Over one third of Pakistan is underwater after devastating floods have killed over a thousand people and left millions displaced. The flooding is projected to worsen in the coming days and over 33 million people left unhoused are in dire need of humanitarian aid. But the McGill administration and student leadership have remained largely silent amidst this environmental and humanitarian crisis, and McGill has yet to divest from fossil fuel companies that are directly contributing to the climate crisis.
Climate change has increased the severity of natural disasters overall, but continues to disproportionately affect lower and middle-income countries. And in Pakistan, this is unfolding in real time. The McGill community’s inaction reveals the hypocrisy of its treatment of racialized peoples and reflects a broader issue of a university apathetic to their needs.
Despite Pakistan seeing its worst monsoon rains in a decade, the McGill administration has still not released a statement or offered any services to support students from Pakistan who may be affected. In comparison, a week after the war in Ukraine began, former President and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier released a statement expressing solidarity with Ukraine and offering support for Ukrainian and Russian students. The lack of similar measures for Pakistani students is especially notable because they make up more than twice the student population of Russian and Ukrainian students combined. The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) has also failed to release a statement or mobilize in support of their Pakistani constituency. It is hard for students from Pakistan to receive what they need from the university when the student body representing them chooses to remain silent.
To make matters worse, McGill has refused to divest from fossil fuel companies for decades despite extensive campaigns from student activists. Here we see the inequality of the climate crisis on full display: Higher-income nations and their institutions are responsible for the bulk of carbon dioxide emissions globally, but lower-income nations like Pakistan bear the brunt of increasingly deadly natural disasters. As a colonial institution, McGill is continuing its legacy by making Pakistan, a formerly colonized country, suffer the consequences of Western greed at the expense of human lives.
The university’s silence towards Pakistani students is cold and dehumanizing. How should students be expected to write exams or papers when their families are displaced, or their homes and cities have been destroyed? It is especially appalling considering that McGill fulfilled their duty of offering support and solidarity to students affected by the war in Ukraine. McGill prioritizing one group, white Europeans, over another, South Asians, reaffirms that the university places racialized students at the bottom of its hierarchy of suffering and does not view their pain as equally important.
Considering their treatment of other racialized groups, McGill’s treatment of Pakistani students is unfortunately unsurprising. Within the past year, McGill has engaged in a legal battle with the Kanien’kehá:ka Kahnistensera (Mohawk Mothers); has resisted calls to change its name to stop memorializing an enslaver of Indigenous and Black people; and threatened to terminate SSMU’s Memorandum of Agreement with the university if they adopted the democratically-passed Palestine Solidarity Policy. These actions taken by McGill, and their inaction regarding Pakistan, reveal a pattern of active apathy towards racialized students on campus.
McGill’s disregard is embarrassing when compared to positive actions taken by other universities. The University of Toronto announced plans to divest from fossil fuel companies, and Toronto Metropolitan University adopted a new name after repeated calls from students. McGill has become a pariah in its disrespect, and its response to the situation in Pakistan is yet another egregious example.
The McGill administration and student unions must take action in response to the urgent crisis in Pakistan and release a long overdue statement offering solidarity and support—including mental health resources and exam accommodations—to students, faculty, and staff who are affected by the crisis. Students should also become more involved by educating themselves and emailing members of student government to advocate for affected students. McGill must end its immoral investments that perpetuate neo-colonialism and inflict harm on lower-income countries. Finally, McGill must stop acting like a corporation and, instead, act like the institution of higher learning they say they are and listen to the student voices they take pride in developing.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to students from Pakistan as “South-East Asians”. In reality, Pakistan is found in South Asia. The Tribune regrets this error.