Black Student Network aims to pass ‘Black students’ Bill of Rights’

McGill’s Black Student Network (BSN) is working to pass a motion this year through the McGill Senate that would establish several rights that Black students would be entitled to on campus. The BSN aims to shed light on the distinct experiences and barriers that Black students face at McGill. The motion, titled the ‘Black Students’ Bill of Rights,’ hopes to ensure an institutional support framework in which Black students will be able to advocate for their needs on campus.

The Bill, which will be proposed at the last McGill Senate meeting of the Fall 2019 semester, will be composed based on findings from the online consultation form, in addition to data gathered from previous surveys circulated by the BSN. 

An online consultation form for the proposed legislation was created to collect feedback from Black students concerning their experiences at McGill. The poll includes several links on what motivated the idea for the bill, such as the history of James McGill as a slave owner, the growing reparations movement, and the recent establishment of  Georgetown University’s Black Students’ reparation fund, which repays descendants of slaves sold by the school.

Chloe Kemeni, Vice-President of Advocacy for the BSN at McGill conceived the idea for the Bill of Rights. Kemeni explained that, to this date, there have been no institutional systems in place to support Black students.

“I [wanted] some sort of institutional bill in place that [was] similar to a call to action, which [the university would be] forced to confront,” Kemeni said. “The university is [making its] commitment to equity through the Bicentennial, through strategic planning [and] long term planning [….] you have these big five core goals for the university, and one of them is to expand diversity.” 

Kemeni stated that suggestions for the bill will be put forward by Black McGill students at a Town Hall taking place on Oct. 17. While the online form will be instrumental in developing a draft of the document, Kemeni also has several ideas about what resources she would like to see on campus for Black students. Her main concerns are the recruitment of Black counselors, discrimination-free classrooms, as well as sustained funding that will allow [the BSN] to run initiatives benefiting Black students.

“Ideally, the bill would be divided into multiple sections; [….] what Black students are entitled to in academia and in classrooms, [….] what Black students are entitled to when it comes to services, [….] what Black students are entitled to in residence, [and] what Black students are entitled to in the admissions process,” Kemeni said. “So then I see distinct pools based around that.” 

Kemeni expressed concerns about the lack of racialized professors and counselors at McGill.

“What does it look like to recruit more racialized and Black professors? What does it look like to make sure that your services can be able to support Black students? Why is it that [there are] counselors for your international student or Francophone, or  Indigenous or queer [students], but then there’s nothing for [those who are] racialized?” Kemeni said. “So then it once again puts the burden on students to fill the gaps that the university, in my opinion, should be providing”

Christelle Tessono, former President of BSN, agreed that the proposed Bill of Rights would benefit Black students.

“I believe that the Bill of Rights presents itself as a good opportunity to hold the institution accountable to the specific challenges related to anti-Black racism,”  Tessono said. 

VP External Affairs for the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Darshan Daryanani agreed that the implementation of the bill is long overdue. Daryanani expressed that his only concern with the Bill would be ensuring that it wholly captures the gravity of the issues of racism on campus.

“It is good that the [online consultation] form is there because it is getting students to discuss their feelings concerning their experiences [on campus],” Daryanani said. “My hope with a form of this nature [that will provide data for the bill] is that […] it is representative of all the [students’] concerns because something as formal as a bill should not miss out on anything.”

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