Brock University will not discipline a group of young men who dressed in blackface as the Jamaican bobsled team for a Halloween pub night costume contest, as the school believes they didn’t mean to be “racially offensive.”
“Discrimination has no place on this campus, but the university is satisfied that this incident was a result of a lack of awareness, not a lack of sensitivity, and that the participants had no intention of being inflammatory or racially offensive,” said Brock University spokesman Kevin Cavanagh.
Professors and students at the St. Catharines university have slammed the costumes and contest organizers for perpetuating a culture of racial oppression and insensitivity.
The mixed-race group donned Jamaica’s national colours and some wore black makeup to reportedly win the top cash prize at Isaac’s Bar and Grill on Oct. 30.
In a statement on the school’s website published Tuesday, university president Jack Lightstone said the costume incident, meant to reference the 1993 “comic movie” Cool Runnings, occurred due to a lack of “historical consciousness” and awareness, which is a university’s “duty to inculcate.”
Cavanagh said the Halloween pub night was a student-run event and that the Brock University Students’ Union was taking responsibility for the incident.
Members of the school’s Centre for Labour Studies wrote the event “generated concern and anxiety on campus.”
“Blackface can never be disassociated from the vicious legacy of white supremacy and institutionalized anti-Black racism in the United States and Canada,” the statement read.
The note also took aim at the organizers’ initial response to the incident, saying it was “halting, at best.”
On Oct. 31, the students’ union published the first of two statements on Facebook, admitting both the contest judgment and black makeup were in “poor taste.”
“We are fully aware of the historical context that this action can represent and we are fully aware that, while we cannot control what people wear as costume, we could have controlled if they were included or eligible for the costume contest. This was not the case and we can assure you that this will not happen again,” the statement read.
A second statement issued Monday detailed how the students’ union will ensure workplace safety standards are presented to staff and how future events like the costume contest, usually “of a very arbitrary nature,” will be run.
The union said entrants for future costume contests will be vetted by staff, a tip Cavanagh said came from the Brock University administration.