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by Nandika Ravi

University of Toronto’s institutional Anti-Black Racism Task Force was formed to address anti-Black racism and to promote Black inclusion within the University of Toronto’s campus community. The task force was established in September 2020, as part of the university’s response to the global anti-Black racism protests that followed the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, as well as incidents of systemic racism in Canada.

“Given the public outcry, and collective trauma, as a result of that brutal killing, not just for racialized individuals, but arguably also for white individuals seeing another fellow human being murdered like that in plain sight. It was horrendous, very traumatic,” said Dexter Voisin, the co-chair of the Anti-Black Racism Task Force and dean of the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

Anti Black Racism Taskforce’ Report Cover page| Source: https://hrandequity.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Anti-Black-Racism-Task-Force-Report_Web.pdf

Throughout the 2020-21 academic year, the 25-member task force examined existing university policies, processes and practices. They also reviewed correspondence received by the university on anti-Black racism during the Black Lives Matter protests. This included demand letters, open letters, statements and petitions by faculty, staff, student and union groups.

“The university leadership really started to feel, I think, an increased sense of responsibility around what could they do,” Voisin said.

“Because many of these issues are systemic to Canada, I really want to commend them for having the courage to call this by name. Because they could have called it anything right?  But I think there was a deliberate naming to call it Anti-Black Racism Task Force.”

A protester holds a sign that reads ”Black Lives Matter” near the White House during a demonstration over the death of George Floyd in Washington D.C., the United States, June 8, 2020.

The task force has produced a report that provides 56 recommendations in seven systemic areas, ranging from leadership and accountability to complaints and investigations. These recommendations would have significant lift across the broad span of the university. All these recommendations have now been accepted by the university’s administration.

“Looking at academic structure, looking at oversight for equity, diversity and inclusion measures as it relates to Black and other racialized groups, looking at pipelining of pathways, not only for recruitment, but also advancement for Black faculty and staff and also at a bursaries and resources,” Voisin said.

“When Black students come in to elite institutions, they’re coming in behind the eight ball. They might be the first person in their family to attend college, the first person in their family to attend graduate school.”

The task force also made recommendations for thinking about the reporting incidences of discrimination across the institution, which would help in signaling a change in policy.

“The hope is of positive change, and impactful changes, that the report will act as a catalyst in addressing not only anti-Black racism, but also xenophobia, anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Asian racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all forms of discrimination,” said Roger Bulgin, co-chair of the task force and chief administrative officer at U of T’s Woodsworth College, in the university’s newsletter.