As Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the continent and Toronto following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black people by police, groups around campus released statements of solidarity and calls to action, detailing the need for anti-racism work at U of T.
On June 1, U of T President Meric Gertler also released a statement standing in solidarity with U of T’s Black community members and affirming his commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion.
The Varsity reviewed how the U of T administration has since acted in response to the protests this summer, as well as how the administrations at two federated colleges, Victoria College and Trinity College, have advanced anti-racism efforts.
National dialogue series, anti-racism training
U of T, alongside other Canadian universities and colleges, will be leading a national dialogue on anti-Black racism in Canadian postsecondary education through a series called “National Dialogues and Action for Inclusive Higher Education and Communities.” The series aims to discuss how to take action against anti-Black racism in higher education communities and is scheduled to begin at the end of September or beginning of October.
Some have criticized the series, saying that it is hypocritical of U of T to spearhead such an initiative because of issues of anti-Black racism on campus and a general lack of action in addressing anti-Black racism.
“Canadian universities by and large are deeply anti-Black places,” said Rinaldo Walcott, a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and the Women & Gender Studies Institute, in an interview with The Varsity. He also criticized U of T for leading a conversation on anti-Black racism at Canadian universities while, in his perspective, not doing this on its own campus. According to Walcott, U of T has “consistently not dealt with anti-Blackness.”
In a tweet about the national dialogue, Walcott referred to U of T as one of the most anti-Black universities in the country, later explaining his comments by saying, “You only need to look at the number of Black faculty at U of T; you only need to ask Black students about their experiences.”
Walcott pointed to Dalhousie University as an example of an institution that he sees doing a better job of addressing anti-Black racism on campus. In 2019, Dalhousie publicly apologized after a report by its professors revealed that its namesake, George Ramsay, the ninth earl of Dalhousie, had ties to slavery. The report also gave a number of recommendations for addressing anti-Black racism on campus.
Elsewhere, a spokesperson from U of T pointed to the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office (ARCDO) as providing support for organizations on campus, including education and training. The ARCDO will be running a training series to address anti-Black racism, which is already at capacity for 2020.
“The University acknowledges that education and training alone is not enough and so we continue to work with our faculty, staff and students to address anti-Black racism and create an inclusive and welcoming community,” wrote the spokesperson to The Varsity.
Anti-racism efforts at Victoria College, Trinity College
Victoria College President William Robins released a statement after the killing of George Floyd this past May acknowledging historical and present day racism that exists in the university and a need for “concrete, Victoria-specific actions” in support of Black community members.
Following this statement, the Victoria College Dean’s Office set up a series of meetings with the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) and the Victoria College Black Student Network (Vic Black). The university hopes the meetings will allow students to communicate concerns to the administration, as well as VUSAC, and find areas for improvement within Victoria College.
“Concrete actions that are currently being implemented as a result of these conversations include the hiring of a [Black, Indigenous, or people of colour (BIPOC)] counsellor at Victoria College, the creation of an anti-Black racism event for orientation and making VUSAC elections more accessible for racialized students,” said VUSAC President Michelle Zhao and Vice-President External Mehr Mukhtar.
Victoria College Dean Kelley Castle identified the idea to hire a BIPOC counsellor as having come from Vic Black.
Victoria College will also be holding a conference on race and racism on campus in the fall, with Vic Black participating in the organization. Castle also pointed to training on anti-racism, inclusivity, and diversity that is being planned for the staff, as well as sessions during orientation and don training.
“The students have been very generous with their time and feedback. Conversations have been compassionate and upsetting in equal and good measure,” said Castle.
Meanwhile, over the summer, Trinity College students spoke out about their experiences of anti-Black racism at the institution. In an op-ed in The Varsity, three Black students from Trinity College denounced the college for a perceived lack of action against anti-Black racism, writing that the “voices and experiences of Black students will not go unheard anymore.”
Following Black student advocacy efforts, the college announced an anti-racism taskforce on June 22, which is expected to create an action plan to combat anti-Blackness at the college. More recently, a new bursary has been collecting funds for BIPOC students. The bursary aims to increase “the amount of funding available for BIPOC students providing additional support to further ensure their success.”