HALIFAX — Amid rising tension at Dalhousie University, a former student interrupted a panel discussion about campus diversity Tuesday to accuse the school of “white supremacy.”
“The myth that you share is that Dalhousie is doing a good job about equity and inclusion,” said Ifo Ikede, a former computer engineering and computer science student at the Halifax university.
“We’re swimming in a sea of white supremacy,” he said. “The only people who are free to speak are white men and women.”
His comments come as the university faces mounting criticism over its handling of recent incidents involving female students of colour.
Last week, an Indigenous member of Dalhousie University’s board of governors said she was subjected to institutionalized racism.
Now the university is investigating political comments by a student leader — a Muslim woman who wears a hijab — who could face possible sanctions.
The incidents have sparked outcry both on campus and beyond.
A group of 25 law professors at Dalhousie’s Schulich School of Law called on the university not to “police and censor” the tone of political speech, while the Ontario Civil Liberties Association accused the university of censoring political speech.
On Tuesday, a seminar at Dalhousie open to the public about the under-representation of non-white faculty at Canadian universities appeared to only accept pre-approved questions, prompting Ikede to interrupt concluding remarks.
Although the panellists responded to his comments before ending the lecture, the incident highlights the growing controversy engulfing the campus.
Ikede said he was upset about disciplinary action being taken against Masuma Khan, a member of the student council executive.
The fourth-year student could face possible sanctions for social media comments related to the Dalhousie Student Union’s decision to abstain from Canada 150 celebrations in a show of solidarity with Indigenous Peoples.
In a Facebook post responding to criticism of that decision, she questioned why she should be proud of colonization and “over 400 years of genocide.”
She used profanity in her post, signing off with hashtags that criticized “white fragility” and said “your white tears aren’t sacred, this land is.”
Diane Obed, an Indigenous graduate of Saint Mary’s University, said she attended the lecture on Tuesday to ask about the senate discipline committee hearing into Masuma Khan’s comments.
“I couldn’t even ask a question. I’m glad someone spoke up,” she said about Ikede’s comments. “I was very disappointed. It’s typical of how they are going to tone-police and prevent people from having meaningful dialogue about this current issue that is at the forefront right now for Dalhousie.”
Obed, who is originally from Labrador, said the reaction against Khan seems out of proportion with the discipline doled out to Dalhousie dentistry students involved in an online scandal a few years ago.
“They are taking disciplinary action towards a person of colour for speaking out about colonialism,” she said. “But they didn’t even really discipline the dentistry students who posted harassing and misogynistic comments.”
Dalhousie’s vice-provost of student affairs, Arig al Shaibah, issued a message to the university community Monday saying the senate discipline committee will hear the complaint after an “informal resolution” was turned down.
She said Khan allegedly breached a section of the code of student conduct against “unwelcome or persistent conduct that the student knows, or ought to reasonably know, would cause another person to feel demeaned, intimidated or harassed.”
Meanwhile, Khan has received threats about her comments, prompting her lawyer to ask Dalhousie on Twitter for guidance on how to “respectfully” respond to warnings against her that attack her identity.
Dalhousie president Richard Florizone said a memo to the university community Monday that “at Dal we abhor racism, gendered violence and Islamophobia.”
“We know we have to strive every day to challenge these,” he said. “Our essential values are equal dignity of all persons, freedom of expression and inquiry, intellectual integrity and respectful relationships.”