U of T pledges to fight anti-Black racism

U of T pledges to fight anti-Black racism

Photo Credit: James Eades via Unsplash

Canadian universities sign the Scarborough Charter, pledge to fight anti-Black racism and promote Black inclusion

Jennifer Zhong, News Editor

On November 18, 2021, the University of Toronto (U of T) joined over 40 post-secondary institutions around Canada in signing the historic Scarborough charter, pledging to fight anti-Black racism and promote Black inclusion.

“Combatting anti-Black racism and promoting Black inclusion are urgent priorities in our society,” said U of T President Meric Gertler. “This is also a crucial component of inclusive excellence which is so fundamental to our academic community.”

4 guiding principles

The 22-page charter outlines key barriers to Black inclusion in higher-education and possible ways to respond. Institutions that sign it are expected to respect 4 guiding principles: Black flourishing (removing structural barriers to equity, inclusion and social justice); inclusive excellence (valuing, embracing and promoting contributions from diverse backgrounds, perspectives and experiences); mutuality (fostering equitable relationships within communities that have reciprocal benefits); and accountability (delivering on commitments made to transform structures, policies and procedures). These principles will be used to guide individual institutions as they develop their own action plans, while respecting institutional and regional diversity.

At U of T, this includes better mental health support for Black students. “We’re making sure that we have counsellors that understand and come from Black communities,” said charter committee chair Wisdom Tettey, U of T vice-president and principal of U of T Scarborough. U of T also plans to review curriculums and support students through scholarships and access programs.

The charter will also work with the 56 recommendations proposed by the U of T Anti-Black Racism Task Force in April 2021. 

Lack of representation

There is significant underrepresentation of Black scholars at the post-secondary level. Statistics Canada census data from 2016 and data from a 2019 Universities Canada report indicate six per cent of undergraduate students, 6.1 per cent of graduate students, and three per cent of PhD graduates are Black, while 1.9 per cent of the professoriate at universities and 0.8 per cent of universities’ leaders are Black. 

To combat this issue, the charter and the task force recommends that unconscious biases in hiring should be addressed, and more inclusive language should be used to encourage Black applicants to apply for roles at U of T. This is not limited to Black scholars in academia. A key part of the charter is acknowledging the Eurocentric and colonial mindsets within academics, and the importance of engaging local Black communities in research conducted by universities.

About the charter

The Scarborough Charter was drafted by an inter-institutional advisory committee following the first National Dialogues and Action for Inclusive Higher Education and Communities hosted by U of T in October 2020. The two-day national forum focused on anti-Black racism and Black inclusion in Canadian higher education.

The charter itself is the result of a year-long collaborative effort involving partner institutions, local communities, and other groups, including Universities Canada and the parliamentary Black caucus. The 46 signing institutions include U of T, McGill University, York University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Calgary and the University of Waterloo. More universities and colleges are expected to sign the charter in the near future.

An Inter-institutional Forum was also created to guide and promote the goals of the Scarborough charter. This includes sector-wide collaboration, sharing of resources (such as data and best practices) and a sustained commitment to fighting anti-Black racism and promoting Black inclusion. To ensure transparency and accountability, the Inter-Institutional Forum will also periodically review and recommend a schedule of contributions made by the partner institutions.