As recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests against police brutality have ignited a global reckoning with racism, new McGill-related Instagram pages are platforming anonymous Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) students’ experiences with discrimination at the university. Untold McGill and Black At McGill have highlighted disturbing instances of racism at the hands of fellow students, professors, advisors, and student organizations within the McGill community. The creation of these McGill-related Instagram accounts to amplify marginalized voices follows a surge of similar pages connected to university campuses across North America.
The McGill Tribune spoke to the administrators of both the Untold McGill and Black At McGill accounts about the inspiration behind their work and what they hope to accomplish.
“We were inspired [to create Untold McGill] by a lot of the conversations surrounding [Black Lives Matter], but also conversations surrounding anonymous pages from other Universities [such as] Stolen by Smith, Black at Harvard Law, [and] Black at Cornell,” an Untold McGill administrator said. “[BIPOC students] have, in one way or another, experienced marginalization at McGill, so we really thought it would be important to create a safe and comfortable environment within our own community where people like us and people unlike us can feel safe to share their stories [that would] otherwise […] go untold.”
Another administrator from Untold McGill explained the importance of addressing discrimination within Canadian universities, as institutional racism is often only discussed in an American context.
“As Canadians, we always want to compare ourselves to the United States,” the administrator said. “[But] Canada is not innocent in systemic racism, and it’s really important for us to acknowledge that. In higher education, a lot of us [think that], we are [educated] and [believe that] education often comes with more progressive ideologies. Except, there’s an inherent elitism and classism [that intersects] race and sex. I just think that’s built into universities.”
While Untold McGill shares students’ experiences of race, gender, and sexual orientation-based discrimination, the Black Student Network (BSN)-affiliated account, Black At McGill, serves to share the experiences of Black students.
“We wanted to amplify the voices of Black students who are victims of systemic racism on this campus,” an administrator from the Black At McGill account said. “This Instagram page also serves as a way of proving that the demands Black students are calling for, through initiatives such as ‘Take James Down’, are not unwarranted. The reception and execution of these demands is highly necessary.”
Alongside individual instances of discrimination at McGill, many of the posts highlight racism and discrimination at the institutional level: Student organizations, such as Greek life and The McGill Tribune, as well as various faculties, have been denounced for perpetuating systemic racism.
Untold McGill has already successfully held various McGill organizations accountable. Among several organizations that were mentioned on the page, the Management Undergraduate Society (MUS) was prompted to make a statement reiterating its commitment to supporting students of colour.
“The MUS Board of Directors and Executive Council is committed to enhancing equity within our student society, and has set a few action items aside with the intention of making the MUS a more inclusive place,” MUS President Jonathan Gurvey wrote in an email to the Tribune. “There’s never a bad time to have an inward look at our organization’s procedures and practices to see how we can do better. We at the MUS are committed to perpetual improvement.”
VC Renaud, Queer McGill’s (QM) administrative coordinator, explained how Untold McGill impacted the organization.
“We at Queer McGill understand that QM has historically been a space dominated by white people [and] has definitely lifted up white voices over other voices, which has made our events and offices and resources inaccessible to QTBIPOC students,” VC Renaud said. “[However], we are, as an organization, actively working to change this, as our mandate states that we work from an anti-oppressive, intersectional, and feminist orientation.”
While organizations like the BSN and the Indigenous Student Alliance (ISA) have long been working to advocate for the rights of BIPOC students on campus, Untold McGill and Black At McGill hope that their platforms will empower individual students affected by both institutional and individual discrimination.
“If the comments on certain posts are any indication, it’s clear that a lot of students have encountered some form of discrimination, and a lot of students are aware of what is happening within the university,” an Untold McGill administrator said. “I think that this page has […] shed more light on these issues, and it’s definitely given a wake-up call to some people who may have stayed quiet or were too scared to speak up.”