A graduate dormitory at the University of Toronto offered red envelopes containing “hell money” meant for the deceased to its students during Lunar New Year.
The residence building placed a bowl of red envelopes on the front desk of the dormitory’s main entrance. But to the surprise of its residents, the pockets contained paper money with the words “Hell Bank Note” printed in English.
The notes, known as “joss paper,” are used as burnt offerings to ancestors and deceased family members or relatives in Chinese culture, according to The Strand. The envelopes were collected by students on Feb. 1 and posted to social media, leading to online criticism against the university.
An Instagram meme account of the University of Toronto shared the incident with a photo caption that read: “Grad House staff gives Asian students HELL MONEY inside the red envelope.”
The caption of the Instagram post reads: “Giving 冥币 (hell money) to a living person is a horrible act because you are conveying to the person that ‘You are dead to me’ or worse, ‘l wish you are dead.’”
“Judging by the Grad House website, they have several Asian-looking staff members on the team, and numerous Asian students living in Grad House,” the caption continued. “It is very clear that not only none of the students/staff from the Asian cultural community was consulted in preparation for this event, but also none of their staff cared enough to look at the things they put in the red envelopes. Therefore, this is a serious act out of, and which will maintain, cultural imperialism, white supremacy, and oppression forced upon Asian students.”
The backlash has prompted an apology from the graduate dormitory. esidents reportedly received an email that read: “In celebration of Lunar new year, our team placed a bowl with red envelopes for residents yesterday. We were not aware of the inappropriate nature of the currency inside the envelopes until it was too late. We want to express our sincerest apologies for this error. Our goal was to create a festive atmosphere and did not realize the error we made. There was no malicious attempt behind this action and we deeply apologize for this error and the impact it had on our residents.”
“We aim to promote a safe and inclusive space at Graduate House, and we will be more vigilant in the future,” the Graduate House added. “To prevent any similar occurrences, we will work together with our community partners to recognize cultural appropriateness.”
The Governing Council of the University of Toronto also apologized and assured its students that the envelopes were withdrawn. An apology letter was written in Chinese and posted to the council’s official WeChat account on Feb.3, according to The Strand.
“Chinese New Year should be happy and peaceful, and the University of Toronto deeply regrets the mistake,” the Governing Council of the University of Toronto stated. “U of T is firmly committed to the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion. We will continue to strengthen important campus education efforts to increase knowledge and understanding of our diverse community to deepen inclusivity and belonging across our three campuses.”