As stories of racism and discrimination towards Black, Indigenous, and people of colour continue to dominate public discourse, more and more shocking allegations come to light about the lived experiences of systemic racism.
Despite what some might believe, Montreal is no different. One week ago, a number of student testimonials under the hashtag #thisisartschool revealed shocking accounts of racism in Montreal university classrooms.
Modibo Keita, a former music school student behind the #thisisartschool movement on Facebook, shared over 100 accounts of racist, ableist, and sexually predatory behaviours, by professors in art schools in some of Canada's most prestigious universities.
This article contains descriptions of sexual assault, which may trigger some readers. If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, call the Assaulted Women's Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 or find them online here. You can also contact the Support Services for Male Survivors of Sexual Assault at 1-866-887-0015 or online here. For a list of resources by province, go here.
Some of the allegations date back to at least a decade or more.
Several of the student testimonies involved professors and experiences at some of Montreal's leading institutions.
Many of these students refer to "systemic barriers," "underrepresentation," discrimination, and even sexually perverse behaviours, including coercion.
Keita told MTL Blog that his own experiences with racism in a university setting "completely changed" his perceptions of these institutions.
The movement has gained incredible support since it first began.
"It shows that the problem is real," explains Keita. "It made me realize that those institutions are only valid because we validate them."
MTL Blog reached out to both Concordia and McGill Universities regarding these allegations.
Concordia acknowledged that "there is no place for racism at Concordia University" and that it "takes such matters very seriously and encourages all members of our community to speak out about racism and report incidents."
"We also encourage all members of the community to take advantage of our internal accountability mechanisms so that we can properly address these issues."
McGill issued a similar statement, saying that it's "committed to a respectful and inclusive environment for students, staff, and faculty."
The university, however, said that it has "been made aware of troubling allegations of racial harassment and discrimination recently."
"Reports of harassment or violence involving a member of our community are taken seriously and we are committed to dealing with them swiftly and effectively."
While some schools are quick to condemn racism and launch investigations, individuals like Keita who have experienced discrimination first-hand argue that universities need to "act on this" and stop issuing "bogus statements."
"Unfortunately, I think the first step would have to be to fire anyone that cannot accurately convey an art form and review curriculums," explained Keita.
"Preventing bias," he said, "starts by accurately reflecting the art form in the early stages."
Though "everyone somehow finds their place," continued Keita, he argues that "universities are the epitome of systemic racism."
Independent projects such as Keita's own concert series, The Shed Montreal, help tackle issues of systemic racism in the arts and aim to break down the barriers faced by BIPOC artists.
While there's still a lot of work to be done at an institutional level, there's hope that bringing more awareness to these issues is a big step towards progress.