The importance of Black History Month
Message from President Goel
It is difficult to put into words what it is like to walk the path where enslaved people once tread as they were about to be shipped to the Americas, at the site of what was described as the “gate of no return.”
Late last year, along with a small delegation from the University of Waterloo, we toured Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast of Ghana as part of a trip to Africa intended to build pan-African collaborations. The castle is one of dozens along the West African coast established by European traders as part of the Atlantic slave trade. Not only did we learn about the past, but it was a powerful reminder of the on-going impact of this history on our world.
February is Black History Month. It is an opportunity for all of us to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black Canadians and their communities to our country. It is also an opportunity to reflect on ways to eradicate systemic racism in our institution and beyond. In collaboration with the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Anti-Racism, we work with our community to advance anti-racism and equity through evidence-based policies, practices and programs.
We continue to respond to the recommendations from the President’s Anti-Racism Taskforce and make progress on programs and initiatives to support and foster an equitable environment at University of Waterloo. We put in place new student opportunity funds to eliminate some of the financial barriers for Black and Indigenous students. Last summer, the University of Waterloo’s Anti-racism Unit launched the Sankofa Pathways to University (SPU) program, open to Canadian Black youth. This 7-week university course is titled “Taking B(l)ack History,” and focuses on Blackness, Black history, and Black futures. Upon successful completion of the course, students will earn a transferable university half-credit (0.5). Ultimately, we seek to put in place the resources and systems to ensure our Black students, faculty and staff thrive.
I would like to recognize the Black Faculty and Staff Collective for their leadership and insights in supporting this work. Christopher Stuart Taylor, Associate Vice-President, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism, and his team have also played an integral role in making these changes a reality. Above all else, it takes collective action on the part of our entire community to make these important changes.
In May, the University of Waterloo will join Wilfrid Laurier University in hosting the 2024 Inter-Institutional Forum of the Scarborough National Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion in Canadian Higher Education. Waterloo is one of 40 higher education institutions who are signatories of the Scarborough Charter. Through the Charter, we are honouring our commitment to making unbiased choices and being anti-racist in all aspects of our lives. We are taking coordinated actions to dismantle systems that perpetuate racial discrimination and build a more inclusive and equitable society.
Black History Month is only one month a year. While it is an opportunity to reflect on our successes in building a more inclusive and equitable institution, we must remember that our commitments to anti-racism and equity are year-round.
The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is co-ordinated within the Office of Indigenous Relations.