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.”