A mishandling by the administration and the prolonged implementation of inadequate recommendations are some of what make the OVPECI’s report dangerous for Ryerson’s Black community, Manuela Vega reports
1. THE REPORT
1. THE REPORT
On July 17, the Office of the Vice President, Equity and Community Inclusion (OVPECI) released the Anti-Black Racism Campus Climate Review Report (ABRCCR), originally expected to be published by the end of 2019. The Black Liberation Collective at Ryerson (BLC) is adamant that the administration “repackaged” the report which they demanded be written by an independent reviewer—and they say they want to see the original draft.
BLC first called on Ryerson to conduct a review of anti-Black racism on campus in 2016, and advocated for Rinaldo Walcott—a University of Toronto professor who specializes in Black diaspora cultural studies and postcolonial studies—to be the reviewer.
But members of BLC said they can’t believe that Walcott—or any external researcher—would write a report that applauds Ryerson, understates harm on campus and has only vague recommendations.
In particular, BLC criticized the reports’ failure to hold Ryerson accountable for anti-Black racism, by repeatedly saying that all academic institutions deal with racism. The report also praised the OVPECI, an office which many Black students have raised concerns about.
Denise O’Neil Green, Ryerson’s vice-president, equity and community inclusion, is co-chairing the Presidential Implementation Committee to address the report’s recommendations with two other members of the administration.
“How can members of the institution be tasked with surveilling themselves and ensuring that they are applying these recommendations?” asked BLC member and fourth-year politics and governance student Ledya Mahadere.
Mahadere said that everything about the report, from the tone to the small number of personal stories and how they are summarized, demonstrates “what many Black students on this campus already know—which is that Ryerson has no real intention to uncover, understand and expose the reality of anti-Blackness and the way it manifests on campus.”
2. THE OVPECI’S ROLE
Ryerson’s administration promised to review the climate of anti-Black racism in 2017 at the request of the BLC, and began work on the ABRCCR in March 2019. O’Neil Green quickly became involved in the process as co-chair, said Rye alumnus and BLC co-founder Josh Lamers.
Despite Ryerson having agreed to hire someone to conduct the review independent of the university, “she tried to position herself as a co-chair,” he said.
BLC told O’Neil Green they didn’t want her involved because the OVPECI had implications in issues of anti-Black racism that were meant to be addressed in the report. Her office operates to protect the reputation of the university rather than marginalized community members, said Lamers.
“This fraudulent university was willingly and knowingly endangering our lives”
O’Neil Green said Walcott wrote the full report and added that Ryerson only provided a copy editor and “design layout with photos” to make the ABRCCR reader-friendly. Walcott approved the final report, added O’Neil Green.
Walcott declined to comment for The Eye. Any debate or discussion brought about from the report should be left with the Ryerson community, he said.
The report has a section on the OVPECI which reads that the office “represents a long history of equity work at Ryerson” and has a “tremendous amount of support.” However, Lamers said the report is an attempt by the OVPECI to “re-narrate history,” posing the office as doing great work while Black community members publicly speak out against its harmful practices.
“You have ECI pretending as if they’re going to be our Black saviour. As if Denise O’Neil Green didn’t fire Carol Sutherland, the only Black person in that office doing work for Black students. That’s why she was fired,” said Lamers.
Carol Sutherland, who was the OVPECI special project coordinator and founder of the Black Faculty and Staff Community Network, was fired in January 2019 while she was on medical leave. Sutherland had worked at Ryerson for 15 years and was known for her advocacy and support of Black community members at Ryerson.
Sutherland’s union has since filed three grievances against Ryerson, for which an arbitration hearing will be held on Sept. 9, the Toronto Star reported.
3. THE REVIEW OF SECURITY AND “INSTITUTIONAL VIOLENCE”
The ABRCCR has one recommendation on security: that Ryerson prioritize safety and security to “positively impact Black student belonging, with security to be trained in equity, diversity and inclusion.”
“Dr. Rinaldo Walcott would never say policing and security need ECI training… We refuse those ideas,” said Lamers, referring to the idea of reforming, rather than abolishing campus policing.
BLC member Hansel Igbavoa called policing on campus “institutional violence on Black students,” and added that training will make no difference to being “hyper-surveilled.”
In the report, Black students made it clear that campus security does not make them feel safe; instead, their presence is intimidating. Additionally, Black students feel “profoundly subject to racial profiling” by security, leading to “a strong sense of non-belonging.”
Students interviewed for the report recounted experiences of being followed by campus security, asked for ID, and treated with hostility; leading to “a strong sense of non-belonging.” They also pointed out disparities between how they and their white peers are policed, with security lingering outside of events where there were Black students.
Concerns were also expressed around security working in groups. The ABRCCR adds that security works in pairs for their own safety and for that of the community—a detail which Lamers said he believes was included to validate excessive security presence.
”What I don’t understand is why I see four to six people, sometimes eight [security staff members] approaching someone…because they don’t think they belong there,” said Lamers. “Eight people is not going to de-escalate a situation… it escalates, not de-escalates.”
The report stated that 59 per cent of security guards “self-identify as coming from racialized minority backgrounds.” It added that their jobs are made difficult by taunts, intimidation and threat of violence, and that racialized security guards, in particular, face “racialized physical and psychological violence.”
Igbavoa said that that addition overlooks the fact that “Black students have been harassed multiple times by security of campus, regardless of [security’s] ethnic background or their race.”
“How can members of the institution be tasked with surveilling themselves?”
Despite the report’s conclusion earlier in 2019 that policing presented a danger to Black students, Ryerson still applied for the presence of special constables on campus that September, said Lamers.
“These people had the report for a year,” said Lamers. “This fraudulent university was willingly and knowingly endangering our lives.”
When director of safety and security Denise Campbell announced in September 2019 that Ryerson had submitted a proposal for special constables to the Toronto Police Services (TPS), Campbell said that the university’s approach would be informed by recommendations in the then-unpublished ABRCCR.
Presidential Implementation Committee member Deborah Brown said the report was one part of “a large body of data” that Ryerson used in considering its approach to safety and security. She emphasized that before the cancellation of the special constables program this June, “the university received an increasing number of concerns through the spring and summer regarding bringing special constables to campus.”
Igbavoa said “the university should look into more sustainable and community-based safety methods that don’t involve policing, don’t involve security.”
A working group will hold consultations with students, staff and faculty about creating a safety and security model that works for the entire Ryerson community this fall, Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi announced on July 21.
4. THE SEVEN MONTH DELAY
Ryerson announced the ABRCCR was to be released on July 17, “in honour of Nelson Mandela International Day,” on July 18. However, all of the report’s consultations were wrapped up a year earlier and the report was originally expected be complete by the end of 2019.
President Mohamed Lachemi addressed the year’s delay in a LinkedIn comment to Lamers this June. The OVPECI would publish the review “later this year when the COVID-19 pandemic allows our community to get back to our normal activities,” Lachemi said.
Igbavoa believed Ryerson delayed the report because it was scheduled to be published around the same time that Campbell announced Ryerson would be applying for special constables to be on campus, he previously told The Eye.
Further, in a meeting last September with executive director of the ECI office Darrell Bowden, the BLC was told that the office would be holding onto the report until February, to go through an “executive process,” said Igbavoa. “They… mentioned things along the lines of removing things for privacy concerns.”
“There’s no doubt that for almost one year after since the report was completed, they were just basically repackaging and rewording the report to make the university look not too bad,” said Igbavoa.
According to Ryerson, “the first draft of the report was submitted by Professor Rinaldo Walcott in the fall term of 2019 and was finalized in the winter term of 2020. The university planned to release the report in April 2020 but was delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”
“As with all official Ryerson reports, the material was copy-edited, reviewed to ensure participant anonymity, and a graphic designer prepared the report to ensure it was in a readable and accessible format for the community,” the statement reads.
“This is not the report that BLC demanded, this is not the report that we fought for, this is not the report that honours our…work.”
5. THE PRESIDENTIAL IMPLEMENTATION COMMITTEE
The Presidential Implementation Committee has been tasked with addressing all 14 recommendations in the report. The committee is co-chaired by vice-president of administration and operations Deborah Brown, assistant vice-president of Ryerson International Anver Saloojee and Denise O’Neil Green.
The committee will “develop strategies in response to the recommendations” and “work with the Ryerson community to ensure that the report’s 14 recommendations are acted upon and implemented in an open, consultative and timely manner,” said Ryerson’s central communications in an email.
“Right now, we’re looking at a one to two year timeframe,” said O’Neil Green. She said the committee will provide more detail in the fall and intends to meet with stakeholders in Ryerson’s Black community.
However, the executive director of the ECI, Darrell Bowden, had committed to publishing a written action plan with the report before consultations for the review began, said BLC member Hansel Igbavoa.
Lamers criticized the committee consisting solely of people in Ryerson’s administration, having only one person, and not including anyone who has been outspoken about anti-Black racism on campus in the past.
“I’m frustrated because it was me and other people for five years putting ourselves on the line to have this come out,” said Lamers. “This is not the report that BLC demanded, this is not the report that we fought for, this is not the report that honours our…work.”