Concordia’s apology

The university acknowledges the role of racism in the 1969 student protest at Sir George Williams University and extends a public apology.

In 2020, Concordia struck the President’s Task Force on Anti-Black Racism to respond to issues of anti-Black racism in our institution. In October 2022, the Task Force presented its final report. One of its suggested actions was to acknowledge the role of racism in the 1969 student protest at Sir George Williams University and extend a public apology for the university’s handling of these events, the text of which follows:

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October 28, 2022

The work of the Task Force on Anti-Black Racism has led us to examine Concordia’s history as well as the relations of its founding institutions — Sir George Williams University and Loyola College — with Black communities.

We are determined to look honestly at our past as an institution in order to build trust and move forward to a better future. 

One critical thing this means for Concordia, is that we have to directly address the student protest that took place at Sir George in 1969, as well as its aftermath.  

The protest was triggered by complaints of racial discrimination made by six Black and Caribbean students against a university professor. These complaints were largely ignored, mismanaged and dismissed. For months, the students pursued many channels to be heard but they were met with inaction by the university and told that their complaints were not legitimate. 

After almost a year of the university refusing to address Black students’ concerns about their experiences of racism on campus, a large group of students occupied the university’s computer centre and faculty lounge to bring attention to the issue.

The protest brought the topic of institutional racism to the forefront of the university. It also galvanized people far beyond campus, both in Montreal and the rest of Canada, as movements to address racial and social injustice were taking place across the world.

In response to the occupation of the Hall building, university leaders called the police. That decision led to the arrest — in some cases the violent arrest — of 97 students. Those arrests and the suppression of the protest had serious lasting consequences for many individuals. These ranged from jail sentences to deportation, psychological trauma, physical injury, social alienation, loss of employment and the disruption of — even to the point of not finishing — academic degrees. 

Sadly, the university’s actions and inactions were a stark manifestation of institutional racism. The adverse effects of that behavior reverberated widely, not just in Black communities in Montreal but also beyond, particularly in the Caribbean, where several of the Sir George students were from.

Concordia University, with the support of its Board of Governors, apologizes for the decisions and actions of university leaders at the time. We also apologize for the harm that was caused to Black students at the university and for the negative impact felt by Black communities in Montreal and beyond. We recognize the deep and often dire consequences that the actions of the university had at the time, and how these consequences have continued to echo through the years.

In addition, we deeply regret our silence in the decades since the protest. That silence has contributed to a deterioration of trust and a breach in Concordia’s ties with Black communities. It should not have taken more than fifty years to acknowledge the wrongs leading up to, and in, 1969. 

Today, we must recognize how institutional racism manifests itself, not just historically, but in the current reality of our education systems, including higher education. This also means taking stock of the lasting effect that systemic racism has on students and communities beyond the university. We must be committed to ensure that institutional racism is confronted so that events such as those of 1969 are not repeated. 

For Concordia, reckoning with these events is a long overdue, necessary step.  But it is not an end in itself. Yes, this public apology reflects our need to question past ideologies and past acts. It also holds us accountable to do better and reflects our commitment to strive every day to be a community where everyone can feel that they belong, where everyone’s experiences are considered legitimate, and where, consequently, we can all reach our full potential. 

Looking forward, the Task Force on Anti-Black Racism has recommended specific, meaningful actions that will guide us on this path. The Task Force has worked over the last two years to generate recommendations anchored in the lived experiences of Black faculty, staff, students and alumni. The measures it has put forward span most aspects of university life. They aim to improve our governance and policies, promote academic excellence and a thriving campus community for Black students, and support Black faculty and staff. Equally, they aim to encourage Black knowledges and nurture mutually beneficial relationships with Black communities beyond the university.  

Now we begin the hard work of delivering on these recommendations and strengthening our relationships with Black communities, on campus and in Montreal. As you bear witness, we reach out to everyone at Concordia to be partners in building a more equitable and just community.

Graham Carr
President and Vice-Chancellor
Concordia University

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