Mississauga native Briana Green-Ince said she chose to study at the University of Guelph because of the community-oriented spirit Guelph is known for.
But she never imagined that she would face racism year after year during her four years in the university.
After the emergence of recent racist Tik Tok videos by a U of G student that seemed to reference a black person as a monkey and hinted for shopping for slaves online along with another video of a U of G student where she made transphobic comments, she felt change right now is absolutely necessary.
“I kind of just got fed up after that,” said Green-Ince, adding that she received comments from students saying she is ungrateful for her privilege of going to university when she expressed her experiences of racism on campus on social media.
“That all came together and made me want to make that change.org petition.”
Launched three days ago and already at over 9,300 signatures, the U of G Mandatory Anti Oppression Course petition calls for the U of G to make it a requirement for all incoming students to complete an anti-oppression course to challenge their own biases towards race and gender so the university campus is safe for all students.
“Homophobia, transphobia and racism need to stop on our campus. I really want to see the U of G do better and turn into a more inclusive environment for everybody and people don’t have to feel unsafe to voice their opinions if they’re being mistreated on campus,” said Green-Ince, a psychology and studio art student who is a member of the Guelph Black Student Association (GBSA).
While she advocates for black students on campus, she said she herself has not been immune to being a victim of racism on campus.
“Sometimes I feel like my voice gets drowned out. I know though that the GBSA is there,” she said of the resource for black students at the MacKinnon Bldg on campus that allows students to connect, network and help them find a sense of community.
“It’s awesome to be a part of the GBSA and make sure every student feels like they have something to come back to.”
Looking back at one of her first and most hurtful experiences on campus, she recalls a time when she received a message from a male student on the dating app Tinder a few years ago when it launched Tinder Social, an option that allowed users to message others within a group of friends.
“He asked me if I had ever gone to Trappers Alley, I said ‘no’ and he said ‘oh okay, well I probably wouldn’t have seen you there anyway because you’re so dark.’”
“I was 18 at the time. I couldn’t have gone to a club anyways. He just wanted to say that. He thought it was hilarious,” said Briana adding that when she declined to share her Snapchat username to a group of students as a result of that incident, they joked about her using a race card.
“It’s hard to speak up to people when they don’t want to hear you and they don’t understand how saying those things could be hurtful to somebody.”
She said a lot of times there will be instances of microaggression where subtle movements can carry heavy weight.
“I went to a house party in the first year, and this guy that was there decided to start playing this song. It had the ‘n’ word in it and he said it loudly and really aggressively and looked right at me when he said it,” said Green-Ince.
“That was one of my first experiences and I still remember being in that room and how uncomfortable I felt.”
She said in one instance, a girl at a house party loudly said the ‘n’ word and after Green-Ince explained to her why it was wrong and hurtful, the girl began to cry.
“I personally didn’t know if I should speak up especially in those situations. You’re the only black person at a party and somebody said the ‘n’ word,” said Green-Ince and added that many times people are afraid of the backlash for speaking up.
“It is also important to note that some individuals may have come from a household that perpetuates intolerant behaviour. By having nobody to challenge their views, students need a course to let them rethink learnt behaviour and challenge their racist and homophobic views.”
With thousands of signatures in three days, she said it’s nice to see that many university students want more to be done to ensure the campus is safe for all students.
“It honestly was so heartwarming to see. I’ve also been to the past two walks for Black Lives Matter (in Toronto and Kitchener) and just overall, the amount of support that people have been providing to the black community is just so overwhelmingly amazing. It really warms my heart,” said Green-Ince.
She said it’s good to see that people are trying to learn, move forward and push for change so the community is safer for everybody and well informed.
“The whole world just woke up at once,” said Green-Ince.