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Opinion: U of T’s awareness of anti-Black racism isn’t enough — it must defund Campus Police

Analyzing the university’s response to Black Lives Matter
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The Anti-Black Racism Task Force isn't enough to quell student concerns about discrimination on campus. MAARYA ZAFAR/THE VARSITY
The Anti-Black Racism Task Force isn't enough to quell student concerns about discrimination on campus. MAARYA ZAFAR/THE VARSITY

None of us are strangers to the Black Lives Matter protests happening all over the world since May. The murder of George Floyd ignited a fire that has long been simmering underneath a veil of oppression and racial injustice. Black people are finally being joined by allies in order to bring about justice — long overdue justice.

The United States government and police departments are under the watchful eye of the protestors as they demand action. However, this does not leave out the Canadian government, officials, or schools — such as U of T.

Initiatives to combat anti-Black racism

U of T has taken a number of initiatives over the years to ensure diversity and inclusion for all, but as students, we must ask ourselves: is it enough?

The university has recently released an article that “expresses solidarity with the Black community.” In it, U of T lists a series of anti-Black racism initiatives and Kelly Hannah-Moffat, U of T Vice-President Human Resources & Equity said that the university is committed to “providing an inclusive environment for everyone at the University of Toronto.”

For instance, U of T’s Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office holds a number of workshops in order to educate faculty and students about their roles as allies and spread awareness about the need for social justice. Similarly, the university has launched a Black Students Application Program to promote Black enrollees in the fields of law and medicine.

All these initiatives reflect an awareness on the part of the university about its role and influence in promoting anti-racism practices and advocating for change.

Calls to defund Campus Police

On the other hand, there has been no adequate response to two open letters from community members calling on the university to defund Campus Police. The two letters — one written in November 2019 and the other written in August 2020 — both demand racial justice, anti-racism practices, and an end to police brutality at U of T.

The impetus for these letters was the arrest and handcuffing of a racialized student at UTM who was seeking mental health services.

In response, university administrators claimed that they would review services and protocols. There was no direct comment from U of T President Meric Gertler, to whom the letters were addressed.

These vague statements provide no clarity about U of T’s plan to put improved protocols in place to end police brutality.

This behaviour by the university calls into question whether it truly believes in and is working toward an inclusive environment to end all racist practices, or is it simply putting out superficial statements while blatantly ignoring the hidden, ugly truth.

As stated by Beverly Bain, a historical studies lecturer at UTM, “In this particular time, it’s not enough for all universities to just put out a statement on ‘anti-Black racism’ and ‘Black lives matter.’ ”

Be it developing new programs or diversifying faculty and staff, there will be no justice for the Black community until we receive a concrete plan from the administration ensuring the defunding of Campus Police and installation of proper procedures for student safety.

Newest measure, the Anti-Black Racism Task Force

The university has recently announced the formation of the Anti-Black Racism Task Force, which will consist of four faculty co-chairs along with other faculty, students, and staff. The task force aims to examine existing procedures addressing anti-Black racism and further promote inclusion at U of T.

This is not the first time U of T has created a task force in the face of student and staff pressure. In response to vast protests in 2019 regarding the mental health crisis, Gertler launched the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health aimed at reviewing existing procedures and initiating inclusive policies tackling the issue on campus.

Though it had some positive impacts, the initiative was met with criticism from many students on the grounds of underrepresentation and the fact that the task force did not tackle all the relevant issues surrounding mental health at U of T.

This mixed reaction from the student body calls into question how effective the Anti-Black Racism Task Force will be. Though it sounds like a step down the right path, there has been no explicit mention of plans to defund Campus Police. Also, the issue of uncertainty in policy-making still stands, much like with the previous task force.

As students and faculty members, we must recognize the grave issues surrounding us and constantly call for action and question our leaders until we receive proper answers and support. We need to incorporate anti-racist work into our daily lives and actively seek to achieve racial equality.

The non-racialized members of this community also need to realize that they come from a place of privilege and should use this position of power for the good of their racialized peers. This can be achieved by questioning Eurocentric class syllabi, advocating for racialized authors and groups to be read and studied in courses, and reaching out to racialized classmates to ensure they feel heard and welcomed in their classes.

The Black community has suffered enough, and it is our duty as allies and members of the U of T community to ensure that the racism ends here.

Divya Gupta is a first-year cognitive science and computer science student at University College.