Welcome back to our third issue of The Catalyst Anti-Racism Newsletter.
Each month, we have a different President’s Anti-Racism Taskforce (PART) working group co-chair introduce the newsletter. We hope this will give you a deeper understanding of the dedicated people behind our work.
This month, our message comes from Katrina Di Gravio, former Director, Organizational & Human Development, and co-chair of the Professional and Academic Development & Mentorship Working Group.
In this issue:
- Message from the Chair
- Message from the President
- Anti-racism across campus
- Student feature
- Department feature
- Working group updates
- Upcoming events
- Past events
Katrina Di Gravio, former Director, Organizational & Human Development
As the former leader of a learning and development unit, I know that the kind of holistic change we hope to accomplish in the anti-racism work at Waterloo requires us to learn together as we implement action. It is my privilege to act as co-chair of the Professional, Academic Development & Mentorship working group to make opportunities for growth more equitable and accessible for our employees and students.
We face a potential challenge in doing this work as interest will wane without a quick fix. Much like other working groups, ours has focused on recommendations that are tangible actions. This makes them more attainable. Each group’s recommendations are informed by substantial research and careful consideration; and sharing what we discover can help educate our campus on how to become active participants in this work.
Not that this is immediately attainable, but I believe success will look like the complete elimination of racism and bias on our campuses. If we are dedicated to a deeper collective understanding and education on all issues, it is important to know what we’re striving for. I hope we can, as individuals, put our minds, hearts, effort and money into doing the hard work needed to create an inclusive culture where we all belong.
As I begin my term as president and learn more about the University of Waterloo, its people and values, I am pleased to see us committing to being anti-racist.
As places of higher learning, universities have an obligation and opportunity to take leadership in advancing anti-racism, equity and inclusion. In Waterloo’s strategic plan, we acknowledge that having a diversity of voices and perspectives enriches our teaching and research. To honour this rich diversity of our community, we must proactively find, prevent and remove barriers, so everyone can achieve their full potential.
Universities also play an important role in educating our students and the public about the inequalities and injustices that continue to pervade society. We can start by confronting the history of colonialism that has and continues to affect so many people today, particularly Indigenous, Black and other racialized people.
Advancing anti-racism and Truth and Reconciliation has always been critical work. This past year, and particularly events of recent months across Canada, have reminded us that hate and racism are not just part of our past, but still very much a stain on our present—and so we will persist and be unrelenting in our efforts to stamp out racism from our future.
I’d like to thank my predecessor Feridun Hamdullahpur for forming the President’s Anti-Racism Taskforce, and I thank everyone involved in all the anti-racism work across our campuses for your dedication and perseverance. It is challenging work, but it is heartening to see the tremendous progress already underway here at the University because of your efforts. I am committed to continuing to support these important initiatives.
I look forward to our ongoing work together.
Vivek Goel, CM
President and Vice-Chancellor
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Anti-racism Book Club
Each month, from July 2021 to June 2022, led by a member of our campus community, PART will lead a virtual discussion for students and employees.
On Tuesday, July 20, Dr. Christopher Taylor will host PART’s inaugural book club featuring Ibram X. Zendi’s How to be an Anti-Racist. The event, initially offered on a first-come, first-serve basis to the first 30 participants, was expanded by organizers to accommodate for the overwhelming interest of over 100 employees and students.
“It is extremely encouraging to see that so many in our community are eager to be engaged and join the conversation,” said Charmaine Dean, PART's Executive Designate and Vice President, Research and International.
Though registration for this event is now closed, the second event will be held on Tuesday August 17th, 2021 at 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm. The book that will be discussed is Bob Joseph’s 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality (2018), and the host will be Jean Becker.
Jean Becker is Inuit from Nunatsiavut, Labrador. She has worked at Wilfrid Laurier University since 2006 and was a vital asset to creating Indigenous Initiatives there. Jean is currently the senior advisor of Indigenous Initiatives at the University of Waterloo, advising the institution on Indigenous issues; and working to implement Laurier's commitment to the development and enhancement of post-secondary educational opportunities for Indigenous students.
Employees and students are encouraged to attend. Find out more and register for the event.
The University of Waterloo is excited to invite all students and employees to participate in the Equity Data Survey.
"By taking part in the survey, you will help us identify equity gaps in programs, services, and policies to better meet the needs of underrepresented and equity-deserving students, faculty, and staff," said James W.E. Rush, vice-president, academic & provost.
Check your inbox for your unique invitation, sent mid-June. For those campus community members who do not use email as part of their role on campus, you received a unique letter to participate in the Equity Data Survey in the mail.
If you have any questions about the survey, visit the Equity Data Survey webpage, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To say Chinonso Uchechi Ekeanyanwu is an engaged student is an understatement. The University of Waterloo African Students Association, The Biomedical Science Student Association and now PART’s Health & Mental Health working group are just a few of the on-campus activities she’s involved in. “Extracurriculars have opened the door for me to meet a world of new people and really enhanced my time at Waterloo,” she said.
When Chinoso first started studying in the Faculty of Science, she immediately angled herself into all the “harder biomedical science courses” with hopes of going into Medicine. As she moved through her undergraduate degree, she found herself more interested in the social aspects of science. “Courses like Human Aging and The Psychology of Death and Dying made it easier to conceptualize and connect what I was learning about science and biology to humans and my everyday interactions with others,” she said. This curiosity ultimately contributed to her adding a psychology minor to her studies.
In her later years, Chinoso worked as a Don in Campus Housing. It was there she hoped to use her experience to help support other first-year students. She said she was not aware of mental health until her first year of university, when she saw her own decline. “I was also seeing many racialized students in the same position as me,” she said. Chinoso noticed the significant stress they were under, dealing not only with pressures from parents and the daily struggles of having to fit into a white society, but because mental health is a taboo topic in the Black community and within other racialized cultures.
In addition to her on-campus engagement, Chinoso was also involved in BOLD, the Black Operative Leadership Directive, which encourages black high school students to pursue post-secondary while also equipping them with tools they need to succeed in post-secondary.
In her undergraduate career, she saw the talent, ambition, and intelligence within the Black community at Waterloo; but there was a discrepancy looking upwards at people in positions she wanted to be in, where she didn’t see people who looked like them. In applying to law school, she was shocked to find that the school had only accepted two to three Black students per year over the last three years. “This let me know instantly that there is a barrier that I have personally encountered, so my dream is to one day help students like me overcome it.”
She acknowledged that there’s a long way to go in the work to dismantle systemic bias within the University’s health and mental health services. Chinoso also said that the Anti-Racism Taskforce is such an important step in the right direction. For her, success will mean “more representation within these services, including more racialized counsellors, doctors, and directors with oversight over the entire system. Success would also look like a universal and ubiquitous understanding of what mental health and health looks like to racialized persons,” she said.
In June 2020, the University of Waterloo's School of Architecture established a Racial Equity and Environmental Justice (REEJ) Task Force. The Task Force was created in urgent response to renewed calls by different individuals and groups within and beyond the school to address systemic racism: most importantly, Treaty Lands Global Stories and the Sustainability Collective.
The group, initially composed of full-time faculty, was subsequently expanded to include contract faculty, staff, and students. “One way of addressing our predominantly white faculty complement was to expand membership to those from within and outside the School that could speak from lived experience,” said Anne Bordeleau, O'Donovan Director and Professor at the School of Architecture. In addition, the REEJ Task Force also benefited from the insights of an advisory board with members including alumna as well as Indigenous architects.
The group has developed three calls for concrete changes. Specifically, that the School:
Foreground contemporary and historical Indigenous culture and the legacy of settler colonialism
Broaden its curriculum to represent the diversity of its students and broaden all students’ education, regardless of background, beyond the western canon, and
Place sustainability as a key priority within all aspects of the School
Poorna Patange, a student at the School and member of the task force, says it’s apparent that “a change is afoot” at the School: both in classroom conversations, and school-wide lectures. Poorna admits that a challenge for participation is that the discussions were often bureaucratic, and the process opaque for her peers outside the task force. Anne said the lived experiences of students like Poorna have been essential. They were key contributors and critical editors of the commitments to change, broadening its scope and that of the committee’s understanding. Salman Rauf, another student and member, said the process is slow and can sometimes even seem pointless: “but the work requires a level of humility, and that is what I felt from everyone involved.”
The Task Force and advisory board coordinated a number of working groups around core areas: 1) School Culture; 2) Curriculum; 3) Hiring and admissions; 4) Outreach; and 5) Accountability, with three separate workings delving deeper in the curriculum to each look at: (2.1) Studio, (2.2) Cultural History, and (2.3) Environment, Technology, Urbanism, and Landscape courses.
Bordeleau acknowledged that anti-racism conversations are crucially important for the School of Architecture. “Some groups are under-represented in the field, which must be indicative of an unexamined force of exclusion,” said Anne. “Some students say they do not see themselves reflected in the curriculum, or among mentors in the field. It is a reminder that Architecture is critically intertwined with matters of inclusion and exclusion. Literally, architecture can be the face of power and the site of genocides, as we see in the case of the residential schools in Canada or in the crematoria at Auschwitz.”
The School has just undergone a significant re-thinking of their cultural history stream, which had remained very Eurocentric to this day. Looking more deeply within the discipline at what is valued from admissions all the way to recognition and awards may help the School to see how certain racial narratives operate specifically in our institution.
So far, the School of Architecture has completed a number of initiatives and developed a list of 41 commitments to racial equity and environmental justice. In addition, the School has just sent out a call for a standing committee that will assist with both short-term and long-term committee goals, working in coordination with other School, Faculty and University committees to support sustainable change within the School of Architecture and beyond.
Through an REEJ fund, faculty members have pledged over $60 000 to date: however future plans for a mentorship program, scholarships and awards, and guest lecturers will need champions and further financial support.
Poorna hopes to see a more supportive culture develop within the school and in the context the building and institution are embedded in. These are motivating factors as the task force plans for the future, said Anne. “Perhaps most centrally important is that the way we work must foster trust and mutual respect. For this, more regular and meaningful engagement with the broader school community will be key.”
Find out more about the context and timeline for the commitments, as well as the basis for the School of Architecture and REEJ standing committee will work from and develop.
Race, Culture and Ethnicity Awareness working group work
The Race, Culture and Ethnicity Awareness PART Working Group is responsible for raising awareness about racial equity, diversity and inclusion issues on campus.
Over the last month, the group has been reviewing Waterloo’s mission, vision and values, and guiding principles from a perspective that prioritizes equity, diversity and anti-racism. In support of this work, the group is developing recommendations that better reflect the actions and values that demonstrate our commitment to building an inclusive community.
Working group member and coordinator, Tamara Zur, believes this is an important initiative which aims to influence the guiding principles of the institution. “All strategic planning, program implementation and community development should be aligned to the mission, vision and values of an organization.” In this way, the review will contribute to a creating a place where all members of Waterloo’s community can thrive.
A number of different stakeholders are being consulted, such as the Equity Office, the Indigenous Initiatives Office, WUSA, and the GSA. “We hope these institutional groups will be able to provide guidance and unique perspectives about how we can capture anti-racist and anti-oppression language and actions into these documents,” said Tamara. The group will continue to reach out to other groups who have important perspectives to contribute “to ensure that the recommendation is representative of as many voices and perspectives as possible.”
Working with Olivia Taylor, PART’s Research Analyst, the group also completed an environmental scan of 31 Universities to examine their mission, vision, values and guiding principles with a key focus on how anti-racism and anti-oppression language is embedded in these statements. “Through this exercise, we’ve learned of a number of creative ways to ensure the principles of inclusiveness and belonging are woven through these foundational documents,” said Tamara.
As a result of their research and consultations, the working group plans to include suggestions on how Faculty/Departmental missions, visions and values, as well overarching strategic planning processes can align to include anti-racist and anti-oppression language as part of their recommendation. “This will allow us to increase Anti-racist values in places across the institution.” They also plan to make specific recommendations on possible edits, additions or revisions to the current foundational messaging that exists.
On June 29th, the Indigenous Initiatives Office hosted their keynote event for National Indigenous History Month with the Honourable Murray Sinclair. “The truth is hard. Reconciliation is harder,” this event came at an opportune time for our country, as we seek to understand how best to implement and advance the TRC’s 94 calls to action. Over 2,300 participants from the University of Waterloo, the Kitchener-Waterloo community and across Canada attended this virtual event.