Black Inclusion Matters

by Vanessa Thompson

York recently introduced two significant new documents, publicly committing to a series of strong, measurable actions meant to dismantle anti-Black racism as both an overt and covert practice at the University.

Addressing Anti-Black Racism: A Framework on Black Inclusion and Action Plan on Black Inclusion are among the first documents of their kind issued by a post-secondary institution in Canada. The multi-year implementation process – to achieve the outlined commitments – will begin later this year.

The Framework boldly asserts that “anti-Black racism is pervasive and entrenched in Canadian society,” that “white supremacy is the root of anti-Black racism” and that “anti-Black racism has led to the exclusion of Black people from the academy.”

The Action Plan includes commitments to hire an additional 12 Black faculty members by 2023, to create a new physical space where Black people can feel safe, to establish a new culturally safe tool for complaints about racial discrimination and harassment available in English and French, and to increase funding for scholarships, bursaries and other forms of financial aid in support of Black students.

“The overarching goal is to address the systemic nature of anti-Black racism that we know exists at York University,” says Sheila Cote-Meek, whose division of Equity, People and Culture is leading the project.

“I hope that, over time, as we implement the Action Plan, members of the Black community at York will start to feel a sense of belonging and a sense of safety on campus. I also hope Black community members feel that we as a university are making concerted efforts to try to change the culture of the institution.”

Over an eight-month period, Cote-Meek and President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton met with more than 200 Black York community members, including the York Federation of Students, the Glendon Race Equity Caucus, the Black Alumni Network and the Race Equity Caucus of York University Faculty Association.

The committee also worked in close consultation with University race expert Carl James, a professor in the Faculty of Education, and Andrea Davis (MA ’91, PhD ’02), an associate professor in the Department of Humanities and an affiliated faculty member with the Centre for the Study of Black Cultures in Canada.

Both faculty members served as special advisors on the project.

“Progress demands a fundamental shift in the way we think and in the way York operates as a university,” Davis says. “If the culture of the University can change so it recognizes that its fundamental role is to include and engage all its members, while also being at the forefront of advancing both change and inclusive transformational knowledge, then that is progress for me.”

For James, implementing these Action Plan commitments, along with policy and structural changes, is a vital first step toward creating an inclusive community.

“The Framework and the Action Plan must be accompanied by systemic changes, in terms of policies, programs, activities and practices that are relevant and responsive to the experiences and interests of Black students, faculty and staff,” says James, who is the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora.

“This will benefit not only Black students, faculty and staff,” James continues, “but all students and other members of the York community. Recognition of individuals’ lived experiences is critical to the development of an inclusive university community.”  ■

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