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Architecture unions announce boycott of faculty’s Diversity and Equity Committee

Students make four demands with concerns about structure, transparency
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The John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design building on Spadina Crescent. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY
The John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design building on Spadina Crescent. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

At a Faculty Council meeting on February 24, three student unions from the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design announced that they will be suspending their participation in the faculty’s Diversity and Equity Committee until their demands for restructuring and transparency are met. The Diversity and Equity Committee is tasked with making equity recommendations to the Faculty Council.

The three groups — the Architecture and Visual Studies Students’ Union (AVSSU), the Graduate Architecture, Landscape, and Design Student Union (GALDSU), and the Forestry Graduate Students’ Association (FGSA) — wrote an open statement expressing their concerns and outlining four key changes that must be implemented before the unions end their boycott.

In the letter, they expressed that the committee is “inefficient and ineffective in [their] collective goal to implement structural changes to make [the faculty] a diverse and equitable environment.” 

Diversity and inclusion demand

Amid the Black Lives Matter protests in June, the faculty reaffirmed its commitment to “seeking a just society without discrimination,” noting that mechanisms like the committee were already in place to address such concerns.

Later that month, the same three unions published an open letter to the faculty demanding that it take immediate action to address systemic racism within the faculty. The unions’ recommendations included decolonizing the faculty’s curriculum, releasing an equity strategy plan, and improving resources for racialized students.

However, despite the faculty’s mention of the committee as a way to address systemic problems, the unions’ most recent statement still calls into question the faculty’s willingness to engage with students. The letter claims that the committee has failed to fulfill its mandate of advising the faculty’s governing body on addressing equity goals. 

The unions added that the current structure “discourages meaningful participation” because all decisions are made by the chair, thereby “reducing the meetings to a formality.” To rectify this, the letter demands that all decisions be made collectively, and any actions and consultations taken on the behalf of the committee must include committee members. The unions are also calling for more transparency, since meeting minutes have failed to record dissent and maintained the anonymity of commenters. 

Other demands include the removal of the chair and the implementation of an elected co-chair system that would include faculty and students. Moreover, the unions noted that the liaison position at the committee, intended to be an “impartial mediator,” has instead assumed the position of advisor and secretary. 

“Collectively, we share the same goal of the betterment of our community,” the unions expressed. “We look forward to continuing to work with you once our concerns have been addressed.”

Response from faculty

According to Professor Robert Wright, Interim Dean of the faculty, he met with students two days after the Faculty Council meeting to determine how the faculty could address their concerns, restructure, and move forward. 

“My first priority… is to ensure that [the faculty has] an inclusive learning environment that is free from harassment and discrimination,” Wright wrote in an email to The Varsity. “I take the joint statement issued by our student unions incredibly seriously.”

He added that dismantling systemic racism will require a “continuous and sustained effort” and that the faculty is actively recruiting a director of equity, diversity, and inclusion. The director will work with community members to implement initiatives that will advance equity, diversity, and inclusion at the faculty. 

Moreover, independent consultants will begin leading focus groups with students, staff, and faculty on anti-Black racism next week to “capture in-depth perspectives.” 

“I look forward to continuing this collective work with students, staff, faculty, and alumni as we build a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture at the Daniels Faculty,” Wright concluded. 

The AVSSU, GALDSU, and FGSA declined The Varsity’s request for further comment.