Call for Carleton U & NPSIA: Reject Dr. Carvin's Offensive Actions and Promote Anti-Racism

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On September 3, 2020, Dr. Stephanie Carvin, Assistant Professor at Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA) at Carleton University, proudly shared on her Twitter account gruesome depictions of killings of Muslim and Brown bodies as terrorists on cakes. Dr. Carvin stated that her newly obtained academic tenure gave her the “courage” to express herself without scrutiny. 

As a tenured instructor and a representative of Carleton University, Dr. Carvin has used her public and very active twitter platform to trivialize the dehumanization of people of colour in the context of the war on terror. Considering her roles as educator and security expert frequently called upon by the media, it is unacceptable that Dr. Carvin’s actions directly contribute to the stigmatization and “othering” of marginalized communities. As members and allies of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) community, we are denouncing her actions and we are calling on Carleton University and NPSIA to publicly denounce Dr. Carvin's actions and to commit to an anti-racist environment by offering the necessary training and resources to its faculty members.

As humans, we understand that people make mistakes everyday, but Dr. Carvin admitted to knowing exactly what she was doing as this was the second time over the last decade that she published the images and sparked widespread criticism.

Seven years ago, Dr. Carvin proudly shared online her offensive depiction of the killings of terrorists on cakes. Rolling Stone Magazine caught wind of this and publicly criticized her actions, deeming them tasteless, which led Dr. Carvin to hide her identity as their creator. She has since admitted that these actions, which happened during her time working for the Government of Canada, forced her supervisor to intervene due to their insensitive nature. Since then, she has proudly claimed credit for several offensive depictions, including:

  • A woman wearing a traditional hijab to represent the terrorist group "Al Shabbab";
  • A killed turbaned man to represent the movie "Zero Dark Thirty" (a movie with a strong pro-torture slant); and
  • A Brown terrorist being killed by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Regarding the recent events (September 3, 2020), Dr. Carvin dismissed and ridiculed concerns raised by followers. This type of response is common to minorities in Canada, whose genuine grievances are often dismissed as “overly-sensitive” reactions to what people who benefit from systems of power deem a “joke”. Dr. Carvin’s insensitivity makes us question her ability to interact with students from diverse racial, cultural, and religious backgrounds. It also begs the question if Dr. Carvin really understands the concerns about her actions. As stated in the September 16, 2020, Just Security article What a Few Cakes Say About the US Drone Program, "[Dr. Carvin's] perspective on the targeted killing program is, however, also a byproduct of a national security establishment in which these attitudes are rarely criticized and often promoted".

As members and allies of the BIPOC community, we find that Dr. Carvin's actions are offensive for several reasons, including:

  1. Her portrayal of mangled brown bodies mocks the killings of individuals and is a form of dehumanization of the deceased.
  2. Key information regarding UAV strikes and the war on terror was excluded, such as the issues of collateral damage, extra judicial killings, and stigmatization of minority groups.

To our dismay, two fellow NPSIA professors publicly support Dr. Carvin’s actions: Dr. Stephen Saideman stated that he is glad that Dr. Carvin will be using her new tenured position to “right wrongs, speak truths, and bake awesome cakes”; whereas, Dr. Philippe Lagassé indicated his support by noting, “This is why tenure exists”. It would be highly disappointing to think that the purpose of tenure is to be granted the ability to act insensitively without repercussion.

Actions taken so far
Following the recent events, members of the Ottawa BIPOC Network (the Network) sent a letter to Carleton University and NPSIA’s senior leadership, urging that Dr. Carvin’s actions be addressed promptly and adequately. The Network called for these institutions to issue a public statement denouncing Dr. Carvin’s actions and the support she received from Dr. Saideman and Dr. Lagassé. They also requested to further invest in resources and training for faculty members that cultivate an environment of anti-racism.  

Unfortunately, to date, NPSIA and Carleton University have not publicly addressed the concerns raised and have not disclosed any information related to broader anti-racism programming. In his response to the Network, the Director of NPSIA, Dr. Yiagadeesen Samy stated that Dr. Carvin’s actions had been reviewed and addressed, but privacy laws prevented him from disclosing what actions, if any, were taken. Dr. Samy remained silent on further steps. Notwithstanding legitimate legal constraints, the Network found this response vague.

In 2020, NPSIA and Carleton University must cultivate an environment that is safe and inclusive of all its students, faculty, staff, guests, and alumni.

The signatories to this petition support the Ottawa BIPOC Network as they seek actions from Carleton University and NPSIA that could help mend some of the harm caused by Dr. Carvin and prevent future incidents like this one.

 

The Ottawa BIPOC Network and its allies

 

Related information

Link to February 2013 Rolling Stones Magazine article criticizing Dr. Carvin's "drone cakes": https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/house-hearing-fails-to-address-major-concerns-with-targeted-killing-program-98862/ 

Link to September 2020 Just Security article on Dr. Carvin's "drone cakes": https://www.justsecurity.org/72430/what-a-few-cakes-say-about-the-us-drone-program/

Link to Dr. Carvin’s admitting to the making of the cakes and of the previous times that she had been criticized for it: https://archive.is/ojNi0

Link to Dr. Carvin’s other cake depictions: https://web.archive.org/web/20170519125703/https://lawfareblog.com/baker-hard-national-security-choices-strikes-again