Over 100 people attended a press conference on Wednesday to address the latest allegations of anti-Black racism facing York University. The press conference was organized by the Campaign Against Anti-Black Racism in response to the York administration’s firing of Lydia Dosu, a Black woman who has worked at York for over 24 years and whose complaint about anti-Black racism in the workplace remains unresolved.
The presser was moderated by Deena Ladd, a leader in the decent work movement, and included prominent Black leaders from the student and labour movements and from the community.
Dosu was the first speaker and explained how York fired her:
“I have worked in multiple departments as an administrative assistant in French and English, most recently at Glendon College. On January 31, the York administration fired me from my job, on the first day I returned to work from a short-term sick leave. I felt deeply humiliated, and I could barely think or move. When York fired me, they were going to ship my belongings… They no longer wanted me to step on campus… After 24 years, I was told to get out immediately. It made me feel like a criminal, coming to campus under darkness and leaving without having the chance to say goodbye to people I had worked with for so many years.”
Dosu began working at York University in 1998 and worked at the University without incident or complaint. In 2014, Dosu was instructed to work as a departmental secretary and reprimanded when she attempted to use the title of “administrative assistant”.
Ron Franklin, a human rights and employment lawyer representing Dosu, explained that the designation was not simply about semantics, but bore real material consequences in the workplace. A secretary’s role is generally understood to involve clerical duties with less independence and decision-making power, thus failing to reflect Lydia’s breadth of experience or actual work duties.
Dosu’s predecessor–a white woman with less experience–used the title of “administrative assistant” without incident, but management only stopped its use when Dosu attempted to use it.
A new supervisor regularly assigned Dosu routine photocopying duties, while her non-Black colleagues enjoyed more substantive work. Dosu also noticed that non-Black professors within the department enjoyed preferential treatment with academic assignments. Dosu felt compelled to complain, and that is when she began to experience isolation within the department. In September 2017, Dosu approached her union.
#YorkU: a pattern of anti-Black racism
The union directed Dosu to an ongoing workplace investigation stemming from complaints made by Prof. Aimé Avolonto, who also has longstanding unresolved complaints at the University and at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO). Avolonto also alleged discrimination, harassment, and reprisals for speaking out against his experience of anti-Black racism at Glendon College. Dosu is a key witness in Avolonto’s case.
“After a Black professor complained and insisted on an investigation, I decided to share my story,” said Dosu. “Instead of being able to share my experiences in a safe and supportive environment, I was treated like a suspect by the investigator who made me feel like I was being interrogated.”
The investigator inappropriately asked if Dosu had a sexual relationship with Prof. Avolonto. Dosu described the investigator laughing at her when she tried to share her experience.
The investigator reportedly disclosed that he used to be married to a racialized woman, even though that fact had nothing to do with her complaint. Dosu also reported that the investigator insinuated that white people couldn’t be racist if they were in relationships with Black people.
As the investigation deteriorated, both Prof. Avolonto and another senior faculty member eventually refused to participate.
“When done wrong, workplace investigations can re-victimize those who come forward about anti-Black racism and have a chilling effect on others considering coming forward. The investigation exacerbated the racism [Dosu] experienced,” said Franklin.
In its termination letter, York University described Dosu as a “health and safety risk” to other staff at Glendon because she had raised various complaints about anti-Black racism in the workplace.
“The real threat is anti-Black racism, and the real threat is the employer who failed to protect me from retaliation for speaking out about anti-Black racism,” said Dosu.
In 2019, Dosu filed an application with the HRTO, yet no evidence has been heard since 2020, and the Tribunal has yet to render any decisions. “We are demanding reinstatement and that the HRTO fulfill its mandate. We want [Dosu’s] case assigned to someone with a strong legal background and a demonstrated understanding of how anti-Black racism manifests itself in the workplace,” added Franklin.
Struggling with tears, Dosu told the press conference:
“All I’ve asked from the administration is ‘please help me, please support me.’ Instead, I was ignored and dismissed. Black people are sick and tired of paying the price just because we speak out. We are the ones who have to put up with racism in the workplace, and then we are the ones who are forced out when we complain. Many Black people are afraid to speak out because they are worried that they will lose their jobs if they do. They see what has happened to other Black people who have spoken out and and [what is now happening to] me.”
Dosu’s complaint is just one of at least eight known HRTO applications about anti-Black racism at York in recent years, which stand in sharp contrast to the administration’s public pronouncements about its commitment to fight anti-Black racism. The complaints have been filed by Black faculty, staff, and students at York.
A racial reckoning: Congress 2023
York University will host the 2023 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences (Congress 2023) from May 27 to June 2, 2023. As Canada’s most prominent academic gathering, Congress attracts up to 8,000 participants and at least 70 scholarly associations in the humanities and social sciences.
According to the official website, this year’s theme of “Reckonings and Re-Imaginings” will centre “the experiences, knowledges, and cultures of Indigenous and Black communities.”
Dosu countered: “At the same time as they are getting rid of Black people like me, they are trying to promote themselves as a leader in fighting anti-Black racism in time for this summer’s 2023 Congress. But York can’t have it both ways. It can’t claim to be a leader in the fight against anti-Black racism and treat Black people like trash. This is your chance, York University, to show that you practice what you preach.”
In her role as moderator, Deena Ladd echoed Dosu’s remarks to the York administration: “If you think you can bury these cases and then promote yourself as leaders in the fight against anti-Black racism, you are mistaken. In the coming weeks and months, we will highlight the deep patterns of systemic anti-Black racism at York University.”
The Campaign Against Anti-Black Racism has been organizing since 2020 and has built a network of York students, staff, faculty, and community allies, as well as supporters beyond York, in support of Avolonto, Dosu, and other Black workers with complaints about anti-Black racism. The Campaign is planning a series of meetings, workshops, and actions in the weeks leading up to the 2023 Congress.
- To get involved in the Campaign, email firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Campaign has launched a petition demanding Lydia Dosu’s immediate reinstatement. Please sign and share the petition here.
- The Campaign is also raising funds to support Lydia and her family while she fights to get her job back. Please donate to the fundraiser here.
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