U of T will soon be collecting information from students and employees based on race in an effort to aid the establishment of university policies.
“The university has been considering the idea of collecting demographic data, including race-related data, for some time to better understand the composition of our student and employee populations and their needs,” said U of T’s director of media relations, Althea Blackburn-Evans, in an email to The Medium. “These data will help to inform policies and practices to further the university’s interest in embedding diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
According to Blackburn-Evans, U of T’s vice-provost, students, Sandy Welsh; VP human resource and equity Angela Hildyard; and U of T’s anti-racism and cultural diversity officer, Sandra Carnegie-Douglas, met with the Black Liberation Collective—an organization “consisting of black students who are dedicated to transforming institutions of higher education through unity, coalition building, direct action, and political education”—in early December.
“At that meeting, there was agreement that additional data about the diverse backgrounds of our faculty, staff, and students would be beneficial,” said Blackburn-Evans, who explained that the method in which data will be collected is not yet known. “The university is now exploring the best avenues for individuals to report such data should they choose to do so.”
According to BLC member Yusra Khogali in an interview, U of T’s step to collect race-based data is a “victory”.
“We can still push them a bit more,” said Khogali, who commented on the importance of implementing change once the data is collected. According to Khogali, the BLC is also demanding a change to services on campus, such as mental health services and financial aid at U of T, to better serve the needs of black students, as they believe representation is not enough.
“We’re navigating this institution with very poor mental health because of the fact that we have to challenge anti-black racism within this institution at large and how that impacts our lives, our family lives, and our community lives,” said Khogali.
According to Khogali, the BLC has multiple chapters, including those based at U of T, Ryerson, Guelph, and uOttawa, and a new chapter that is being established at the University of British Columbia. Chapters have also formed in the United States.
On its website, BLS lists a number of demands for each institution. The list for U of T includes the demand to “address the underrepresentation of black administrators”, and “intentionally address the underrepresentation of black students, especially in professional programs and graduate programs” among seven other demands.
“We’re not saying this work has come out of nowhere,” said Khogali of the demands brought forward by the group. “These are things that students before us have been mobilizing and organizing for and have brought to the attention of the administration.
“We’re excited because it represents the possibility for us to use the data for policy change, to impact systematic institutional change within U of T,” she said.
According to Khogali, the BLC has faced backlash against their mission and cause.
“A lot of the students were using the anonymous postings on Spotted, calling us segregationist for just having a conversation about our experiences being black in this institution,” said Khogali, who stressed the importance of resisting the unjust treatments of oppressive institutions that silence black students. “Whenever we do create a space to heal, we’re always met with violent backlash and that’s a problem because it only reifies what’s true, which is that anti-black racism exists in this institution.”
Khogali also discussed what the BLC will do with the information once collected. “We’re going to have empirical evidence to prove what we’ve been saying and telling the institution and society at large, about how anti-black racism manifests in the institution,” she said.
“The collective that has come together on a tri-campus level and now is developing into a nation-wide movement is something that’s tremendous but it’s inevitable and I’m glad that it’s finally happened, because the power that we have is incredible. We can do a lot of work and we recognize that,” said Khogali. “It’s really great for us to be here in 2016 as a collective, fighting and honouring our ancestors and people who came before us that were able to give us the right that we have access to today for our children and for students to come after we leave.”