By Sarah Krichel
Ryerson University and Ryerson’s School of Social Work have officially responded to open letters written by the Black Liberation Collective (BLC) and the Indigenous Students Rising (ISR) during the fall semester. The letters demanded that the university take action to prevent anti-Black and anti-Native racism on campus.
In a post on the the BLC’s Facebook page, written on March 9, the collective said that the university and the school of social work have committed to creating a collection of race-based data to conduct a full climate review of Ryerson campus, in addition to other possible initiatives.
Johanna VanderMaas, public affairs manager of Ryerson, provided the following statement to The Eyeopener on behalf of the university: “We thank the students from the ISR and BLC whose voices and actions have placed a spotlight on these very important issues for our campus. We look forward to collaborating with our students to make Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) a reality across campus, in all spaces while addressing anti-Black and anti-Native racism,” the statement reads.
“The President’s Office, the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, the Faculty of Community Services and the School of Social Work have all met with representatives from these groups and the following commitments have been made, with more initiatives to come. The School of Social Work is committed to ensuring an inclusive process, as we move forward, with representation from community members, students, faculty, contract lectures and staff.”
Other promises included creating scholarships dedicated to Black students at Ryerson, a dedicated space for Black students to focus on advocacy, activism and healing, a curriculum review related to anti-Black and anti-Native racism and development of courses/programs, a requirement to hire Black and Indigenous academics and activists to revamp these programs, and establishment of advisory committees to address anti-Black and anti-Native racism.
“While we have some recommendations to give in relation to these proposed commitments, we do see these as a beginning of a genuine relationship in this process,” BLC’s Facebook post reads. “We will continue to hold both levels accountable, and if community members and students have any recommendations feel free to message us.”
In the statement provided by VanderMaas, a breakdown of the university’s efforts was provided:
- The EDI office has been collecting race-based data of Ryerson faculty and staff, and has been having conversations with the Registrar’s Office since fall 2016 to develop a student Diversity Self ID program accessible to students, to be launched in July 2017
- The climate review will be run by Denise O’Neil Green, assistant vice-president and vice-provost equity, with an advisory committee of Ryerson faculty, staff and students
- The provost’s office is exploring options for a space dedicated to community and capacity building, healing, advocacy and activism work of and for Black students. The space would be managed by the EDI office
- The faculty of community services (FCS) will have a faculty-wide EDI advisory group where “all members are welcome to participate.” The group will discuss ideas to further enhance EDI within the faculty through new practices and projects. The FCS’ first project is to form a working group that will explore anti-Black racism and anti-Native racism and the Calls to Action emerging from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report
- The school of social work plans to review their curriculum in relation to these areas of scholarship and “how they can be deepened across all areas of the curriculum.” The school plans to develop a course on anti-Black racism
- The President’s Office is currently working on scholarships dedicated to Black and Indigenous students at Ryerson, with details to be finalized
On Oct. 31, the BLC addressed an open letter to Henry Parada, Ryerson’s school of social work, the FCS services and Ryerson University. The letter cited alleged instances of anti-Black racism by Ryerson teaching staff and demanded that he step down. Then, on Nov. 15, the ISR group wrote an open letter addressed to Ryerson administration, including President Mohamed Lachemi’s office, the EDI office, the FCS and Ryerson’s school of social work. The letter cited the lack of a clear outline or policy for accountability of staff discrimination against Black students. The letter requested commitments such as land acknowledgements at the start of every semester in every classroom, increased hiring of anti-Black racism scholars and of Indigenous staff and concrete approaches in examining privilege and ally-ship into social work curriculum.
Following a lack of response from the university, the BLC and the ISR led a rally in Eric Palin Hall on Nov. 28 to protest the school of social work’s lack of action on acknowledging the open letters addressed to the Ryerson community.