Campuses like the University of Victoria are hubs of ideas, learning, safety, and connection, but Ukrainian students at the university say they’re increasingly feeling unsafe.
“Someone approached our booth and wrote ‘Nazi scum’ on our email sign-up list,” said Anika co-president of the UVic Ukrainian Students Society. “We believe it’s probably hate speech.”
The society says they’ve been increasingly targeted by harassment, even hate speech, since the start of the school year.
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One incident comes stems from a Facebook post a UVic student society made. The Young Communist League of Victoria took a picture of a banner the Ukrainian Student Society had up with a common patriotic slogan “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to heroes.”
The post has since been deleted, but in a screenshot can be said to read “Utterly shameful to see this hateful, antisemitic trash on a university campus.”
Even though their comments were captured, the Young Communists League Victoria told CHEK News it was “slanderous”.
“I completely reject their misleading comments,” said Tyson Strandlund, of the Young Communists League Victoria.
Strandlund says his issue is with the slogan itself, which he alleges, has anti semitic roots.
“It’s exactly what Putin has been saying for years now,” said Anika.
“We’re just about celebrating Ukrainian culture. We do pysanky workshops, we show people how to make perogies and borscht…and we’re being called fascists.”
The UVic Ukrainian Students Society put in a formal complaint to the university in the fall, but feel that in the months following, they haven’t been supported by their university.
“To have this happening in a place where Ukrainians are supposed to be safe…It’s just unacceptable and needs firm condemnation from the university and proper action,” said Anika.
Prior to Friday, through UVic’s Equity and Human Rights Department, Anika says they were told they had two options. The first was the informal route of mediation.
“But the problem was that there was no complaint that can be filed against another student group, it had to be a specific individual,” said Anika.
The society didn’t know who had made the post, so that was impossible. But so too, was the formal route.
“We were told this would be a very long proceeding and that we wouldn’t be told about the outcome,” said Anika.
Late in the afternoon Friday, the University of Victoria announced they’d be launching an investigation into the harassment.
“This behaviour is not—and will not—be tolerated at UVic,” said Kevin Hall, UVic president, and vice-chancellor in a statement.
“We’re committed to creating a campus that is safe, supportive, and inclusive. When incidents like the ones raised by members of the Ukrainian Students Society occur, we as an institution need to take a hard look at how this happened and amend policies, approaches, or processes that don’t align with our vision for the campus.”
In the wake of going public, the UVic Ukrainian Student Society has not only found support but has also learned Ukrainians in other post-secondary institutions across Canada are seeing harassment increase as well.
“Carleton, Humber College, University of Alberta. This is not an isolated incident,” said Anika.
At the moment the UVic Ukrainian Student Society is considering reporting the alleged hate speech to either Victoria or Saanich Police. In the meantime, they’re calling not only on UVic to help in making its campus safe for everyone, but campuses across the nation.
“This has no place in Canada whatsoever,” said Anika.