Blackface stunt backfires at Universite de Montreal
MONTREAL - A back-to-school event at a Montreal university is being characterized as racist after students painted themselves in blackface.
Students at the Universite de Montreal's business school dressed up as Jamaican sprinters, with black paint covering their skin, for a frosh-week event.
One witness, who is of Jamaican descent, said he felt uncomfortable and was shocked to hear some students chanting, "Smoke more weed."
McGill law student Anthony Morgan, who happened to be on the campus at the time, says the students were doing the chanting in Jamaican accents. Some also wore yellow-and-green track outlets, like the Jamaican Olympic team.
"As far as I could see I was the only black person there," Morgan said. "And so I kind of took stock of my surroundings and felt extremely uncomfortable in my own skin."
Morgan says he is considering filing a human-rights complaint.
The university says racism is not tolerated on campus, but that they don't feel there was racist intent.
The event was staged by the Haute études commerciales (HEC) business school's sports and leisure committee, where every group of students were given a different Olympic sport to represent. The group in question was given track and field, and decided to honour Usain Bolt.
While HEC is affiliated with the Universite de Montreal, the schools have separate administrations. The HEC student group had to rent the football stadium from the university.
"It is just a shame that at the time this was happening the person didn't call security or somebody at the university so we could have addressed it there and then," said university spokesperson William Raillant-Clark.
Morgan couldn't believe his eyes when he saw what was happening.
"Then when I saw the students reaction the to me video taping, they were cheering, giving high fives and throwing a monkey up and saying, 'Hey we have a real black person here,'" he said. "I was absolutely horrified."
Morgan hopes that this will lead to more open discussion about race and how hurtful stereotypes can be.
"It's 2011," he said. "You'd think we would have advanced past this at a university campus."
HEC is considered among the oldest and most prestigious business schools in Canada.
The higher education company QS ranked it 22nd among 200 North American business schools in 2010, ahead of McGill, the University of British Columbia and Cornell.
With files from The Canadian Press