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U of T creates Anti-Black Racism Task Force to combat systemic racism on campus

Appointment of special advisor at UTM among other anti-racist initiatives
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U of T has launched an Anti-Black Racism Task Force. NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY
U of T has launched an Anti-Black Racism Task Force. NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

In response to the public’s demands for greater action against systemic racism, U of T has announced the creation of the Anti-Black Racism Task Force to tackle the issue on campus. It is meant to capture the experiences of Black students, faculty, and staff, and identify the different types of barriers they face.

The task force will be led by Professor Dexter Voisin, Dean of the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work; Professor Njoki Wane, Chair of Social Justice Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education; Desma Charlemagne-Michel, Director of Human Resource Services at UTSC; and Roger Bulgin, Chief Administrative Officer at Woodsworth College.

U of T President Meric Gertler is expected to receive a report with the task force’s findings by March 31, 2021.

Task force mandate

In June, Gertler released a statement in response to cases of police brutality and systemic racism in Canada and the United States. He condemned anti-Black racism, reasserted U of T’s commitment to supporting its Black community members, and acknowledged the hard work of campus groups like the Black Students’ Association in fighting anti-Black racism.

Moreover, he announced that various initiatives would be organized in the coming months by several U of T apparatuses already combating systemic racism, such as the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office (ARCDO). The Anti-Racism Task Force is one of the most recent initiatives announced.

Besides aiming to understand the experience of Black members in the U of T community and identifying barriers they face, the task force also plans to review U of T’s current strategies for addressing anti-Black racism. The Anti-Black Racism Task Force will conduct an examination of the different initiatives and resources across all three campuses, and determine if additional strategies will be necessary.

An anonymous feedback form will also be available on the task force’s website so that it has a connection to the U of T community. This is part of its consultation-based approach and goal of “respectfully responding to people’s lived experiences.” Community members will also be able to share their thoughts in feedback sessions that will most likely be held in a virtual format over the course of the 2020–2021 school year.

Ultimately, the task force will provide recommendations to the president, vice-president resources and equity, and provost “that will further Black [inclusion] and excellence.”

Special advisor position

U of T has also appointed Professor Rhonda McEwen as a special advisor on anti-racism and equity at UTM. McEwen has been involved in multiple diversity and equity initiatives prior to this appointment, including Black Table Talks, a networking opportunity for Black community members, and Visions of Science, an event meant to introduce marginalized communities to STEM.

McEwen’s role is to advise Vice-Principal and President of UTM Alexandra Gillespie as well as other members of the executive team. “Her position is to speak and for us to listen,” Gillespie clarified in an interview with U of T News. McEwen has already planned a listening tour where she can speak with the UTM unit head to gain insights.

This approach aims to be intersectional, not only targeting anti-Black racism, but also focusing on improving the experiences of all racialized community members and those in the LGBTQ+ community.

Community response

In an email to The Varsity, Sandra Osazuwa, President of U of T’s Black Graduate Students’ Association (BGSA), expressed optimism about U of T’s efforts to challenge anti-Black racism on campus. “We are glad to see the new wave of interest [ARCDO] has received and we hope that they are getting the institutional support that they deem necessary,” Osazuwa wrote.

She added that “this aspiration extends to all other initiatives… that aim to make the campus a safer, more enjoyable and more dignifying place for Black students.”

Moreover, Osazuwa brought up the importance of representation and gratitude she and the BGSA at large felt toward “capable Black leaders.” She also acknowledged the pressure that many of these leaders may be facing and reiterated that she hopes they will receive the support that they deserve from the U of T community.

“We are interested in continuing to see the ways in which the university aims to improve the quality of learning, experiences, and holistic well-being of Black students, staff members, [and] the larger community in solidarity.”

The Varsity has reached out to The Black Students’ Association for comment.