On July 30, 2020, the sister of Fanta Ly received a call from McGill falsely reporting that Fanta had passed away. In the two years since, there has been little explanation from the administration regarding how this mistake occurred.
A Student Affairs case manager had mistakenly called Ly’s sister instead of the family of a student who had indeed passed away. In a statement to The McGill Tribune, McGill media relations officer Frédérique Mazerolle wrote that changes have been made to ensure this does not happen again.
“The situation […] is the result of a most unfortunate human error, by which an employee of the University contacted Ms. Fanta Ly’s sibling, thinking she was reaching out to the family of another student, who had passed away,” Mazerolle wrote. “The employee noticed the mistake early in the call and immediately apologized profusely. The Principal of the University also sent a written apology to Ms. Ly. We have since carefully reviewed our internal processes to ensure that such incidents do not happen again.”
According to Ly, the case manager did not realize their mistake or apologize during the initial call. Principal and Vice-chancellor Suzanne Fortier sent an apology letter to Ly, now a fourth year law student, more than six months after the incident.
“Some people are trying to dismiss this as a mistake from McGill, but this incident really needs to be situated within the long-standing harassment and discrimination of Black students at McGill,” Ly said in an interview with the Tribune. ”
Ly went on to describe other incidents of hostility and differential treatment from the administration, particularly regarding academic accommodations. Prior to the phone call, Ly sought medical accommodations and was met with resistance from multiple McGill employees.
“[An Associate Dean] told me I can’t get an accommodation for the same medical reason more than once,” Ly said. “Furthermore, for white students, these issues always get resolved because at some point administrators feel the need to respond and ensure equal treatment. I wish it were the same for Black students. When it comes to Black students, there’s never any response. And it’s just so much time and energy wasted, just trying to fight with an administration that doesn’t value us and treats us like absolute garbage.”
Ly also described receiving a failing grade after speaking out against discrimination, as well as having to contest seemingly targeted changes to the requirements for her minor, such as the removal of certain credits that used to count towards her program. After addressing these issues with the Student Affairs Office (SAO) and being redirected to multiple sources, Ly felt unsatisfied with the explanations given. Feeling ignored by the administration while handling complications with her academic standing, having difficulty getting accommodations, and grappling with the phone call, all amid the COVID-19 pandemic, took a toll on her.
“And even after the call to my family, no one ever reached out to me,” Ly said. “They only sent me that apology letter after I sent an email regarding the faulty investigation and stated that I would inform the media if they didn’t respond. This is all just too much anxiety and too much stress. I couldn’t keep up with my coursework. How am I supposed to do my classes in this type of environment?”
Hülya Miclisse-Polat, 3L and co-president of McGill’s BLSA chapter, believes that while aspects of Ly’s experience have been unique, it nevertheless reflects a larger range of systemic issues. Miclisse-Polat also believes that placing the onus on students not only to report incidents of racism, but to seek justice can create a taxing environment for Black students.
“The fact that the burden falls on the students creates a hostile environment—it a lot of times makes students feel unsafe, and it just sort of perpetuates a system of exclusion at the faculty,” Miclisse-Polat said in an interview with the Tribune. “This is what we mean when we talk about systemic discrimination. A lot of times it’s done in very insidious ways, but it continues to foster a sense of exclusion.”
Currently, Ly is seeking justice in a variety of ways, including filing a complaint to the Quebec Human Rights Commission, writing to the Minister of Higher Education, and sending documentation of students’ experiences to faculty alumni as well as her local member of Parliament.
A previous version of this article stated that Ly received multiple failing grades for speaking out against discrimination. In fact, this was a one-time incident. The Tribune regrets the error.