On Thursday, November 9, an incident of anti-Black racism occurred during a hybrid lecture given at the Peter A. Allard School of Law by Dean Raymond Atuguba of the University of Ghana School of Law. Approximately 40 people were present at Allard Hall for Dean Atuguba’s talk. There were 177 Zoom participants.
Dean Atuguba is a world-leading scholar, teacher, and university administrator. A graduate of both the University of Ghana and Harvard Law School, he is a globally recognized expert in areas including constitutional and administrative law in the global south, law and development in Africa, and human rights and community lawyering. The school that Dean Atuguba leads – the University of Ghana School of Law – is one of the top law schools in Africa. Dean Atuguba is a community leader. He is also a mentor and former teacher to a number of students and alumni here at the Allard School of Law.
During Dean Atuguba’s presentation, one or more Zoom attendees began drawing offensive images and text using Zoom’s annotation function. Allard Law personnel attempted to remove the offensive material, but were not successful. An anti-Black racial slur was then added to the screen, at which point Allard Law personnel ended the Zoom meeting. Dean Atuguba proceeded with his lecture as an in-person only event.
We are appalled, horrified and deeply sorry that this incident took place, and take responsibility that it happened in our space. We apologize unreservedly to Dean Atuguba for the indignity that he endured during this lecture. We also apologize to those in the room at Allard Hall and those online, including those students, colleagues, and friends of Dean Atuguba who were viewing the lecture from Ghana or from other locations, for the harm that was caused to them as a result of the incident.
As part of our response to this incident, we committed to investigating how it occurred and was handled at the time. This investigation has concluded that UBC’s default setting for Zoom meetings at the time of the lecture was to allow annotation by all participants. This default setting had not been changed for this lecture, which permitted any participant to draw and write on the screen. Second, the meeting ID and password were shared publicly on X (formerly Twitter) without the law school’s knowledge just before the beginning of Dean Atuguba’s lecture. This expanded the pool of individuals who could enter the Zoom Meeting as participants. Third, as noted above, when the offensive images first appeared, our initial reaction was to take steps to remove the images rather than to immediately end the Zoom meeting.
We also committed as part of our response to reviewing our practices around Zoom in order to minimize the risk of incidents like this occurring in future. One important change flowing from this incident relates to action taken by UBC. After being notified of this incident, UBC has updated the default setting for Zoom so that the host will have the option to allow participants to annotate as opposed to it being on by default. With respect to Allard Law Zoom procedures, we will now be recommending that all hybrid or online events involving external speakers be held using Zoom Webinars (in which attendees cannot interact with one another) rather than Zoom Meetings (in which attendees may actively participate). As well, it will now be our policy that in circumstances where it is not possible to immediately identify and remove a disruptive meeting participant, the Zoom Meeting should be ended.
I understand that this incident has made some of you, and in particular the Black members of our community, feel unsafe or fearful. Over the course of the past week, I have met with representatives from the UBC Black Law Students’ Association as well as graduate students who were particularly impacted by this incident. Details will soon be circulated about an upcoming listening session for any students who would like to discuss this incident of anti-Black racism and its impact on them.
The incident of anti-Black racism at Dean Atuguba’s lecture is a sad reminder of the racial animus that persists in our world. We are committed to doing what we can on campus and in the broader community to challenge and address anti-Black racism, and to make our law school a place where Black students, staff, and faculty can feel safe and can thrive. We recognize that there is a lot of work to do. We will continue to pursue initiatives and opportunities that celebrate and encourage Black excellence, and to foster belonging for Black students, staff, and faculty. There is no place for racism at Allard Hall.
Peter A. Allard School of Law
University of British Columbia