People walking on campus.
Image credit: Getty / FG Trade

In this piece, Tawa Braimah, project manager of Queen’s University’s Scarborough Charter implementation group sets the tone for a series of conversations around tackling anti-black racism and promoting black flourishing in the Queen’s community.

In November 2021, Queen’s University became one of the over 50 universities and colleges in Canada to sign a charter committing to redressing anti-black racism in post-secondary institutions. A product of nationwide conversations around the state of anti-blackness in Canadian institutions of higher learning, the Scarborough Charter is a bold pledge to take action against anti-black racism while fostering Black inclusion in these institutions. The 22-page document pivots around four main principles that individual institutions are expected to draw inspiration from in developing meaningful action plans to create conducive environment for Black faculty, staff and students to thrive in. These guiding principles are; Black Flourishing; Inclusive Excellence; Mutuality; and Accountability.

Collecting and analysing data around Black representation on campuses is key to meeting the goals of the Charter. Available data at Queen’s point to a difficulty in retaining Black managerial, administrative and support staff despite an increase in the number of people hired to fill staff and faculty positions from equity-deserving groups. This under-representation is visible in the number of Black faculty in tenured positions, research and leadership roles as well. A recent survey on student experience on campus showed that a significant number of Black students, especially Black female students, felt unsafe on campus. This calls into question the effectiveness of on-campus resources and measures in ensuring that all members of the university community feel protected, and that their human dignity is safeguarded and respected.

Unlike diversity which can be made demonstrable using data, inclusion is difficult to measure. One of the things that preluding conversations around the Charter brought to the fore was how deeply entrenched anti-black racism is in various institutions of learning in Canada. It is so inherent in policies and practices that its manifestations – be it in day-to-day interactions or in governance – have become normalized and often imperceptible to non-Black people. By extension, the nuances of anti-Blackness in post-secondary institutions are reflective of Canada’s uncomfortable history of slavery and the feeling of unbelonging that many Canadian residents of African descent have to contend with.

Professor getting ready to lecture.
Image credit: Getty / SDI Productions

But institutions of higher education, have the arduous task of aligning their traditional academic roles with that of being agents of change and social transformation. It means moving beyond statements and ambitious declarations to actually doing the messy work of confronting and dismantling the structures that make anti-black racism fester. It asks that we interrogate the systems that make the drop out rate of Black students higher than most demographics, why there are fewer Black people in senior positions on campuses and in our classrooms.

Being a signatory to this historic document is one of a thousand steps to take in eradicating anti-black racism and promoting Black flourishing. The test is in how we hold ourselves answerable to the public commitments we have nobly made.

The 2022/2023 blog posts will focus on to build a truly inclusive environment for black students, faculty and staff. Four Leads of the Scarborough Charter Working Groups charged with overseeing how the university implements the priorities of the charter, will share their reflections on what an inclusive future that supports black thriving should look like. Let’s keep the lines of communication open!


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