Petition calls on U of T to implement a mandatory course on anti-racism

UTM BSA executive member's initiative has garnered over 10,000 signatures

Petition calls on U of T to implement a mandatory course on anti-racism

A petition for U of T to implement a mandatory course on anti-racism has gained over 10,000 signatures. Jahnae Jones-Haywood, a fourth-year student studying criminology and ethics, society, and law and an executive member of the UTM Black Students’ Association started the petition, inspired by her friend, who started a similar one calling for the University of Guelph to implement a mandatory anti-oppression course.

In the past month, there have been widespread protests against racial injustice and police brutality in response to numerous incidents of violence against Black and Indigenous people in North America. 

Jones-Haywood wrote to The Varsity that these “countless instances of racism, police brutality and the systemic racism found within policing” are reasons for an anti-racism course to be introduced. She believes that having such a course at U of T could also influence other institutions across the country to follow suit. “It is time for our education systems to take the lead and influence the minds of our future leaders and citizens.”

Jones-Haywood believes that the course content should address issues such as “the history of Black and Indigenous persons in North America, institutionalized racism, intergenerational trauma, and methods to being actively anti-racist in our everyday lives.”

She feels that the ideal format for such a course would be similar to other courses in the social sciences department. She explained that essay writing and testing on the course material would be beneficial in establishing a clear understanding of the concepts and practicing them in everyday life.

There has been opposition to the course from students on Reddit, based on concerns of what this would look like in terms of costs and implementation, among other concerns. There has been no action from U of T administration in terms of implementing a mandatory anti-racism course, and the petition lacks concrete details as to what this course should look like in the realm of fees, requirements, and implementation.

However, Jones-Haywood commented that she hopes “for the course to be free of charge as it is the universities [sic] responsibility to ensure that its students and faculty are properly educated on these matters.”

A U of T spokesperson wrote to The Varsity, writing that the university considers recommendations like an anti-racism course while examining academic program changes. “Decisions about academic programs are made at the level of each School or Faculty,” wrote the spokesperson. “Course requirements are developed in a way that is appropriate and meaningful for each program of study across our 18 academic divisions, and contextualized within a student’s academic experience.” 

Jones-Haywood expressed that she was not impressed by the statement U of T gave Global News, calling it “rather textbook.” 

A U of T spokesperson added that a few courses that examine and dissect racism are currently being offered across the three campuses. 

Going forward, Jones-Haywood wants to continue gaining signatures on the petition to garner enough support to warrant action from U of T when she brings it forward. She hopes that the university will listen and work with her to create such a course, and to introduce it across all three campuses.

Jones-Haywood realizes that it might be difficult to get the university to implement a mandatory anti-racism course, but she is determined to continue working on it. “I’m not backing down from this and I think they will eventually see that this is more than within their power and very necessary.”

It takes a village to raise a child — or two

A PhD student reflects on raising kids on campus through COVID-19

It takes a village to raise a child — or two

I felt quite psychologically prepared when I headed out for my PhD study at U of T. Having been an exchange student in California and finishing my first master’s in London, I considered myself a veteran of acculturation, but there was one thing I underestimated in my transition — this time I would be with my then-two-year-old son.

Fighting for child care spots, feeding, bathing, co-playing, and bedside storytelling, along with commuting between my home, child care, and my lab, were all not set out in my research proposal. Catching up on newly published papers in the evenings was pure luxury.

While my cohort used the glorious Canadian summer for more research activities, given the lessening of the teaching assistant burden, I was leaving my lab early to pick up my boy from different summer camps. Writing at home during the weekends hardly happened. 

I did not realize how much my wife was sharing the responsibility until she was back to our hometown to deliver our second boy, just three months after she finished her Master of Laws at U of T. Being emotionally present for a three-and-a-half year old who was unable to see his mother for three months was far from easy, despite the fact that I had been working with children as a clinician for nearly a decade. 

Our second son’s cuteness could only be matched with the attention he demanded. I am extremely lucky that his older brother loved him so much. Fortunately, we managed to secure a place in the child care centre at UTSC, where my lab is located, which meant that I no longer needed to join the downtown traffic daily. 

COVID-19 hit science hard, but perhaps the family of a graduate student harder. The city lockdown since March meant that our flat turned into an indoor playground as well as a home office for both me and my wife. Soon, we found out that the co-existence of these two functions was hardly possible. 

The time needed to keep the boys attended to and entertained was like a full-time job itself. We had to learn to juggle e-learning time, indoor physical activities, webinars, virtual lab meetings, and journal clubs. 

Financially, my wife’s work hours were reduced to three days a week in April, which affected the family income and our eligibility for a child care subsidy in the long run. As a funded student, I don’t qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, despite the fact that my income from my part-time clinical practice has been greatly affected. We were lucky to have some savings to count on for the time being, but I could easily imagine many other graduate students could be less lucky than me. 

Amidst all the happenings of the two-and-a-half years of my PhD journey, I reckon that institutional support has played a crucial role. I am full of gratitude that the university has saved me several times through child care services, the parent workshops provided by the Family Care Office, the Family Study Space inside Robarts Library, and the faculty emergency bursary formed in response to the pandemic.

Beyond these tangible supports, the feeling of being supported by the school, my supervisors, and other students has been the most important thing during the low times. 

Time management skills, such as breaking the days and weeks into small blocks and marking each slot with small goals, are truly helpful. I find reaching out to the community of other students and staff with children is also beneficial. The time I spent swimming and playing tennis could be substituted by the time I spend playing with my children. 

There are times when turning on the working laptop becomes difficult. Those are the times I allow myself to take a long break — a day or so — to reflect on the many blessings I have in life. Apart from the scientific knowledge and techniques, my PhD journey has helped me to appreciate how literally a village is needed to raise a child — or two in my case.