campus.”
Earlier this year, the university renamed the building that bore the name of Sir Joseph Trutch, who negotiated the entry of British Columbia into Canada in 1871. Trutch also served as B.C.’s first lieutenant-governor following Confederation.
The university cited Trutch’s “negative approach to the land rights of First Nations people and disregard for their concerns” in their decision.