Black alumni group calls out Western for response to racism, saying it's not enough
LONDON, ONT. -- Western University has not done enough to distance itself from the racist legacy of former professor Philippe Rushton, according to a group representing Black alumni from the school.
The comments from the group come in light of the university’s recent pledge to combat racism at the school, borne from the Black Lives Matter movement.
Black at Western Alumni Spokesman Kizito Serumaga said Rushton’s work in the 80s and 90s was hurtful then, and still resonates to this day.
He said he should know because he was there on the front lines when activists fought him and his teachings nearly three decades ago.
“The university has buried that history. They tried to make it sound like Rushton came and went and nothing really happened but they don’t show that I was arrested, people were arrested, we were threatened with suspension. We were fighting right outside this hall when they came into the base here with David Suzuki. We fought this man tooth and nail and we proved the science wrong then.”
Rushton had tenure at Western from 1977 to 2012. Black at Western Alumni contends the school allowed him to teach that black people are “genetically inferior of lower intelligence and more likely to be criminals and sexually promiscuous."
The statement continues, "Today, his work continues to be used as foundational source material by white supremacists and eugenicists globally to justify race-based violence and acts of hate.”
While Western has formed an anti-racism working group in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, the alumni group says it’s not enough.
Serumaga says alumni have come up with a number of their own action items they believe the university should adopt, including more diversity in both the administration and faculty.
On the topic of “...faculty and curricular change. We need to see more engagement from the university on a daily basis. We also need to protect the students on campus who are experiencing a lot of racist activity and they are unable to complain, or the complaint system is rather byzantine and you have to go through so many channels before you get any satisfaction.”
Western has issued a response, pointing to the apology by Western President Alan Shepard for the “great harm” caused by Rushton’s work. It also says it’s beginning immediately on key priorities in the 23 recommendations issued by the school’s anti-racism working group.
“At Western, as at other leading universities around the world, research is subject to the scrutiny of the Ethics Review Board, and to rigorous peer review. This system is designed to eliminate flawed research. As suggested by Black at Western Alumni, we will be looking into what changes could be made to the ethics review process to prevent racism in the future.”
Fourth-year nursing student, Oge (who only wanted her first name used), has been attending Western University since Sept. 2019, couldn’t say whether she has witnessed racism herself, “but what I can say is that there’s not a lot of diversity on campus, for sure.”
Fourth-year engineering student Fahad Naushad said the work Western is doing in this matter has not gone unnoticed.
“I don’t know that they're doing enough, but recently there has been a lot of work done towards combatting it.”