PHOTO BY SARA SHEIKH / THE SPUTNIK PHOTOGRAPHY
In June, Laurier alumni, also known as the Being Raced collective, wrote an open letter to WLU administration with a list of demands, one of which was reconsidering the need for Special Constables—to defund them completely.
The alumni group consisted of Paige Grant, Azka Choudhary and Joey Lee, who were lead researchers in the ‘Being Raced’ research study. The research study examined the experiences of racialized students, staff, and faculty, as well as provided a list of recommendations the university could take to eliminate racism on all campuses. It was published in 2018 with contributions and assistance from Kate Harvey, Lauren Burrows, Dr. Laura Mae Lindo, and Dr. Vanessa Oliver.
After graduation, the lead researchers continued to advocate for improved equity, inclusion and diversity practices at Laurier in hopes of eliminating racism. Today, Grant and Choudhary work to advocate the collective’s mission in hopes of building a more equitable future at the university and honouring Joey Lee’s legacy, who passed away in Aug. of this year.
The call for Laurier to reconsider the necessity of Special Constables was initially brought up to the university administration in June. Over the summer, Choudhary recounts receiving numerous students reaching out to the group with negative experiences they had with Special Constables.
These experiences echoed the experiences that the Being Raced collective had discovered years ago in their research study.
“These are the same patterns that are continuing to come up from the Being Raced report that we had originally written in 2016 – 2017, when we were originally interviewing people,” said Choudhary.
Since the initial call to action in June, the Being Raced collective brought up the call to action at Laurier’s Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Indigeneity Information Session on September 16th. On October 28, the group took to Instagram to remind the university and students that the issue still needed to be addressed, as well as show viewers what the campuses could look like without Special Constables.
Screenshot taken from @beingraced on Instagram.
“So the fact that these experiences of racism continue to happen at the Laurier campus, and the fact that nothing is being done for it, is more than enough reason why the school should look into defunding the special constables,” said Choudhary.
Some examples of alternate uses of the funds listed in the post include “harm reduction and trauma informed substance abuse care, living wages for all workers and food security, restorative justice as a form of conflict resolution, increased mental health service providers.”
The Being Raced collective also acknowledges that there are students that have had positive experience with Special Constables, but they continue to push the call to action for those who have dealt with negative experiences.
“I do want to acknowledge that some people, and even some racialized black and indigenous people, have had positive experiences with special constables, but those positive experiences do not cross out the fact that there’s so much harm that continues to be done to a small community,” said Choudhary.
“It’s important to remember that someone’s positive experience with special constables … does not cancel out the fact that there is so much violence that is continuing to be done,” she said.
So how is the university administration addressing student concerns regarding Special Constables?
Earlier in the term, members of the EDI Community of Practice brought forth a document known as the ‘action plan for equity, diversity, inclusion and indigeneity’ to university administration.
The document examined what the administration needs to look at to create an environment that promotes more equity, diversity and inclusion, and one of these points was a review of Special Constables.
The review itself focuses on how Special Constables interact with racialized members of the Laurier community, and how reports of racism are reported and addressed. Over the fall term, the administration focused on how they plan to bring all stakeholders together to facilitate the review and worked on laying out the framework to make this possible.
In the winter term, the external consultants facilitating the review will be reaching out to stakeholder groups such as CSEDI and the Students Union. Also they will hold open focus groups to dig down and ask questions about how Special Constables interact with black, indigenous and racialized members of the Laurier community with staff and faculty to give these members of the community an opportunity to voice their experiences and concerns.
In addition, there is also a consulting firm that will help manage the focus groups, as well as internal staff that will figure how to bring students and stakeholders, as well as focus groups together.
Adam Lawrence, Dean of Students on Brantford campus, has been working on this initiative and shares that the hope is to acquire all the information and intake in the term and be able to have some review and recommendations for the university to consider.
“Doing a review was really important for us to do, and making sure that we get communication and feedback and the opportunity for all members of the community to participate … that’s the most important part of this for us,” said Lawrence, “being able to hear people’s voices, and being able to make sure we have allocated enough time and opportunity for those voices to be heard.”
Barrington Walker, Associate Vice-President: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, is another Laurier staff member that continues to work on the EDI Action Plan. Walker notes that the review will help the university develop and consider options regarding Special Constables.
“In terms of action, I think we’re in the process of having a review and a deliberate conversation about the status of the Special Constables and policing on our campus and out of that—on the basis of review and the basis of data—I think the university will be able to talk about policy options,” said Walker.
University administration awaits the data and information from the review to be collected to make decisions based on the recommendations that come forth from the findings.
If individuals have questions or concerns, or feel wrongly addressed or accused and feel like they need to reach out, the Dean of Students’ offices, Human Resources at their club or organization, as well as the Office of Dispute Resolution and Sexual Violence Support are available for assistance.
If a student would prefer to speak with a more student-run organization, they can also reach out to the Students Union and the Graduate Students Association.