In June 2020, the University of Waterloo committed itself to addressing systemic racism through the establishment of the President’s Anti-Racism Taskforce. Nine months have passed since then, so we tasked insideWaterloo’s Phi Doan to investigate. He spoke with the administration, faculty, and students to get the full picture.
Following several successful grassroots campaigns led by Black and Indigenous students, staff, and faculty last year, University of Waterloo President Feridun Hamdullahpur released a statement announcing the creation of the President’s Anti-Racism Taskforce (PART). Hamdullahpur would go on to outline eight commitments intended to address racial injustice and structural inequities at the university.
Despite concerns raised about the nature and extent of Hamdullahpur’s consultation with BIPOC community members, there was optimism in response to the news. Promises to create a new Black Studies and Indigenous Studies program, or to address recruitment and hiring barriers to hire more BIPOC, were welcomed by many.
These initiatives mirrored requests made by Black and Indigenous students, academic workers, and faculty engaged in anti-racism and equity work. Despite this, there was no formal recognition of their work in UW’s announcement.
It has been nine months since that announcement — so, where is UW at? We asked Dr. Charmaine Dean, professor and coordinator for PART, to give us more details about this huge undertaking she’s been tasked to head up. She prefaced the interview by noting the president’s list was by no means the entirety of their work. Dean then provided us high-level snapshots for each of the eight commitments announced last year:
Establishing a Black Studies program and Indigenous Studies program.
The Black Studies program could be approved as early as this Fall, and that the existing Indigenous Studies program would receive “enhancements”. Dean did not provide specifics on what these enhancements would be.
Establishing a Black cultural centre on campus.
Plans for three new cultural centres were being considered. Two are an Indigenous gathering space and an art museum. The Black Cultural Centre is expected to follow the same process.
Diversifying the job applicant pool and addressing recruitment and hiring barriers for BIPOC individuals.
HR has been working on a system to diversify applicant pools for employees and address barriers in recruitment and hiring for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour individuals.
“They’re going to establish a system process to gather, store, use data to support equity hiring. Also, to incorporate Equity, Diversity and Inclusion questions into the hiring panels. Training for all the hiring panels for any hires that occurs at Waterloo,” she said.
Increasing Black and Indigenous faculty representation.
In regard to the commitment to increase Black and Indigenous faculty representation, Dean said that ads will be circulated very soon.
“With respect to the question of cluster hiring, there will be an announcement made shortly to update the community on the University’s plans on this action,” Dean wrote in a follow-up email.
Adding the university’s policy on equity to every syllabus, with a code of conduct and steps that will be taken if the code is violated.
The Educational Environment, and Development of Learners Working Group have been developing a code of conduct portion for the university’s equity policy. There was no indication about when these policy documents would be ready.
Developing a non-credit anti-racism module available to all students.
Dean said that PART recently presented contents for a non-credit anti-racism module to the president, the vice president, and all the deans. PART will be receiving more feedback from them and will make changes accordingly.
Establishing a transitional year program for BIPOC high school students.
With respect to the commitment to establish a transitional year program for BIPOC high school students, Dean said they were exploring multiple avenues. She said that they have been looking into Black entrepreneurs and UW alumni who started similar programs in Toronto
Joining the National Centre for Faculty Development and Diversity.
Finally, the university announced that they had become a member of the National Centre for Faculty Development and Diversity back in January. According to Dean, this was actually done much earlier in August.
Dean wrote in a follow-up email that their work “geared up substantially in [February], with considerably many side meetings over and above the regular meetings, as we fine tune some responsibilities and move forward on some deliverables.”
Further updates were posted to a webpage UW created to share anti-racism and equity work happening campus wide. It was posted on March 19 ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, released in conjunction with astatement from President Hamdullahpur commemorating the day.
Along with the creation of fellowships and town halls held in STEM departments, UW also announced that they hired a full-time counsellor to focus on the needs of BIPOC students, and that they were looking to hire a senior manager for their anti-racism response.
Dean wrote in an email that in order to meet the initiatives put forth by Hamdullahpur last year, PART has split into working groups to tackle various responsibilities.
“There are currently 33 responsibilities divided amongst the working groups, and they are set to task for one year,” she wrote. Responsibilities vary from research, crafting recommendations, and reviewing current UW policies.
Dean did not provide comment on how many commitments would be completed by year’s end. No other specific project deadlines were given, as Dean said that timelines for the work would depend on based on those discussions.
Those recommendations will be shared publicly when available. Implementation teams would be in charge of fulfilling those recommendations based on urgency as identified by earlier consultations with the university community.
Meanwhile, student group RAISE reports that they haven’t been engaged at all in UW’s anti-racism discussions, despite having years of experience advocating for racial justice and equity.
And UW’s Black Faculty Collective are optimistic about the work at PART as their expertise is being called on.