On November 18, student, staff, and faculty from postsecondary institutions across Canada gathered over Zoom to sign the Scarborough Charter, which recognizes systemic racism in postsecondary structures, policies, and procedures. 

The charter is the outcome of collaborative work between partner institutions, sector-wide bodies, and Black leaders and organizations. It was organized after last year’s National Dialogues and Action for Inclusive Higher Education and Communities forum

The Scarborough Charter

Led by Wisdom Tettey, UTSC’s vice-president & principal, the Inter-Institutional Advisory Committee drafted the charter based on four principles meant to help the university build concrete plans for addressing anti-Black racism and fostering Black inclusion. 

These principles include removing institutional barriers to equity and recognizing intersectional identities, recognizing that inclusivity and diversity are critical to excellence, taking responsibility for postsecondary institutions’ involvement in Black community development, and moving beyond mere representation and taking concrete actions to achieve inclusion. 

The charter also includes a series of commitments that signatories must implement.

Charter signing highlights

In his introductory comments, Greg Fergus, member of parliament for the Hull—Aylmer region and chair of the Parliamentary Black Caucus, delivered comments and words of congratulations. 

Fergus noted that although 3.5 per cent of the Canadian population is Black, they are not proportionally represented in senior university leadership or as full time faculty members. Black people comprise 0.8 per cent and 1.9 per cent of those groups, respectively. He added that the situation was similar for Indigenous peoples. 

He concluded that these numbers must change in order to create a more inclusive higher-education environment that is truly representative of the Canadian population and enriches university communities. 

In a question-and-answer period that happened after the introductions, panellists responded to questions on a range of topics, including addressing misconceptions about what it means to promote excellence and how diversity helps bring postsecondary institutions closer to that goal.

One signatory brought up a question about how some people view efforts at Black inclusion as undermining excellency. In response, Theresa Rajack-Talley — vice-provost, equity and inclusion at Dalhousie University — explained that, to her, “excellence is amplified by strengthening inclusive diversity that must have elements of fairness, equity, ethics, and integrity.”

The panellists also discussed accountability. Malinda Smith, vice-provost (equity, diversity and inclusion) at the University of Calgary, said that the “racial reckoning” at universities has forced many to start taking racial justice more seriously. “It’s… incumbent upon all of us to continue to hold ourselves and our institutions accountable,” Smith added.