In 2020, The Varsity launched our first Black History Month (BHM) issue. Josie Kao and Ibnul Chowdhury, our editorial management team at the time, designed it based on conversations they’d had with multiple Black campus organizations — conversations about how The Varsity has historically fallen short in its coverage of Black students’ issues and how we could improve this coverage for the future. 

The BHM issue has become a regular part of our yearly schedule — but looking at our process this year, we’ve realized it now involves a lot less collaboration. That’s something we want to change. 

We’ve struggled to achieve our goals of establishing clearer communications and long-term relationships with Black student groups on campus. We’re hoping to change this going forward by continuing to make this outreach a priority. We’ll be reaching out to Black student groups long after February ends and make sure we’re setting out the time to meet on a non-transactional basis. 

The BHM issue has never meant to be the be-all and end-all to improving our coverage, either, and it’s certainly not supposed to be the only time in the year when we try to spotlight Black stories at the university. Instead, it’s meant as an opportunity for us to set specific goals to better our coverage and to create space that’s especially welcoming for Black writers. In the same vein, over the rest of the volume, we’ll continue making sure we’re covering Black stories at the university. We want Black students to be a regular aspect of our weekly coverage as writers and as interviewees. 

Over the last few years, we’ve settled into a routine around how we create the BHM issue. Most of our efforts centre around welcoming new writers: that’s why we reach out to the whole student body about the issue and break down the process of writing for The Varsity. That’s also why we try to build longer timelines into our internal production process so we have more time to communicate with writers. 

On top of that, we compensate Black writers for writing articles, taking pictures, or illustrating for this issue, to help combat the long history of undervaluing Black labour. Although we can’t compensate writers all year, and our honoraria are not very large, we still want to make this gap less egregious wherever possible.

This process is far from infallible — we have considerable room to improve, both in our BHM issue in particular and our coverage of Black U of T communities as a whole. We need to do a lot more to improve our communication with Black students and communities on campus. We also still lack Black editors in masthead positions at The Varsity. Ideally, we don’t just want to introduce new Black writers to The Varsity in this BHM issue: we want to make sure we create a space that encourages them to return.

Ultimately, one of the ways we can start to address all of this is to talk openly about what we’re working to change. That’s why we’re writing this letter — as a start, and to make these commitments public. This shouldn’t be the last you hear from us — this is a very basic commitment, and serves to show how many more conversations we need to have about Black representation in The Varsity. But it’s a start. And if you do have thoughts you want to share, our inboxes are open.

We’re looking forward to those conversations.