By Rachel Chen, Senior News Editor
Classes resumed last week at the University of Toronto, but many students found their faculties and classrooms closed for the first two days of school. Halting all teaching and administrative duties on September 9th and 10th, academics across the country went on strike in protest of anti-black and anti-indigenous police brutality within Canada, the U.S. and around the world.
Inspired by the WNBA and NBA player strikes during the 2020 playoffs, Dr. Anthea Butler, an Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, took to Twitter to call upon fellow academics to take a similar stand using the hashtag #ScholarStrike.
The labour action is in protest of “anti-Black, racist, and colonial police brutality,” as witnessed in the recent police-related killings of Jacob Blake, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade in the U.S., along with D’Andre Campbell, Rodney Levi, Ejaz Choudry, Chantel Moore, and Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Canada according to the Scholar Strike Canada website.
“As scholars, we can no longer participate in this by education, [in] the work that we do in the university,” stated co-organizer Prof. Beverly Bain, a lecturer in Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto, in her opening statements for the session “Abolition or death: confronting police forces in Canada.”
The strike’s organizers offered public digital teach-ins, which have since been posted online. Participants had the opportunity to learn about topics including police abolition, anti-racist educational reforms, and histories of Indigenous and black resistance. The teach-ins featured notable activists, academics and artists, including talks led by Desmond Cole, Eve Tuck, and El Jones, as well as cross-campus digital lectures from the University of Toronto, York University, Ryerson University and OCAD.
This is what university is. It is not just being in the institution; it’s also finding a way to connect with what’s happening in the real world.Prof. Beverly Bain
In an interview with the Toronto Star, Bain noted that “This is what university is. It is not just being in the institution; it’s also finding a way to connect with what’s happening in the real world.”
“Justice and restitution, housing, clean water, people staying with their families and having enough money to live instead of being separated from their families. These things are not extreme,” said Desmond Cole at his teach-in on Wednesday. “They’re just justice, they’re what justice could begin to look like if we were to start changing our ways.”
Addressing the importance of solidarity guided by action, the #ScholarsStrike included a set of demands already signed by over 500 scholars across the country. The demands include the redistribution of police funding to social services, adequate mental health resources on university campuses, the removal of campus police, and meaningful commitment to the inclusion and support of BIPOC students and faculty within post-secondary institutions. The strike also supported CUPE3261’s campaign to stop contract employment of the University of Toronto’s caretaking services in order to ensure workers’ rights and fair treatment.
“This is our collective action to our institutions,” said Bain as she closed her opening remarks. “That what we are saying is, this is enough. We will not rest, we cannot rest until we have a liberated future.”