News / Edmonton

'This is racist': University of Alberta investigates jack-o'-lantern found on campus

Someone gave a pumpkin a mock headdress and left it outside the Faculty of Native Studies.

This pumpkin was found at the University of Alberta campus Monday.

Courtesy chelsea Vowel / Supplied

This pumpkin was found at the University of Alberta campus Monday.

University of Alberta President David Turpin says campus protective services is investigating after a “disturbing racist Halloween pumpkin” was found on the school’s central quad Monday.

The jack-o'-lantern, which had feathers sticking out of its head and streaks cut across it’s face, was propped up on a low wall outside Pembina Hall, which houses the Faculty of Native Studies.

Grad student Chelsea Vowel, who tweets under the name @apihtawikosisan, said she was in “disbelief” when she saw it.

“It’s been bothering me all day. It’s a stupid little pumpkin, but it’s been bothering me,” she told Metro Monday afternoon.

Vowel said she walked by it a few times, torn, and then eventually added a sign written on loose-leaf paper, reading ‘This is Racist.”

“I didn’t want other students to see it, but on the other hand I wanted people to see it and realize that we’re still facing these ridiculous micro-aggressions.”

Chris Andersen, Dean of Native Studies, said in an email that it’s unlikely any faculty students saw the pumpkin as a “naïve or innocent joke,” given how close it was placed to their building.

It’s far from the first racist incident on campus—someone tried to light the university’s Red River cart on fire two years ago—but Andersen said Halloween is “ground zero” for racist stereotypes.

“Incidents like this have a longstanding history of caricaturing and attempting to diminish our cultures and communities,” he said.

So he walked outside, wrapped in a garbage bag and threw it out.

University officials were alerted to the pumpkin’s presence by a tweet from Vowel, and according to Turpin, whose statement was posted on the university website, staff quickly made sure it had been removed.

Turpin added that the U of A is a “welcoming and safe environment for all people,” where we “proudly celebrate our Indigenous heritage, including the ancestral Treaty 6 lands and the Metis homeland on which our university is located.”

Officials are now looking for the people who made it, he said.

Andersen said Turpin’s response showed leadership.

“The university didn't try and downplay the seriousness or brush it under the rug, which can be all too easy to do. He took it seriously and responded to it immediately and definitely,” he said.

He added that administration has been working hard on reconciliation—and most of the university’s 40,000 students probably find the pumpkin distasteful—but the incident shows there’s still work to be done.

Still, Vowel said she’s tired of explaining why using images of Indigenous people as holiday decorations is not acceptable.

“We’re going to be told that this is a joke, and there are more important things to worry about,” she said.

“But these things play into wider issues of discrimination and prejudice against Indigenous people, and this kind of thing, it is meant to be derisive and it is meant to show contempt.”

“It’s supposed to make us feel a certain way, and the way we feel is unsafe.”

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