Racist Cyberattacks at the University of Toronto Present a Teachable Moment

In the age of Trump, even Canadians are grappling with increasing hostility to principles of diversity and inclusion.  While Canada has never been the cultural oasis it is often portrayed to be, the country has historically been perceived by black folk and much of the world as much more progressive on diversity issues than its American neighbors to the south.

This week the Toronto Star reports that black students at the U of T are responding to what appears to be a persistent and orchestrated campaign of racial assault on campus and online.  The attacks highlight longstanding racial tensions in a bustling cosmopolitan citadel and illustrate once again that notions of a “post-racial Great North” are delusional.

Equally troubling is a failure to reckon that the default use of technology is only as righteous or evil as the minds that deploy them.  Technological education has never been a panacea to social ills that STEM proponents often present, rather tech is merely a tool to expand the same tired social mythologies, structured inequalities, and cultural antagonisms.  STEM education, even at the most prestigious and liberal institutions, will never rise above the fray until we engage how our best engineers and scientists are a part of our racial and social crises and not so intellectually advanced that they are free of racial animus.

The student response at U of T has been measured, inclusive, and targeted.  Let’s hope that the lessons learned here will empower higher educational officials and students to address racial and technological myths by disrupting the platforms used to propagate hate and harassment. There must be an honest and holistic reckoning with race, gender, and class across borders and across the curriculum.

 

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