Dalhousie student receives threats, support after 'white fragility' comment
Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, October 23, 2017 12:46PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, October 23, 2017 5:38PM EDT
Dalhousie University student Masuma Khan says she is facing threats, along with a university disciplinary hearing, after using the hashtag “whitefragility” in a Facebook post that criticized Canada 150 celebrations as an ongoing “act of colonialism.”
The backlash the 22-year-old Halifax native has received has left her both exhausted and fearful.
“I’m getting racist phone calls,” the fourth year international development student told CTV Atlantic. “I’m being targeted in the media.”
At the centre of the issue is a Facebook post Khan wrote expressing her feelings towards Canada 150 celebrations.
“I stand by Indigenous students,” part of that post, which included the contentious hashtag, read. “Be proud of this country? For what, over 400 years of genocide?”
The post was written in response to criticisms Khan faced after her motion at a Dalhousie Student Union meeting passed, asking that the union not participate in Canada 150 festivities. After her Facebook post, an official complaint was made against Khan. The university has said that it will go ahead with a disciplinary hearing.
Responding to critics, Khan said that she’s not racist.
“I’m the one that’s stopped when I go for catching a plane anywhere,” she said. “I’m the one that’s always randomly selected. So, if you’re telling me it works in the reverse, tell me when you dealt with any of these things.”
As she awaits her disciplinary hearing, Khan has been subjected to threats against her safety.
One e-mail full of typos and grammatical errors called her a “hippocrat” for not celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday when her family “immigrated from there piece of s--- country in hopes of a better future for them selves.”
That e-mail continued with vulgar comments and a sexual assault threat. Such violent and offensive language, Khan said, has led her to file a report with police and Dalhousie security.
Khan, however, has also received an outpouring of support.
Activist and journalist Desmond Cole, for example, has said that the university should “stop humiliating” itself.
“Dalhousie is making a mockery of itself by disciplining a young Muslim woman for speaking her mind,” Cole told CTV Atlantic. “They are contradicting the very principles that their university is supposed to be about.”
The disciplinary hearing, Cole added, only puts Khan at risk.
“By going ahead with its disciplinary action, the school is actually exposing Masuma to more harm and danger,” he said.
More than 20 Dalhousie professors agree, having written a letter to the university’s senate asking it not to “censor” the tone of political speech. Some faculty members at nearby Saint Mary’s University are also speaking out, including philosophy professor Mark Mercer, who also wrote a letter to Dalhousie’s president.
“I think they should apologize to the student,” Mercer told CTV Atlantic. “First of all, for investigating her -- there’s nothing to investigate. The second thing they should do is revise the code of conduct so that it can’t possibly be used against students for either the content of their speech or the tone in which they say it.”
Arig al Shaibah, Dalhousie's vice-provost of student affairs, said in a statement that the university's code of conduct allows students to raise concerns about behaviour they feel negatively impacts their learning environment and experience.
"With complaints of this nature, we engage in efforts to resolve issues through informal, educational and conversational means," she said last week. "If individuals involved are not agreeable to informal means to resolve matters, the code dictates that the matter must be referred to the senate discipline committee for a hearing.
With a report from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Brown and files from The Canadian Press