March 21 is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
As we mark this day for the first time at Waterloo, I have been reflecting on the actions the University has been taking and wanted to share with you an update on our work to dismantle systems of racism within our institution.
Many communities around the world, strengthened by diversity, also struggle with the historical notions of racial superiority. These ideas still plague the hearts and minds of many.
We know systemic racism persists in institutions, schools, and in our justice system. We know that both consciously and unconsciously, some individuals act based on these engrained ideologies. We have been reminded of that this week as the world once again reacts to deeply distressing news from the United States.
The horrific murder of eight people this week in Atlanta – six of whom were women of Asian origin – has bought attention to the deeply distressing rise of anti-Asian racism in our society. This is also a Canadian problem. Fight COVID Racism has tracked nearly 1,000 reported incidents of anti-Asian racism in Canada since the start of the pandemic. Anti-Asian racism happens here in Waterloo.
I acknowledge again that anti-Black, anti-Indigenous and other forms of racism happen here too. In addition to dismantling systems of oppression, including right here in Waterloo, we all have a part to play in addressing racism.
But our present and our future are not bleak. March 21 was established by the United Nations over 40 years ago as a way to demand the eradication of discrimination in our societies. This is the duty of many nation states, but it’s a duty we as members of Waterloo must also embrace.
The 2021 theme aims to empower youth to stand up against racism. We see so many of our students engaged in conversation, events, educational activities that aim to do just that. But this day remains yet another opportunity for our entire community - students, faculty and staff to foster deeper understanding, and to take steps towards being actively anti-racist. It is not enough for us to be individually non-racist, we must actively engage in dismantling systems of racism – individually and collectively, within our institution and the larger society.
I’m proud of the work members of our campus community, particularly those involved in the work of PART, continue to do every day to create a more equitable and inclusive environment.
Update on commitments
Last August, I made a number of commitments, all of which have been embedded into the work of PART working groups and implementation teams. Through the work of PART we have, among many other actions, begun work to identify processes related to the hiring of Black and Indigenous employees; set in motion a plan for race-based data collection; hired a full-time counsellor dedicated to the needs of black and indigenous students; initiated the hiring process for a Senior Manager, Anti-Racism Response, focusing on supporting individuals who may have experienced racism; begun work towards a Black Studies Program and developed a proposal for Indigenous spaces.
A full update on this work and other anti-racism initiatives led by the faculties are available on the PART website.
There is so much ongoing behind the scenes, and only a portion of that work is reflected here.
My previous calls to action have invited you to join this initiative. This call to action is different. I am asking the managers and supervisors of individuals participating in this important anti-racism work to express gratitude to them. These individuals are devoting their time and passion to this crucial initiative. I ask you to reflect on how they have contributed, not only to PART, but also internally to your units. Bringing cultural change to the institution is not easy and they have been actively supporting these efforts.
If you are Black, Indigenous or a Person of Colour on campus with expertise in confronting racism and systemic oppression, and you’d like to be involved in the work of PART, we are still welcoming members to join our Community Collaborative (CC). The CC is a forum of approximately 60 Black, Indigenous and People of Colour that discuss and provide feedback on thinking and approaches to this anti-racism work. If you would like to participate or have other feedback on our collective anti-racism efforts, we welcome your feedback.
I continue to thank everyone involved in PART, and through other efforts on campus, for your continued determination and enthusiasm as we work towards eradicating systemic racism in our communities.