Late Monday afternoon, on November 3rd, Brock University Students Union (BUSU) President Roland Erman released a second statement concerning the Thursday October 30th BUSU Halloween event that saw students in blackface win a “best costume” award. That statement followed the initial BUSU statement made on October 31st and came alongside a statement today from the Brock Labour Studies Dept. condemning the event and the response.
The first BUSU statement with a name attached, Roland Erman assures, “BUSU is taking steps to ensure that an incident like this does not occur again.” According to Erman those steps include; all staff will receive the same training full time staff receive under the Ontario Human Rights Commission, supervisors will be present at these events to vet costumes and all prize/giveaway events and BUSU will be reaching out externally and internally to “campus partners” to run preventative awareness campaigns.
The statement also briefly acknowledges that this is not an isolated incident, “BUSU recognizes that this was definitely an area of shortcoming this year and in the past.” Although not explicitly acknowledging it, this same costume – white students in blackface for a “Cool Runnings” Jamaican bobsled team – won 2nd prize at a BUSU/Brock Halloween costume party in 2007.
Lacking from both BUSU statements is the actual naming of what occurred – nowhere in either statement will you find the term “blackface.” Similarly, racism is not named either. The steps proposed by Erman in his statement are substantive and include new training policies for 200 employees. That said, the refusal of BUSU to actually name the issue itself is a reason for caution.
Outside of BUSU, it also takes a campus to create the atmosphere wherein 1000’s of students cheer on a blackface costume to 1st prize. When this happened in 2007, the Brock Press solicited and then declined to run commentary critical of the event. As of late Monday night, they still have not covered this incident online, in print, or on social media. On top of this, BUSU has led both of these responses although the event includes other stakeholders – Isaac’s Bar and Grill and the University Administration – who have not responded at all. The statement by the Labour Studies Dept. – signed by Professors Savage, Coulter and Black and Ruhloff-Queiruga from the Brock Labour Studies Student Association – is a great statement that places the incident in proper context and calls for substantive action. However, that statement is the only statement that currently exists from Faculty and is only signed by 3 Professors. Where are the Drama, Sociology, History Departments and their Professors? How can blackface continuously be an issue at this University and only 3 Professors and 1 Dept. feel moved enough to even make a statement about it?
All of these things call into question the ability of these new policies to challenge the environment on campus and another thing still unnamed – white supremacy. The kind of rigorous critique, collective effort and accountability needed for that is sorely lacking. It will be extremely disappointing if those concerned walk away from this issue content with just these two statements from BUSU.
Roland Erman finished his statement offering his contact for anyone else looking for “further information and/or questions” – for those still left wanting his contact is – firstname.lastname@example.org