Content Warning: The following article mentions instances of police murder and anti-Black racism. To read full coverage of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of Ferguson, Missouri Police in 2014, please click here.
On the six-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder at the hands of Missouri police, August 9 2020, TCSA VP Health and Wellness, Allan Fabrykant, commented on a post commemorating Brown’s death, posting a link to the Department of Justice Report on the extrajudicial murder of Michael Brown.
A day later, another Trent alum replied publicly on Fabrykant’s thread, asking him to elaborate on his comment. Here is the conversation that ensued:
In the following hours many Trent students took to social media, expressing their anger with Fabrykant’s comments, and calling on the TCSA to act swiftly. Some had witnessed the exchange firsthand, while others tried to piece the story together through the twitter discourse.
On August 11, the TCSA released a statement on the matter, claiming that “the views that have been expressed by certain members in recent social media discussions do not reflect the views of the Association, and we do not condone any sentiments or actions of this nature.”
The statement did not name Allan Fabrykant, nor provide any further information on his conduct. The statement asserted that: “The TCSA is an organization that stands against racism and injustice.”
Around the same time that this statement was published, the TCSA called an Emergency Meeting of its Board of Directors, to be held the next day, August 12, at 7pm over Zoom. Being an emergency meeting, the agenda contained one motion: “Be it resolved that an Executive Review Committee be struck to review the conduct of the Vice-President of Student Health & Wellness Allan Fabrykant. Moved by: Ann-Majella McKelvie.”
Over 125 students attended the meeting reviewing Fabrykant’s conduct.
The Emergency Meeting began shortly after 7pm on the 12th, with Matthew Seaby and newly appointed External Chair to the TCSA, Emmanuel Pinto, taking turns providing logistical information about how the meeting would proceed.
After attendance of the Board of Directors was taken, the Chair provided TCSA President Ann-Majella McKelvie with the opportunity to speak to her motion, and essentially explain why the meeting was called. McKelvie shared that she was saddened and hurt by Fabrykant’s actions. She reiterated that the TCSA has a commitment to anti-racism. McKelvie said “my job is to listen to the membership, and especially listen to BIPOC students who have been impacted by this incident. Whatever the board and the membership would like to see happen, I will do my best to make it happen within the purview of the by-laws.”
The Chair then opened up conversation to the membership. Speakers were asked to state their name, pronouns and whether they were for or against the motion to strike an Executive Review Committee to review Allan Fabrykant’s conduct.
The first speaker, Zahra Mouhammad, spoke in favour of the motion. She pointed out Fabrykant’s use of ambiguous language and how it could be used to defend his comments. She called into question Fabrykant’s ability to adequately fulfill his role as VP Health and Wellness, noting that these comments would deter BIPOC students from accessing services.
She, like many of the speakers who would follow her, voiced her concern over the manner in which the Emergency Meeting had been publicized. Many felt that not enough was done to make this information widely accessible, that this information could have been more visible on the TCSA’s social media, or that the TCSA could have sent an email blast to its members.
Mouhammad also addressed Fabrykant directly, telling him that she does not feel comfortable contributing to his $18 000 salary.
Fabrykant was then given the opportunity to speak: “I apologize for leaving room for my comments to be misinterpreted. I also want to recognize the emotional stress this has caused many individuals, including myself.”
He went on to say that his intention in this meeting was to correct the record and provide context for what he said. Describing racism as a scourge against society that must be eradicated. He spoke about how difficult the past few days had been for him, and how he has spent them reflecting on his conduct. He then spoke about his experiences as a Jewish man, detailing the anti-semitism that he has been subject to throughout his life, and saying that these experiences allow him empathy for the BIPOC community.
Fabrykant said that his words were misconstrued by the person who responded to his initial comment. He asserted that his statements “were not racist.” He expanded on his inciting Facebook comments, stating that “An original link was posted in an effort to provide information and context to allow individuals to come to their own conclusions with full information. My intention was never to disseminate my opinion but allow people to draw their own fully informed conclusions.”
He took issue with how he had been treated on social media in the days following his comments, saying that “what happened is not the way to go about things. In general, seeking to educate and create unity could have had a far more profound effect than seeking to divide.” He went on to say that he has been deeply hurt by ‘mischaracterizations’ which have “caused a significant toll on [his] mental health.”
If I didn’t know my side of the story, I would be very angry at myself as well. Your anger is justified and I hope I was able to provide some clarity around this misunderstanding.”
To conclude, Fabrykant said that he would “respect the decision of the Board and the members” but would also ask “that the full context and my comments here today are taken into when reaching your final decision.”
To reiterate, I am sorry. I am saddened for all the immense stress this has caused everyone. I empathize with your anger and hatred towards racism. I hope that if there’s anything we can learn today from this experience, it is to be cognizant of how you conduct yourselves and explain yourselves online, but also that we should treat each other with patience, grace, and kindness to better understand one another in good faith. I also want to note that I am sincerely listening to your comments. I am taking notes, and am taking everything that is being said to heart.”
The following speakers noted that they felt Fabrykant’s apology was inadequate, that it centred himself, rather than his harm.
More than one speaker accused Fabrykant’s apology of weaponizing his Jewish identity and playing the victim.
Zoe Easton, the Coordinator of the Trent Centre for Women and Trans People, told Fabrykant that there is a difference between being shamed and feeling shamed.
Fareeda Imana, the newly elected student representative on Trent’s Board of Governors, spoke about how Fabrykant’s comments must be taken for their impact, rather than their intent.
Ankit Tripathi, the International Students Commissioner on the TCSA, responded to Fabrykant’s original comments, saying “I don’t think it depends on circumstance, Allan, being killed by a cop at age 18 is bad.”
Other Directors spoke out against Fabrykant’s conduct, too. Among them were Lauren Graziotto, the TCSA Women’s Student Commissioner, and Gzowski College Commissioner, Nikisha Thapar.
Yllka Bojku, a former candidate for the position of VP Health and Wellness, spoke passionately about Fabrykant’s conduct. She asked what accountability looks like in this context before speaking to Fabrykant directly, saying “I believe you are unfit for this position.”
Shanese Steele, former Anti-Racism Commissioner and VP Campaigns and Equity for the TCSA, spoke about what it was like to be on campus when Michael Brown was murdered, how it could have been her father, her brother.
Ethel Nalule, 2019/20 VP Health and Wellness, asked Fabrykant to imagine what it would have felt like for Michael Brown in the moments leading up to his death at the hands of police.
“If you were Michael brown, unarmed, with your hands up, probably scared for your life because you knew that in the moment your life was over regardless of innocence – so you decided to run, because you wanted a chance of life. Instead you were shot 6 times and your body was left on the ground, in the heat, for 4 hours. Years pass, people are mourning your death on social media and others are trying to justify your death by sharing the DOJ Report… How would you feel?”
Nalule also requested that Black students be given priority in the speaking list, and while the TCSA did not implement this, some white students forfeited their place in the speaking order.
Jarrod Williams, TISA Secretary and local BLM organizer, also spoke in favour of the motion, echoing concerns for the safety of Black students.
Many Black students shared their experiences of racism at Trent, and how Fabrykant’s actions would deter them from accessing services from the TCSA. They spoke about racism in the healthcare system, and how important it is for the VP Health and Wellness to be anti-racist. More than one Black student spoke about experiences of police brutality in their own families. Several asked Fabrykant to resign. Some alluded to impeachment, which of course, could not be voted on in this Emergency Meeting, as it falls beyond the purview of the motion at hand.
The TCSA outlines processes for resignation and termination of office in Sections VII. 1-3 of their bylaws.
All told, only two students spoke against the motion – Josh Bennett and another student whose screen name read ‘Zhengcheng.’ Arthur has reached out to a recent graduate with this name to confirm their identity, but has not received a response.
These students both called the TCSA to act with democracy and due process in mind.
In the end, all but one of the Directors present at this meeting would vote in favour of the motion to implement an Executive Review of Fabrykant’s conduct. The one abstention being Fabrykant. The Executive Review Committee will be comprised of International Students Commissioner Ankit Tripathi, Women’s Student Commissioner Lauren Graziotto, Otonabee College Commissioner Olivia Paleczny, Black Student Representative Fareeda Imana, with Charlotte Oduol, Mikayla Livingston, and Danielle Adderley observing and Association Resource Manager Matthew Seaby acting as Chair.
In a statement published on August 15, the TCSA wrote that meetings of this Committee have begun, and that they “trust the committee to review the matter thoroughly and promptly.”