Black Students Repeatedly Harassed at Grey Nuns
Campus Security Making Black Concordia Students Feel Unsafe
Concordia’s Grey Nuns Residence is meant to be a safe and comfortable environment for nearly 430 students. However, some residents say security guards have made it hard for them to enter their living space.
At around 9:15 p.m. on Oct. 17, 2022, Chlose Harriet and her friends were on the sidewalk outside the building for a smoke. As she was about to re-enter the building, Harriet realized she forgot her access card. Her friend, a fellow resident, said they would tap her in as a guest.
Once in the hallway, a security guard stopped them. “We could tell immediately he was getting pretty angry, and I was a bit shocked,” Harriet said. Her friends made it clear to the guard that she was not only a resident at Grey Nuns but was also tapped in as a guest, which should not be an issue.
According to Harriet, the security guard did not seem to mind her two white friends and instead directed his anger towards her, a Black woman. “I didn’t say anything because I tend to freeze in situations like that,” Harriet said.
The situation had escalated to the security office, where the guard refused to believe Harriet was a resident. Despite her attempts to explain herself, he continued to lecture her for an hour, causing her to feel increasingly frustrated and helpless. Eventually, she gave up trying to reason with him and simply nodded, in hopes that he would let her go.
“I felt extremely shaken and deeply upset when that incident occurred in a place where I had always felt safe before. All three of us cried after that incident happened,” added Harriet. “It really changed the way I felt about the residence, it made me not want to leave my home, it made me scared anytime I went through the door, and I still get anxious going back and forth passing through the security office.”
Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of the difficulties Harriet would face accessing her living space.
At around 9:15 p.m. on Nov. 7, 2022, Harriet and her two friends, non-resident Simaiya Shirley and resident Livia Beauchamp-Zagorski, were entering the Grey Nuns building when Harriet realized she had forgotten her access card again.
Zagorski, who is a white student, had offered to let them both in as guests. Upon entering, the same guard had stopped them. He told them they weren’t allowed to have guests past 11:00 p.m. “I hadn’t heard of this rule previous to this,” said Zagorski.
All three students were left confused, and the guard was strict about not letting Harriet and Shirley in. Harriet attempted to clarify that despite forgetting her access card, she was a resident, but the guard accused her of being dishonest once again.
When Zagorski stepped in to explain that this had never been a problem before, the guard redirected his frustration towards Harriet and yelled at her. “I was really shaken to my core,” said Harriet. Shirley and Harriet, both Black women, were stunned and frozen by the way the guard spoke to them.
“This was a very clear act of injustice and bigotry. I tried my best to comfort Chlose but it was really just a scary moment of him yelling at us,” said Shirley.
At last, Zagorski made the decision to cease arguing with the guard and instead reached out to the resident assistant at the Grey Nuns Residence for help in gaining entry. After conversing with the RA, the students were only then informed that the curfew rule applied solely during exam season, a detail the guard had neglected to mention.
Upon finally gaining entry, Harriet walked past the guard’s office and was filled with a sense of unease. She said she found his body language to be particularly threatening.
“It was sad that this had to happen to her, but I will say I’m not completely surprised, living in an area not very Black-populated,” said Shirley. “Being a Black person, you’re somewhat accustomed to the microaggression, the side comments or the looks from security staff and police. It's something you can tell yourself ‘this isn’t reality and maybe it’s just paranoia’, but this was very clear.”
In December 2022, the incidents were subsequently reported to Darren Dumoulin, director of Campus Safety and Prevention Services. Following these complaints, the security guard involved was taken in for questioning. During the investigation, the focus was placed on the agent’s manner of interacting and intervening with the students, Dumoulin told The Link.
“In all the cases, the agent was justified in the way he interacted with the students. Whether the students knew it or not, they broke the rules in residence. But in the matter of which the interaction happened, it did not match our standards,” said Dumoulin.
Based on the investigation, Dumoulin believes the security guard did not appear to have targeted any race or gender. The guard underwent coaching and was reminded of the policies of protecting the students. Two weeks later, the guard agreed to alter his behaviour and regained his position, determined to perform better.
On Jan. 24 at around 9:30 p.m., Harriet was outside Grey Nuns with her non-resident friend for a smoke. As she was leaving the building, she noticed the same security guard back in his position. She was overcome with anxiety at the thought of having to re-enter. It was then that she realized that she had left her access card behind and only had a friend’s ID on her.
She was scared at the thought of having to explain herself to the guard knowing he could not be reasoned with. “I was so stressed about having to talk to that man, but if it had been any other security guard, I would’ve been comfortable going up to them and explaining that I forgot my cards. But I knew that if I talked to him, he would use it as another excuse to yell at me and pick on me,” said Harriet.
She felt like she had no choice but to use her friend’s ID. As she made it through the building, the guard stopped her and started yelling, stating that the ID tapped did not match her physical appearance. Harriet was paralyzed with fear. Her friend tried to explain that she was a resident and that she had simply forgotten her access card.
The security guard interrogated her, doubting whether she actually resided in Grey Nuns. He continued to scold her, questioned her morals and berated her about her ethics. Harriet felt attacked and completely disrespected.
Harriet’s white friend took over the conversation and the guard’s demeanor completely changed, speaking to them in a calm and respectful way. Finally, after some time, he let them in. At that point, Harriet had enough.
Dumoulin said that Concordia tried to help Harriet and others who have filed complaints about this same security guard. Students feel it wasn’t enough. Residents remain unsatisfied by the way the university handled these situations. “It was really upsetting the way the administration handled everything. Even though I broke the rules, I don’t think breaking any rules justifies getting treated that way,” Harriet noted.
“I honestly wish we could get an apology. To be in your first year and so far away from home and relatively living by yourself while being treated like a criminal is despicable,” added Shirley. “The least they can do is make people feel safe to live there.”
This article originally appeared in Volume 43, Issue 14, published March 21, 2023.