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University of Victoria Students' Society plans consumer boycott of Maclean's

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Maclean's may be Canada's magazine, but the University of Victoria Students' Society (UVSS) is saying it isn't UVic's magazine.

The UVSS board of directors passed a motion at their Nov. 29 meeting that will ban sales of Maclean's from the Student Union Building (SUB) if the national publication does not apologize for their article, "Too Asian?" by Dec. 31. The motion also directed UVSS Chairperson James Coccola and Director-at-Large Jaraad Marani, who moved the motion, to send a letter to Maclean's condemning the article.

The article, which discusses the numbers of "Asian" students at some Canadian universities and what this means for white students, has sparked a nation-wide controversy.

Marani says the article was used as a platform to perpetuate stereotypes.

"[It perpetuates stereotypes] that Asians are smarter because of culturally enforced values that make them study harder and have less of a focus on being social and the social experience of university than "white" students," he explained. "It kind of creates a divide between Canadian and Asians, in that being non-white is not Canadian, and that being Canadian is white."

Marani says that these stereotypes are based on 150 years of anti-immigrant and anti-"Asian" sentiment in Canadian media.

Approximately 25 students attended the board meeting in support of the motion, which was debated for two and a half hours. Co-ordinators from the Students of Colour Collective and UVic Pride, as well as other students, encouraged the board to pass this motion.

The decision was not unanimous, however: five directors opposed the motion and 12 were in favour.

"I see us deciding to stop sales of Maclean's because of one article that was a very political article as a form of censorship. The students' society is doing what they can to stop students from having access to that publication, which is censorship," said Director-at-Large Nathan Warner who opposed the motion. "Yes, some people may have taken it as offensive, but I don't think the article was offensive. I think it was provocative; I think the article was there to stir up some controversy for people to get talking about it, which is great, because dialogue on these issues is great."

Warner said if an amendment, moved by Director of Finance Kelsey Hannan, to remove the clause about stopping the sales of Maclean's, had passed, he would have supported the motion.

"I would have supported the letter. I think that, yes, the article was a bit touchy, maybe a bit too far, maybe they didn't see it at the time when they published it, but in hindsight, they realized it was a bit too far over the edge," he said. "I think a letter being sent to Maclean's condemning the article, [saying] ‘our members are concerned with this and we would like you to apologize,' [would be] fine, but taking the step towards what I call censorship is not acceptable."

Marani was surprised that the motion garnered so much debate.

"I'm really surprised that with the overwhelming [number of] people that came out . . . that there was still five directors that voted against it. I think that it doesn't stand in solidarity with students of colour across Canada," he said.

"There was the Students of Colour Collective that came out, and a number of their students, asking the board to stand in solidarity, and yet we still see those five people that refused to stand in solidarity. I think is extremely problematic because they're supposed to speak for students . . . and they refused to acknowledge that."

Marani emphasized that the motion is not about censorship.

"It's more of a consumer boycott. It's the UVSS as a buyer, and we have policies on being ethical and operating in an anti-racist framework," he explained. "Therefore we have chosen to exercise our power in not purchasing materials that have been deemed problematic and racist."

Maclean's says they are disappointed in the decision.

"We are disappointed with this decision, particularly because it was made on a university campus, a safe-spot for the discussion of ideas and issues, even if those issues are difficult, at times, to discuss," said the editors of Maclean's in an email to the Martlet. "Furthermore, the [UVSS'] decision is not based on a fair reading of our original article, which is actually supportive of Asian students, or the editorial that subsequently ran in response to the public discussion about the article."

On Nov. 25, Maclean's published "Merit: the best and only way to decide who gets into university," a response to the controversy generated by the "Too Asian?" article.

"I was very glad to see the apology sort of note that they had posted on their site a couple of days later. I think it did clear up a lot of the issues and they worded it very careful to try and say [they] intended for this article to be a bit out there maybe but not to be offensive and [they are] sorry for that and I'm glad they put that up there," said Warner. "Maclean's wasn't trying to promote a system of race profiling for admission to schools. They were just bringing up the issue and trying to get people to talk about it."

"I think it was an apology. Some people seem to think it wasn't."

Marani is one of these people.

"We are looking for a genuine apology. What they wrote was a response to legitimate their actions," he said. "We are looking for ownership of the impact of their article, not hiding behind a non-issue of race-based admissions based on ‘Asian' students."

Marani said university administrations across the country have come out and said there has never been discussion around race-based admissions in Canada.

"It is a non-issue. Maclean's invented it to sell magazines," he said. "They are creating it where there is nothing and a lot of people are falling for that trap, that it's not really about being too ‘Asian' -- it's about race based admissions."

SUBtext, the only SUB business that sells Maclean's, sold less than 10 copies of the magazine last year.

According to Coccola, the motion may spark a larger consumer boycott.

"The Canadian Federation of Students passed a motion last week about this, basically condemning Maclean's for the article. At that time, a number of schools were waiting to see what the UVSS did before they pursued motions of their own. So in the next few weeks, it's very likely that you'll see a number of other schools follow the same route," he said.

Marani hopes Coccola's correct.

"We want other student societies to stand in solidarity and to start a consumer boycott across Maclean's."

Coccola emphasized that, while the financial impact of the UVSS boycott alone is minimal, it's about more than just finances.

"It could have an impact if more student societies go this route," he said.

"We're standing up for what students asked us to stand up for."

Victoria city council recently passed a motion condemning the "Too Asian?" article -- becoming the first municipality in the country to do so.

This article was first published in the University of Victoria students' newspaper the Martlet.

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