The Inter-Institutional Forum Scarborough Charter 2024 took place May 9 and 10 — bringing together scholars, leaders and advocates from signatories of the Scarborough Charter on anti-Black racism and Black inclusion for a dialogue on Black experiences, challenges and achievements within higher education.

Hosted jointly by the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, this two-day event was an amiable and energetic gathering of intellect, activism and community building.

The forum began at Waterloo's Federation Hall with a business meeting, convening executive heads, chief academic officers, and institutional equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) leads from partner institutions. The meeting allowed leaders to discuss policy, progress and strategy to meet the institutional obligations outlined in the Charter.

The winner of the Scarborough Charter Logo Design Opportunity competition was also revealed at the business meeting. Of the top five submissions from different universities, Mary-Ann Adebayo, a Global Business and Digital arts student from Waterloo, submitted the winning brand identity for the Scarborough Charter initiative.

Scarborough Charter

Mary-Anne Adebayo received the first-place award ($1,500) for the Scarborough Charter Logo Design Opportunity and her design is now the official logo for the Forum, Secretariat and Steering Committee

Dr. Anita Taylor, acting associate vice-president, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Anti-Racism at University of Waterloo, commenced the afternoon sessions.

“This morning, we convened with leaders from various institutions to reflect on our journey, acknowledging the progress made, the obstacles overcome, and the emerging challenges ahead,” Taylor said. “We are so pleased to have you all here today as we work together on this very necessary and very important work.”

Dr. Debra Thompson, professor of political science and Canada Research Chair in Racial Inequality at McGill University, delivered a keynote address titled "Blackness and Belonging in the Academy," which resonated with audience members as they could see their own lived experiences shared — setting the tone for the compelling discussions had throughout the day.

debra thompson

Dr. Debra Thompson, professor of political science at McGill University, delivered the keynote address

“Universities are pivotal in the battle against racial inequality and in creating a sense of love and belonging for Black individuals. Seeing themselves in the institutions, from Black studies programs to mentor groups for Black students, they are all essential for their success,” Thompson said. “However, systemic racism often prevents Black students from receiving the love and acceptance they seek from these institutions, which are incapable of loving them back.”

Sessions covered a spectrum of topics critical to the Black experience, including student-led activism and solidarity, community history, anti-Black racism initiatives in universities and Black representation in the academy.

people on stage

Left to right: Celine Isimbi, Shama Saleh, Fitsum Areguy, Teneile Warren, Marcia Smellie, Jessica Thompson

“We carve out our own space within these institutions, and it's crucial to recognize the struggles we've endured to gain entry. Once inside, we must assert our agency in driving Black resistance. Together, we must advocate for our communities in the manner we deem fit and necessary,” said panellist Teneile Warren, who serves as the equity and inclusion officer for the Waterloo Region District School Board.

The first day finished with the Building Black Connections Community Expo, held at the Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex, providing an opportunity for attendees to immerse themselves in local Black history and culture, support local businesses and programs and create meaningful connections.

community expo

Participants had the chance to engage in learning about the Black community in the Kitchener-Waterloo region at the Black Connections Community Expo

Day two shifted to Laurier's campus, where participants engaged in sessions exploring Black experiences in higher education, affinity spaces for students, faculty, and staff and a panel on Black Studies.

Throughout both days, attendees were inspired by the diverse array of speakers, including students, educators, activists and community leaders — who shared their expertise and experiences with passion and authenticity. The forum showcased the collective commitment to advancing racial equity and inclusion in higher education, from discussions on community empowerment to strategies for institutional change.

The Inter-Institutional Forum Scarborough Charter 2024 sparked meaningful dialogue, collaboration and action in addressing the systemic barriers faced by Black communities in academia. By bringing together stakeholders from across institutions and sectors, the forum not only highlighted the challenges but also paved pathways for progress and transformation.

As universities continue to address issues of equity and diversity, events like the Scarborough Charter Forum provide invaluable opportunities for reflection, learning and collective action. Moving forward, it is imperative that the insights and momentum generated by this forum translate into concrete initiatives and policies that foster a more inclusive and equitable academic environment for all.

Photo credit: Sam Charles, University Relations