Dalhousie Withdraws Disciplinary Action Over Student's ‘White Fragility’ Post

Masuma Khan, who criticized Canada 150 celebrations on Facebook, says the university needs to do more to address systemic racism.
October 25, 2017, 10:51pm
Photo by Meghan Tansey Whitton

A Dalhousie student who called out "white fragility" on social media is no longer facing disciplinary action from the university. The administration withdrew their complaint against Masuma Khan after heated pushback from students and faculty.

Khan was accused of discrimination for a for a Facebook post she made in July. As vice president of Dalhousie' student union, Khan drafted a motion to boycott Canada 150 celebrations, citing the country's colonialist history. While the motion passed, a young conservative group posted online saying it was "attacking Canada."

"At this point, fuck you all. Be proud of this country? For what, over 400 years of genocide?" Khan responded.

She also used three hashtags: #unlearn150, #whitefragilitycankissmyass and #yourwhitetearsarentsacredthislandis. The response was the basis of a complaint filed against her by another Dalhousie student, Michael Smith.

Despite the withdrawal, Khan says she feels like the decision should have been made back in July, when the Vice Provost first encountered the complaint. "It would have avoided the tremendous amount of harm I've taken on," she told VICE.

Before scheduling the hearing the university offered Khan an "informal" resolution that required her to attend anti-discrimination training and write a "reflective statement" that would serve as an apology for her original statements.

The complaint against Khan and her post have been circulating media for the past few weeks. While the publicity brought Khan some support, she says she's mostly been flooded with racist and hateful messages. She says the messages are still coming in despite the withdrawal, which she herself found out about only three minutes before the university went public. And she still hasn't received any personal contact from the university administration.

"They haven't said 'Masuma, here's counselling services'—nothing."

Khan's incident is the latest in a series of controversies at the Halifax university revealing widespread racism, sexism and homophobia. After a scandal involving dentistry students' sexist social media posts, a 2015 report evaluating the faculty found rampant incidents of discrimination and little recourse for victims.

In 2015, an international student went public about racist comments that pushed the student to a breaking point. A week ago, Kati George-Jim, an Indigenous student and the only one on the university's board of governors posted a letter online detailing her experience with racism at the school.

George-Jim recounted a board meeting were she was scolded by the chairman after speaking out of turn during a meeting. She describes being yelled at "like a child."

Her letter prompted an apology, but she says the chairman and administration still doesn't quite understand the racial context of it.

"He thought it was because my feelings were hurt or I was embarrassed because someone yelled at me, it was incredibly patronizing," said George-Jim, who is from the T'Sou-ke Nation on lower Vancouver Island. "He would have never treated anyone else on the board that way."

For students like George-Jim and Khan, Dalhousie's systemic racism is undeniable. Both students say they feel like some faculty and students don't take their concerns seriously. "I have really disliked my time here and it's because of racial tensions. When you have racialized students saying, 'well this is problem' the response is 'that's your opinion.' [Racism] is not an opinion, you can't just change it," Khan told VICE. "It's not something you want to think."

The graduate student who filed the complaint against Khan, Michael Smith, studies history. Smith also wrote an op-ed in the National Post criticizing the student union's motion to boycott Canada 150 celebrations. VICE reached out to Smith but did not immediately hear back.

"He studied slavery and still doesn't understand the concept of racism so that shows you that Dalhousie is failing as an institution," said Khan. "I don't understand how someone who's studied slavery doesn't understand how racism doesn't work in the reverse."

Dalhousie University declined to comment because of a high volume of media requests but the University's Vice-Provost of Student Affairs, Dr. Arig al-Shaibah, posted a statement regarding Khan's complaint and the withdrawal. Shaibah says the university withdrew the complaint for three reasons, citing freedom of speech, the ability to come to a resolution outside the Senate disciplinary process, as well as the "increasingly polarized" conversations about the issue on social media. Khan's name is not mentioned in statement, and there is no apology.

The university is also putting together a team of students and faculty to "advise on and assist in facilitating a campus dialogue series." Khan was not invited to this team.

For Khan, George-Jim and other racialized students at Dalhousie, the administration's response feels the same way it's felt time and time again—superficial. And while the university PRs their way out of another scandal, Khan still faces the residual effects, recovering from a period of ongoing hate.

"A lot of the time people do the best with what they have, with the procedures and policies that are in place to create change, but when the system doesn't allow you to do what you want that's when you have someone like Masuma who is speaking her truth and then being punished by our university for it," said George-Jim. "They're always promoting their diversity and inclusion so the hypocrisy in all of it is cringeworthy, really."

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