The Black Students’ Association (BSA) at U of T held the first Anti-Racist Pedagogies Roundtable on March 31. The roundtable sought to facilitate meaningful discussion between U of T students and faculty on how to encourage inclusivity in classrooms. 

The event was organized in collaboration with the Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, the Contemporary Asian Studies (CAS) Student Union, the Toronto Undergraduate Geography Society, and the Women of South Asian Heritage Collective.

In May, Abena Somiah, the BSA’s former vice-president external, told The Varsity that she and her team were working on an official statement outlining the roundtable discussion and its key takeaways. 

The BSA has recently shared the official statement with The Varsity

Planning the event

Somiah, a student in the CAS program, came up with the idea of the roundtable in her discussions with Takashi Fujitani, a professor in the Department of History and the Asian Institute.

Commenting on what drew her to CAS, Somiah mentioned the difference she noticed between CAS and other programs at U of T: “I realized that there was really a difference in terms of how [CAS] posits itself to recreate a centre which isn’t Eurocentric, which isn’t North America centric, but rather stemming from the location of Asia, we are able to properly analyze the world around us.”

Inspired by the program’s approach to teaching and her discussions with Fujitani, Somiah began organizing the roundtable: “I thought that this kind of platform would be a good way to… ask both students and teachers how we can rethink the way many programs [and] many disciplines are taught today.”

Somiah emphasized the nature of the roundtable as promoting discussion, not as assigning blame. The goal, according to Somiah, was to “start a conversation around teaching” and consider methods of improving the learning environment to allow people of colour to be heard. 

Somiah remarked that, while the Anti-Black Racism Task Force report shed light on various barriers to inclusivity on campus, the report was missing decisive input from students on matters concerning pedagogy. 

As such, Somiah hoped that the roundtable would present a much needed platform to highlight the student perspective on inclusive teaching methods. 

The report was released in September 2021, and outlined 56 recommendations for the university to counter anti-Black racism on campus. The university accepted all 56 recommendations and has continued its efforts to implement all of them. 

Roundtable participants

Somiah invited Fujitani, Tara Goldstein, and Melissa Levin to speak at the roundtable. Goldstein is a professor in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, and Levin is a professor in the African Studies program at New College. 

Additionally, Somiah invited members of U of T’s administrative staff. Initially, administrative attendance was limited to Nicole Kaniki — director of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in research and innovation. 

Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science (FAS) Melanie Woodin joined the panel after Somiah reached out to inform Woodin about the event. 

There were four student representatives, including Somiah, in addition to the faculty and staff participants.

Takeaways from the roundtable 

The official statement, written by Somiah and her team, begins with a brief summary of what the administration, the faculty, and the student participants brought up during the discussion. 

Woodin and Kaniki stressed the importance of training faculty and staff in order to promote institutional anti-racist pedagogy, and Woodin affirmed the need to hire more Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) in faculty and staff positions. 

The faculty participants centred much of their discussion on establishing a lens of intersectionality to inform their teaching. They also spoke of the value of maintaining classroom agreements such that students feel comfortable to express their opinions. 

Student participants diagnosed a prominent barrier to EDI at U of T as concerning the prevalence of a Eurocentric focus in teaching. They added that many courses cover content that is largely restricted to a Eurocentric perspective. The students expressed that such course content contributes to a feeling of alienation among BIPOC students.

Recommendations and next steps

Based on the roundtable discussion, Somiah and her team formulated six recommendations under four broad categories. 

The first category concerns classroom experience. The first recommendation calls for the improvement of anti-racist pedagogy in classrooms. It lists the creation of an Anti-Racist Pedagogies (ARP) Student Committee, which will be responsible for planning ARP roundtables annually. The recommendation further calls for the FAS to consult the committee prior to its approval of syllabi in order to ensure that course content honours EDI efforts. 

The second recommendation, under the first category, calls for EDI training for faculty.

Course offerings and syllabi are the focus of the second category. Under this category, the team recommends the integration of a mandatory equity-focused course for all students in the FAS. 

Under the third category of hiring practices, the team urges the FAS to prioritize BIPOC hiring.

The category focusing on legacy initiatives recommends the establishment of a centre for collective action on social justice and anti-racist pedagogy. The team hopes this space will be used for equity advancement for students, staff, and faculty alike. 

Sharing how she envisions the planning of possible future roundtables, Somiah said, “I want to have as little barriers as possible, because the more people know about this and the more people are interested in making these kinds of changes, the better off we’ll be and the more likely we’ll be to actually achieve a better future for students at U of T.”