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McGill University alumni, students come together remove James McGill statue, fight inequality

Global News logo Global News 2020-08-01 Kwabena Oduro
a group of people standing in a park: The statue of McGill University founder James McGill continues to be a lightning rod of criticism because of his past as a slave owner. © Kwabena Oduro/Global News The statue of McGill University founder James McGill continues to be a lightning rod of criticism because of his past as a slave owner.

The statue of McGill University founder James McGill continues to be a lightning rod of criticism because of his past as a slave owner.

Students and alumni of the university are coming together to fight for equality and the removal of the statue.

"The taking down of the James McGill statue essentially symbolizes their commitment to Black and Indigenous students to allow to have equal opportunity and equal rights," organizer Heleena De Oliveira said.

De Oliveira says that there's a certain struggle being a minority at the university.

"It's difficult, it's tough, it's like everyday labour, it's a burn out culture, we don't get the same treatment as the other students," she said.

Hannah Wallace, an Indigenous graduate of McGill, started an online petition to have the statue removed about two months ago, saying it has no business being on campus because McGill owned both Black and Indigenous slaves. As Saturday afternoon, the petition has over 5,500 signatures.

READ MORE: Montreal petition to take down statue of McGill University’s founder gains momentum

Some are calling for problematic statues of historical figures in Canada to be removed in the wake of worldwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality that were sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after an officer was filmed kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minn.

Alumni students were in attendance to support the current students fighting for change.

"I think it's our personal responsibility to reflect on the changes that we can have an effect on," McGill alumnus Lola Varaldi said.

In a statement, McGill University told Global News "there is no plan for its removal. The University is, however, undertaking a range of steps — in addition to the appointed two provostial postdoctoral research scholars whose projects will investigate the university’s historic connections to colonialism and slavery — to consider how best to acknowledge and engage meaningfully with its past."

Many students say they didn't know the history of James McGill before attending the university.

"Coming to this campus and seeing a statue that deliberately celebrates a slave owner was a big, big shock for me," sociology major Samade Fagbohun said.

"It hurts," said Emma S., an Indigenous biochemistry student. "James McGill's legacy, his wealth, was built on Black and Indigenous people and McGill University refuses to acknowledge that is a continuation of this legacy."

READ MORE: Demonstrators deface statues during Toronto protest calling for the defunding of police

Last week, a group of students released an eight-page letter calling for the removal of the statue. They also include another letter calling for the demands of changes that the Black students would like to see going forward.

Many students and protestors say that this is an important step in the fight for equality. They vow to continue until serious changes are made by the university.

"Until we get what we want, this is not going to stop, our actions are not going to stop, our polls are not going to stop. We will continue to demand," De Oliveira said.

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