MONTREAL – McGill University’s board of governors has refused to table a motion endorsing racial justice at a recent meeting , angering staff and student groups who have been pushing the school to more decisively address racism on campus.
The motion was drafted by Ehab Lotayef, a board member at the time, in consultation with more than a dozen groups, including the major student societies and associations representing Muslim and Black students.
The motion called on the school to issue a written statement on equity and inclusiveness to mark its 200th anniversary.
It also called for that statement to be engraved on a plaque that would be located near the Roddick Gates, or close to the statue of university founder James McGill, who owned at least five slaves of Indigenous or African descent.
Lotayef’s goal was to have the plaque state in part: “We acknowledge the mistakes of the past and our historical relationship to colonization and enslavement, and commit to being a place that celebrates and empowers diversity in everyday life, activities and governance.”
Lotayef has resigned from the board over its refusal to table the motion.
Fanta Ly, co-president of the Black Law Students’ Association of McGill, said the board’s decision capped off a year of frustration with the university’s efforts to deal with racism.
Though the university has committed to the principles of anti-racism, Ly said procedural points were often used by administrators to avoid addressing concerns of Black students.
The blocked equity motion is part of this larger problem, she said, adding: “the lack of coherence is really insulting and it’s not acceptable.”
Both the undergraduate and graduate student societies endorsed the motion. In a statement, the undergraduate student society, which represents nearly 30,000 students, said the incident was “only the latest iteration of the University’s systematic dismissal of equity initiatives.”
The statement also said McGill’s governing bodies have repeatedly refused to consider equity motions put forth by students and staff, often on technical or procedural grounds.
“These apparently inexcusable technicalities have included everything from broken hyperlinks and simple syntax errors to non-conformity with the status quo,” the statement said.
A union leader who backed the motion, Sean Cory, said he wasn’t surprised the board sought to avoid the issue altogether. “They are a bit conservative and somewhat behind the times,” said Cory, who represents a union of research assistants and associates.