Students seek apology from Université de ­Sherbrooke over response to racism concerns

By Gordon Lambie

The two Black students who pushed for the removal of racist phrasing in an entry of the Université de Sherbrooke’s online dictionary, Usito, say that they are pleased the tool has been edited, but they have ongoing concerns about the way the issue was handled by the institution.
According to Reuban Ramsay, it was his friend Marlyna Bourdeau who initially came across the phrase, “travailler comme un nègre”, or as a usage example under the verb “travailler” or “to work.”
“Who does it serve to employ such an expression?” Ramsay said, pointing out that prior to the edit, one would have to have looked up the word “nègre” to be told that the phrase was racist and insulting. Although that entry has also been adjusted, the student also pointed out that the note clarifying that “nègre” is considered racist also used to be placed at the end of its entry.
What leaves the two students riled even after the edit is the manner in which the university responded to the concerns.
In an article published by Radio Canada on June 4, Martine Lafleur, Communications Director for the University and head of the Usito project, explained the changes that had been made while upholding the role of the dictionary as a means of recording and explaining the different meanings, uses and values of a word across time.
Lafleur declined an interview with The Record, but did provide a written statement.
“It is important today to clarify that the presence of certain expressions and certain words considered racist and offensive in the Usito dictionary does not mean that the University and Usito endorse their use. The Usito dictionary describes the language and identifies the uses, the meanings, the derogatory connotations. As such, a dictionary must explain the meaning of the words in our language, without silencing or denying the difficult or negative realities they express,” Lafleur wrote. “It should be noted that Usito’s editorial policy committee quickly made the decision to remove the expression “travailler comme un nègre” from the entry for “to work”, because the remark regarding the linguistic admissibility of the word “nègre” located elsewhere and could cause some confusion. The expression is still present under the word “nègre” since there is a remark at this entry which underlines to the user that the use of this word is racist.”

The communications director’s statement says that the U de S is committed to making their university an exemplary environment in terms of equity, diversity and inclusion.

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