The University of Toronto, through the office of the Vice President and Provost, launched the U of T Institutional Anti-Black Racism Task Force. The task force’s primary aim is described as promoting Black inclusion and excellence within the tri-campus U of T community.
The task force will review university policies, processes, and practices in place. Afterward, it will make recommendations to address racism issues within U of T. These recommendations are set to be presented by the task force to President Meric Gertler, Vice President Cheryl Regehr, Provost Kelly Hannah-Moffat, and the office of human resources and equity, by March 31, 2021.
Leading up to this date, the institutional task force will collect information on experiences Black students, faculty, staff, and other community members have faced, and try to find solutions to overcome these challenges. The task force will also be drawing from previous research conducted and try to come up with concrete recommendations and approaches to close the inequality gap.
In an interview with U of T News, Provost Hannah-Moffat discussed how racism affects everyone in a community and stated that we need to listen to marginalized voices to fight racial discrimination.
“A recognition of racism is insufficient,” said Hannah-Moffat. “Racism is not an issue for Black and racialized communities to address—it impacts everyone and it is our collective responsibility to take steps to eliminate barriers and create inclusive spaces for Black students, staff, faculty and librarians. We are committed to creating lasting, meaningful change.”
This initiative is being led by four co-chairs from the U of T community. These include Woodsworth College Chief Administrative Officer Roger Bulgin, U of T Scarborough Director of Human Resource Services Desma Charlamagne-Michel, Dean of the Factor-Inwentash faculty of social work Dexter Voisin, and OISE’s chair of the social justice education department Njoki Wane.
The task force’s website also highlights notable community members and their contributions to the Black U of T community. Recently hired by UTM’s political science department, Professor Nadège Compaoré was 19 years old when she arrived in Canada from Burkina Faso, West Africa. Compaoré did an interview with U of T News back in June to discuss the importance of Black representation in academia. She is one of the seven recipients of the Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowship, awarded to U of T to Black and Indigenous researchers with remarkable accomplishments in their fields.
Born and raised in Burkina Faso, Compaoré came to Canada in 2001 on a full scholarship to pursue higher education. She attended Queen’s University for a master’s in political science and observed an apparent lack of diversity amongst the study body. “I was the only Black person in my program,” said Compaoré. “I met a few Black students from other departments because we would see each other around campus, nod at each other, and start talking. We realized that we had all had the same experience with people assuming we were there because of diversity quotas.”
Compaoré also discussed the many challenges she faced in finding a job in academia, despite receiving comments on her advantage due to diverse hiring initiatives. Through her experiences, Compaoré discovered the importance of diversity and representation at higher levels of educational administration. In her interview, Compaoré argues that representation in staff goes beyond faculty members and shows students they are valued. Additionally, it demonstrates that a career in academia is possible for everyone, regardless of their race or cultural backgrounds.
“I hope that for Black students who may see me as a potential mentor, my presence affirms their belonging,” stated Compaoré. “As a [professor], I really want to approach mentorship as a community building effort, where those who do not feel represented in academia can find a space where they belong on their own terms.”
Compaoré stated that she is hopeful about the future of diversity and representation in academia.
“I know this will be challenging,” she continued. “But I also know there are others like me who are keen to build this community, as well as allies who are willing to do the hard work of learning, unlearning, and supporting.”
By supporting and making way for more people like Professor Compaoré, the task force strives to work toward a more inclusive university community. As Compaoré stated, while making the U of T more inclusive might be challenging, we are “excited about the journey ahead.”