For nearly half a century, the Caribbean Studies and African Studies programs have served as intellectual homes for many of the University’s racialized faculty and students. Our community has always included Black members of the University who were committed to the work of these programs but who also needed them as a refuge from systemic and often relentless institutional racism elsewhere in the University. We acknowledge and welcome the statements and declarations of solidarity with the Black Community that have come from across the University, particularly those statements that have openly acknowledged that systemic anti-Black racism is a reality at the University of Toronto. We acknowledge the struggles of generations of our Black students, staff and colleagues to make the University of Toronto a liveable environment for Black people to learn and to work. We assert that much of this incredible work goes unremunerated and unrecognised as meaningful labour by the University and that the University continues to engage in discriminatory practices that undermine the important efforts of our colleagues.
It is past time for the University, at all levels of administration and from meeting rooms to classrooms, to move beyond just naming the issue of anti-Black racism.
We in Caribbean Studies and African Studies assert, based on the experience and scholarly knowledge of members of the communities built around our programs, that anti-Black racism operates in plain sight at the University of Toronto, through very trackable practices. Below we identify what we think some of those practices are, suggest how they can be addressed in a meaningful and long-term manner, and call for a more rigorous climate of accountability, within the University, for redressing systemic anti-Black racism:
In this current political moment, when institutions in Canada are being called to account for systemic anti-Black criminalization, imprisonment, violence and needless loss of life, we ask that our white colleagues in positions of administrative responsibility stop issuing statements that involve no consultation with Black people and which elide the specific issue of anti-Black racism under general and nonspecific commitments to ‘equity, diversity and inclusion’.
We call on the University to support Black and Indigenous faculty as leaders of research into what can be done to transform the entire culture of law enforcement in Canada, from the municipal to the federal levels. We are wary of the fact that, far too often, even as Black and Indigenous youth put their bodies on the line for social change, the scholars who then build their careers advising governments and proposing remedies frequently do not come from our communities and are not accountable to them.
We call for campus police to stop carding black people across our campuses and responding to mental health issues and for an independent review of their protocols for responding to calls. The University must allocate more resources to undergraduate and graduate mental health supports for students, as the available resources were already unable to meet the needs of students before the start of this pandemic. Such reallocation should be mindful of the fact that Black students will statistically have likely known or known of someone who died, and will certainly have lived through the collective trauma of the clear racial inequities of the pandemic.
We call on units within the University, including student government, to ensure that Black student groups have secure space and funding on campus. Particularly in recent years, policies for funding and office space provision have prioritised numbers over other measures of significance, systemically discriminating against our course unions and other, small, but active, groups representing marginalized students. These groups do the tireless and sometimes invisible work of supporting and addressing students’ concerns, mental health and well-being and community building.
We call on all units within the University to address the accumulating anecdotal evidence that at all levels in the hiring and promotion process – recruitment, training, mentorship and performance review – Black staff appear to face systemic discrimination.
We call on all units within the University to collect race-based data. The University’s failure to document the numbers and career trajectories of Black staff makes it extremely difficult to ever have more than anecdotal evidence that the problem is systemic. The failure to document also helps to promote a climate of fear and uncertainty for Black staff.
We assert that there is a severe underrepresentation of Black staff, faculty and librarians at senior levels of management, governance or unit administration. If the University is serious about a commitment to excellence, it has to acknowledge how profoundly such underrepresentation impoverishes the intellectual life of the University and discourages Black people from wanting to be here as students, staff, faculty or librarians.
We call on the University to provide Black faculty, librarians, staff, and students with more opportunities to have an equal voice, and space, at all decision-making levels.
We call on our white colleagues to step up and take responsibility for ensuring that department, administrative and committee meetings are spaces where anti-Black racism is not tolerated. Too often, Black and Indigenous people are subjected to racist comments in meetings which go unacknowledged and unaddressed by others in the room. Black and Indigenous people are too often expected to be the people who bring ‘EDI expertise’ to the meeting, even if that is not their area of training. It is the responsibility of everyone in the room to bring issues of equity, diversity and inclusion to the table; to call out racist comments; to encourage, rather than suppress, serious conversations about race and to explore how – not if – race is relevant to the conversation at hand.
We call on all units, across the University, to address the myth that Black experiences are not relevant to all areas of pedagogy and research.
We call on the University to stop engaging in strategies for advancement that deepen patterns of systemic discrimination. The University deliberately pursues donations that reward areas of scholarship that systemically under-research anything to do with Black people and rewards units that systematically exclude Black faculty. Its advancement policies systematically disadvantage the Caribbean Studies and African Studies programs. The meagre advancement support that we receive often comes from our disadvantaged communities, who should not be called upon to support the University financially. Otherwise, the advancement that acknowledges our presence is too often dependent on shifting financial or foreign policy interests, or racist, development-based stereotypes.
The University consistently uses the fact that it has internationally recognised programs in Caribbean Studies and African Studies, as well as highly regarded faculty in these fields, for publicity, to promote its reputation and to attract students from those regions. We assert that this is a form of racialized exploitation, given that this use of our programs for publicity purposes is not matched by financial support from base university funding.
We assert that the University has systematically underfunded the Transitional Year Program with intention to reduce faculty complement, undermine programmatic integrity and dilute the focus on meeting the needs of Black and Indigenous students. We assert that this is based on a racist institutional culture that does not value the role of TYP as a crucial means for Black and Indigenous students to overcome the wider systemic racism in the education system, which disadvantages them and prevents them from having equal access to university.
We call on the Faculty of Arts and Science to stop enabling racist gatekeeping by large units in the University that rarely prioritize the hiring of Black faculty or faculty who teach courses on the Caribbean and Africa. At the same time, these units engage in institutionalized discrimination by refusing to cross-list our courses; refusing to consult us about students’ requests to count CS and AS courses towards their programs; refusing to collaborate with us on or blocking us from offering courses in their areas of supposedly disciplinary focus; and failing to consult us adequately when they offer courses in our programs’ areas of expertise.
We call for institutional recognition of the fact that, while African and Caribbean students and faculty have been at the heart of struggles for initiatives such as diversity hires, these programs have been overlooked and the commitment to support the growth of these programs remains unfulfilled.
We assert that the University lacks clear and transparent structures of accountability for those who engage in anti-black racism. Put simply, anti-black racism thrives because people, by and large, get away with it. Our white colleagues get to benefit from saying that they have taken anti-racism training but there is no system of tracking what actual impact this training has or of holding people accountable for acting upon such learning. The University must recognize that anti-racism training is of little use if it is not accompanied by training for faculty, librarians, staff and students who are Black, Indigenous, or people of colour, women or LGBTQ2 about how to seek redress for incidents of discrimination at work. Those mechanisms of accountability and redress should also be put in place, properly resourced and accessible.
We call on the University to hold administrators accountable for adequately documenting complaints about racial discrimination and workplace misconduct, the actions taken in response to such complaints, the outcomes of the investigation or the reasons for choosing not to pursue an investigation.
We at Caribbean Studies and African Studies call on all units in the University to explore and implement concrete plans, in proper consultation with Black members of the University community, representatives from the wider Black community and external experts who are not on the payroll of the University and who are completely independent of the University, about how to address these systemic institutional practices that constitute the reality of anti-Black racism at the University of Toronto. The time is now to move beyond statements of outrage and solidarity and take steps towards concerted action.
Students, instructors and past and current Directors of the African Studies and Caribbean Studies Programs