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“We’re dramatically underrepresented”: U of T’s Black community concerned about faculty representation

Only 6.7 per cent of U of T faculty identify as Black
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ARTHUR HAMDANI/THE VARSITY
ARTHUR HAMDANI/THE VARSITY

The lack of Black faculty members at U of T has long been an issue. The 2019 Report on Employment Equity, which was released early last year, revealed that only 6.7 per cent of U of T faculty identifies as Black — even though nine per cent of individuals in the GTA identify as Black. 

U of T has recently taken more action on anti-Black racism by instituting initiatives like the Anti Black Racism Task Force Report, which put together a list of initiatives that were set to foster Black excellence, and the Scarborough Charter at UTSC. Regardless, many are distressed about the continuous lack of inclusivity for Black individuals on campus.

Perspectives of faculty, students

“We’re dramatically underrepresented,” said Notisha Massaquoi, an assistant professor at UTSC, when asked about her feelings on the representation of Black professors at U of T. According to her, this lack of representation is felt at all levels on campus — which is unfortunate considering how important she says that it is to have Black teachers at U of T. 

“The Black experience is something that you have to live to become an expert… I’m not saying that white professors can’t teach it, it’s going to be a different experience,” she explained.

Massaquoi teaches an anti-Black racism course at UTSC and is very critical of the university’s anti-Black racism initiatives. When asked about the feasibility of the university’s goals, Massaquoi said, “I think with any strategy there’s a certain percentage of the strategy that is what I would call window dressing… it’s a signal that we want to do something.” In order to create more than just superficial change, Massaquoi said that an adequate amount of resources need to be allocated by the university’s senior administration toward addressing anti-Black racism on campus.  

As part of the 6.7 per cent of Black faculty at U of T, Massaquoi noted that her presence as a Black individual in academia had an evident impact on her racialized students. She said that it’s difficult for students to aspire to be successful in academia when they don’t see people that look like them in those exact spaces. 

The benefits of having a Black professor for courses on social issues are not limited to racialized students. Massaquoi explained, “as a Black professor, a lot of the appreciation I get is from white students, who are saying, ‘I have a better feeling for what it actually means to experience racism.’ ” 

Students have also noticed the trend in the lack of diversity. “[I have] four classes related somehow to Africa, and only one is taught by an African teacher,” pointed out Fatimata-Absa Ba, an international exchange student taking courses at UTSG.

In terms of how this affected the educational value of the courses, Ba stated that it didn’t faze her as much. The only difference she found in the classes was that “[the African professor] would invite us to talk about our personal experiences… it was more personal.”

This desire for more personal spaces isn’t a feeling held by Ba alone. Adriana Williams, the president of U of T’s Black Students’ Association (BSA) also said that she sought out inclusivity by joining extracurriculars. Williams joined the BSA as a general member in 2017, and immediately noticed that it was a space where “[she] felt welcomed… and safe.” 

Williams also noticed the lack of diversity in some of her classes. When asked how many Black folks were in her classes, she said that there were “little to none.” While Williams notes that she was lucky enough to make a friend group consisting of people that looked like her during her first year of university, not all students have this opportunity. “I can say from observations, sometimes there’s not always that opening space for folks to kind of get acquainted,” she said.

University action

The Anti-Black Racism Task Force, a group created to investigate how the university can address anti-Black racism on campus, has been advocating through its recommendations that U of T should make inclusive spaces for Black students a reality. It’s been almost a year since the university accepted the 56 recommendations that the task force set forth in April 2021, and three of the commitments from the task force have been marked as completed so far on the recommendation tracking website. 

When asked about the time frame of the commitments, Jodie Glean, U of T’s executive director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), stated that all commitments are scheduled to be completed within the next three years, which is an extension from the schedule the university set in April 2021 — last year, co-chair Desma Charlemagne Michel had said that it would take one to two years. Glean explained that the initiatives have encountered bureaucratic delays due to the fact that “they require thorough consultation with many stakeholders and approval through the University’s governance processes.” 

Glean also stated that some of the progress being done is being completed by the Division of People, Strategy, Equity, and Culture. Their team has been hard at work since the release of the report implementing an unconscious bias training program, a diversity recruitment staff manual, and an applicant tracking system that analyzes how racial groups are affected during the hiring process.

In discussion about how to increase the proportion of Black faculty to more than 6.7 per cent, Glean noted that they want to ensure that the workforce is representative of the city. Currently, the GTA is composed of nine per cent of Black individuals, so the task force seeks to raise the number of Black individuals on the campus to those levels.

According to Glean, the task force will continue to hold itself accountable to its EDI goals and commitments. The most recent updates on the representation of Black faculty on campus should be available in the next Report on Employment Equity released later this spring.