Open letter to Dr. Henry Parada, Ryerson’s School of Social Work, the Faculty of Community Services and Ryerson University
October 31st 2016
Dr. Henry Parada,
We write this letter after witnessing a violent act of anti-Blackness, misogyny and misogynoir on Thursday October 27th 2016 at Ryerson University School of Social Work in Eric Palin Hall room 222, at approximately 2:15pm. While this violence came from one individual and was directed at another [Microaggression], our interests lie not at the individual level but rather at the broader systemic manifestations of this violent act. Your inability to contain your anti-Black rage, Dr. Parada, implicates the School, the Faculty, and Ryerson in general. As students and community members, it is our duty to take action and challenge the pervasive anti-Black racism within our School and protect our students, faculty, staff and community.
Anti-Black racism is a specific form of systemic and structural racism in Canadian society that targets the Black community, often through the perpetuation of Whiteness and the marginalization of Black peoples (Benjamin, 2003).
Your actions, Dr. Parada, perpetuate anti-Black racism. They indicated to the folks in that room that you do not value anti-Black racism scholarship, Black women, Black educators or education, Black experiences, Black life and ultimately Black students. When given the opportunity to learn more and explore new ways of conceptualizing Blackness and anti-Black racism, something that based in our mandate, should be welcomed, you chose to violently disrupt the speaker and the space. That says a lot, and we students and community members, received the message loud and clear.
Failure for the School, the Faculty of Community Services and the University to recognize this as anti-Black racism and a public display of toxic masculinity implicates all of you as both anti-Black racism apologists and deeply embedded in misogynoir. This tells us that within our classrooms and the School of Social Work we have a serious issue of anti-Blackness and anti-Black racism, and when the Director of the program is allowed to behave in such violent ways, how can we think that practically addressing and challenging anti-Black racism is valued or encouraged? How do we support Black students, educators, and staff and build a more critical community? We do not. Too many Black folks at the school of Social Work have too many stories that speak to experiencing anti-Black racism from other students and faculty. Given your actions, it is clear why this behaviour is acceptable, when your leadership is anti-Black.
The School teaches us to be critical, teaches us to practice resistance, teaches us to learn to know ourselves, to do better and be better. Well, we invite you to do the same Dr. Parada. To explore the feelings that led you to such behaviour, explore what those feelings of resistance, hate and misogynoir stem from and how to start doing the work to do and be better.
We figure you may need a reminder , so you can see how you walking out at a time when Black folks were giving praise to a young Black woman professor at a critical and vulnerable time is something that needs to be named and addressed, and when we name this act of violence we must name it as an act of anti-Black racism. You claim to understand “It is not your responsibility to ease the discomfort of those who benefit from the status quo…you are not called on to protect the non-legitimate interests and privileges of others, no matter how entrenched or long-held they are” (Parada et al., 2011). Much of your scholarship addresses issues of power and oppression, so you should understand the power dynamics in the space and how problematic your behaviour was. Power is most likely why you thought you could behave that way, but power is also why you particularly, are allowed to behave that way and also the only reason why you would be excused. We as students and community refuse for this to be excused. Here is an opportunity to practice what you publish and see how you impact our program and allow for the perpetuation of anti-Black racism in our School.
Furthermore, the Ryerson School of Social Work states the following: [Ryerson’s] School of Social Work is a leader in critical education, research, and practice with culturally and socially diverse students and communities in the advancement of anti-oppression/ anti-racism, anti-Black racism, anti-colonialism/ decolonization, Aboriginal reconciliation, feminism, anti-capitalism, queer and trans liberation struggles, issues in disability and Madness, among other social justice struggles. Our vision is to transform social structures into more equitable and inclusive social, economic, political, and cultural processes of society.
We figure you may need a reminder in your role as Director, because by walking out of this presentation, you walked out of a conversation on the experience of Black lives. You effectively tell Black students, faculty, and community members that our voices, academic and community work in resistance against anti-Black racism do not matter, and tell others that that is acceptable. Which means we have an issue because you are not meeting the mandate set out by the School of Social Work. What was worst, is during that critical time your behaviour signalled that none of us belonged there, that our histories, struggles and experiences, us as students are not wanted at the School of Social work, and this includes the presenter.
However, we have come up with some suggestions for you, the power holders in the School of Social Work, the Faculty of Community Services as well as Ryerson University in general to move forward in a genuine, actionable and authentic way.
1. Dr. Parada, immediately step down as Director of Ryerson’s School of Social Work.
2. Remove confronting anti-Black racism from your mandate if you cannot, will not and are not invested in it. Ryerson is seen as a leader in the area of anti-Black racism however being disingenuous only lends to the violence experienced by the Black community by only symbolically confronting rather than practically and meaningfully challenging anti-Black racism.
3. If being in a room that centres Blackness, women and anti-Black racism scholarship is too much and there is work that you need to do as an individual and collectively, please do that work outside of those spaces, we do not need that violence but we encourage and support you in doing that work.
4. Formally apologize and publicly release how collectively you will genuinely address anti-Black racism within the School of Social Work and the Faculty of Community Services.
This goes beyond an apology; this is an opportunity for accountability and action. This letter serves as a kind invitation to take action and rectify the situation before we escalate. As concerned students and community members, we effectively exercise our rights and responsibility to resist oppressive dynamics that impact our community. You may not think so, but we know that #BlackLivesMatter #BlackWomenMatter#BlackTeachersMatter #BlackStudentsMatter and we cannot stop and will not stop until you value that as well.
We demand that #BlackHumanityMatters at the School of Social Work, in the Faculty of Community Services and Ryerson University.
In rage, solidarity and kindness,
Concerned Students, community members, the Black Liberation Collective at Ryerson, Ryerson Feminist Collective, United Black Students at Ryerson and the Ryerson School of Social Work Student Union.
cc: President Mohamed Lachemi, Denise O’Neil-Green, Darrell Bowden, Dr. Lisa Barnoff, all School of Social work staff, faculty and instructors.