Category Archives: Anti-racism

The Scarborough Charter: From Striving to Thriving

When I first started working at Queen’s in October 2018, I was excited for this new opportunity and new role. I had heard stories from other Black folks about how Queen’s was not welcoming to Black people and about the trauma that they had experienced during their time as a student here. But I was hopeful that times had changed and that things would be different. Surely much had changed over the years. But within my first two weeks at Queen’s, I attended my first Senate meeting in which I learned about the ban on Black medical students that had been on the books for 100 years. Though this ban had not been in practice at the Queen’s medical school for decades, it was shocking to me that not only had it ever existed in the first place, it still existed in 2018! I remember sitting there with my jaw dropped. Maybe all that I had heard about Queen’s was right? Maybe it was not a safe place for a Black person to be?

As a Black lawyer, I was used to being one of a couple (if not the only) Black people in my office setting. I was prepared for that, and for seeing few faces that looked like mine. I had had the experiences, like so many other BIPOC professionals, of being assumed to be the assistant, rather than the lawyer. But this experience at Queen’s was new and unexpected; it was not one that I could prepare for.

Despite that start to my time at Queen’s, I must say that my experiences here have been overwhelmingly positive, and I do feel like I have been welcomed at Queen’s. However, I am well aware that for many others in the Black community, this has not been their experience. As the University Ombudsperson, I have heard about people’s experiences of anti-Black racism. I have heard the stories of isolation and feeling like they don’t belong. And I have vowed that as much as possible, I will be a part of the solution.

I was an attendee at the virtual two-day National Dialogues and Action for Inclusive Higher Education and Communities in the fall of 2020; which was hosted by the University of Toronto’s Scarborough College; this led to the creation of the Scarborough Charter. When Queen’s became one of the first institutions to sign on to the Scarborough Charter, I was very encouraged by this step. And when I was asked to be a co-lead of the Scarborough Charter’s Teaching, Learning and Student Success Working Group at Queen’s, I immediately accepted.

The Scarborough Charter is meant for post-secondary institutions to provide concrete actions to address anti-Black racism. It is also meant to promote inclusion for Black staff, faculty, and students. And so with the Scarborough Charter, I feel hopeful. With the work that is being done by each working group, that includes Black voices, I feel hopeful. With the allyship from non-Black co-leads, working group members, and others, I feel hopeful, because the Black students, staff and faculty cannot do this work alone. For while the Scarborough Charter will not undo or erase the pain and harms that have been caused by a history of anti-Black racism, it is providing the mechanism and opportunities for the Black community to feel like we need not only strive at Queen’s, but we can thrive. Where we need not only be on the periphery of Queen’s as outsiders looking in, but where we can truly belong and feel like we do. And while there is still lots of work to be done through the Scarborough Charter and beyond, I remain hopeful for what the future could look like for Black students, staff and faculty at Queen’s.

More than Just Words: From Anti-racism Statements to Action

"End Racism Now" Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels

Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels

In our October blog, Alana Butler, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at Queen’s, walks us through the importance of moving from awareness to action in relation to our anti-racism commitments

The summer of 2020 not only brought us new social norms about dealing with a global pandemic, but worldwide protests against racist police brutality. The May 25 murder of George Floyd might have gone unmentioned were it not for multiple cell phone videos capturing his agonizing death in eight minutes and 46 seconds while under the knee of a White police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Tragically, this type of event was not new. Black men and women have been the victims of state sanctioned murder for centuries.  So have Indigenous and other racialized Americans over history. After the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Black Lives Matter has emerged as a recent social movement whose goal was to draw attention to the issue of racialized police brutality.  BLM protests were held in over 2000 U.S. cities and in cities across four continents. What was different this time was that individual countries began to examine their own histories.

In Canada, there has been a long history of anti-Indigenous racism and anti-Black racism that has also manifested itself in acts of brutality and murder. The existence of colonialism, slavery from the 1600s to 1800s, the creation of the reserve system for Indigenous persons, residential schooling, the Sixties Scoop, racist immigration laws and practices, and police racial profiling have shaped our history. There is a long list of Black and Indigenous persons who have been murdered by the police with barely a mention in the news media. As an example, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has published a timeline of police involved deaths of Black Torontonians dating back to 1978. (See http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/timeline-tps)

Anti-Black racism and anti-Indigenous racism have resulted in wide disparities in our economic, health care, education, criminal justice, and political institutions. As famous Canadian sociologist John Porter (1965) noted, Canada is a mosaic, but a vertical one, stratified by race with individuals with European heritage at the top and Black and Indigenous individuals at the bottom.

The Aftermath of BLM 2020

Thousands of organizations, from small non-profits to global multinational organizations have issued anti-racism statements over the past few months. Many had existing statements that were revamped and reissued. Whether it is good corporate governance or merely institutional emulation, all institutions were eager to position themselves as anti-racist. Universities and Colleges all issued statements acknowledging recent events and expressed their support for anti-racism. Have you ever seen more graphics with interlocked, multi-coloured hands?

Racialized and Indigenous members of some of those organizations publicly expressed skepticism on social media. Haven’t we seen those statements before?  As scholar Sara Ahmed (2012) has written, drafting diversity and anti-racism statements is more about drafting the actual document than making real change. Ahmed (2012) likens fighting for institutional change as coming up against a brick wall.

Moving beyond mere words requires a radical commitment to change. It demands accountability for those who commit acts of racism. A radical commitment to antiracist change involves a deep examination of internal practices related to hiring, promotion, retention. It involves examining the leadership hierarchy to ensure that it is not ‘cappuccino’ by being White at the top and dark brown at the bottom. For education, it requires radical changes to our curricula. It is not about eliminating Eurocentric knowledge but expanding our conceptualization of what we consider to be canonical knowledge to incorporate Indigenous, African, and other epistemologies. Statements are easy to draft. Real change is difficult. As the old expression goes, talk is cheap!

Sources:

Ahmed, S. (2012). On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Ontario Human Rights Commission (2017). Timeline of racial discrimination and racial profiling

of Black persons by the Toronto Police Service, and OHRC initiatives related to the

Toronto Police. http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/timeline-tps

Porter, J. (1965). The Vertical Mosaic. Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Together We Are: 6th year!

Photo by Priscilla Gyamfi on unsplash.com

Photo by Priscilla Gyamfi on unsplash.com

The school year is starting with many changes and uncertainties. But in times of crisis, solidarity becomes key.

During 2020, several events of international relevance have prompted equity-seeking communities to keep challenging the oppressive systems that have made them more vulnerable. In this 6th year, the Together We Are blog will explore how equity-seeking communities are supporting each other during times of crisis, and how equity-seeking groups can ensure that the ‘new normal’ is built on equity principles.

As we update this blog with excellent pieces from Queen’s students, staff and faculty members, don’t forget that YOU are part of this conversation as well. Together We Are is part of the Queen’s and broader Kingston community, therefore, you can share and comment on all of our Social Media platforms.