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NSCAD students decry racism, transphobia, and inaccessibility on campus

Past and present students have anonymously submitted stories they say show them being 'negatively affected, mistreated, or discriminated against' by the arts school

Some NSCAD University students and alumni are sounding the alarm on what they call worsening conditions at the arts school, believing “nothing will change unless we take action against the university.”

The “Action Against NSCAD” campaign began after the launch of an Instagram profile, where past and present students anonymously submit experiences they say show them being “negatively affected, mistreated, or discriminated against by NSCAD University.”

Of the 60 posts shared since Sunday, some accuse professors of refusing to recognize disability accommodations, asking racialized students to “speak on behalf of cultural appropriations,” misgendering and racial profiling.

Campaign calling for transparency and accountability

An organizer of the Action Against NSCAD campaign spoke with CityNews Halifax on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution from the university. 

The organizer said they believe NSCAD suffers from “huge disorganization in terms of communication [from] the administration.” Instead, they say students were being constantly redirected to other administrators, leaving them “to deal with the consequences of misinformation.” 

The campaign is calling for more “transparency and accountability” from the university’s administration, as well as reforms to prevent discrimination against students.

Some of the submissions appear to be directly related to anti-Asian racism, affecting the large population of East Asian students at the school.

“A lot of them are discriminated against in different ways, especially when it comes to their language and the way they communicate,” the organizer explained, noting, “they get made fun of because English is not their first language.”

The campaign is also calling on the university to better serve its international students, who pay significantly higher tuition rates than domestic students.

They also spoke of a “lack of sensitivity from staff to non-binary and trans students.” 

Additionally, the organizer noted much of NSCAD University remains inaccessible, as one of three buildings does not have an elevator, and some classrooms in a second building are only accessible by stairs. 

The organizer added that they would encourage prospective students to rethink their options. 

“Based on the way things that are now, I would encourage them to go to another institution.”

Students plan to gather at the Granville Court for a protest against the university's administration and staff on March 2.

NSCAD commits to making structural changes

In a statement to CityNews Halifax, NSCAD University says it is "offering sensitivity training for staff and faculty, increasing access to mental health resources and financial supports, and actively working to diversify our staff and faculty.” 

“NSCAD is aware of the issues shared by students on social media, and they are concerning to everyone at the university. No student should feel unsafe or unsupported when attending school. We expect that those working for NSCAD will live and support our commitment to a respectful workplace and learning environment, where discrimination, in any form, is not tolerated,” Interim President Sarah McKinnon wrote.

“While we can’t respond to anonymous social media posts, we continue to encourage students who encounter any issues to reach out to us directly, so that we may investigate with due diligence,” she added.

The Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design, more commonly referred to as NSCAD University, has been the face of controversy over recent years. University president Aoife Mac Namara was fired without explanation in June 2020. According to an investigation by The Globe and Mail, she pushed back on ideas to “sell heritage buildings in exchange for a new campus,” against the wishes of the university’s Board of Directors.

The developer who would have been the beneficiary of the university’s move, chief executive officer of the Armour Group, Scott McCrea, went on to head the transition team of Nova Scotia’s newest premier, Tim Houston. 

NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that NSCAD is already offering sensitivity training for staff and faculty, increasing access to mental health resources and financial supports, and actively working to diversify staff. "We have, in fact, been working on some of them for more than a year," a statement form the school said.

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