UBC and systemic racism

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Recent events, including the incident involving UBC graduate student Savoy Williams, have brought to light the pervasiveness of systemic racism, and in particular anti-Black racism. When any population on campus does not feel included, respected, and engaged, it impacts their experience and their capacity to change the world.

Since my statement on racism earlier this month (https://president.ubc.ca/letter-to-the-community/2020/06/01/together-against-racism/), I have heard from many members of the UBC community. I have listened to students of colour who have shared personal stories and concerns of their experiences both inside and outside the classroom. They reminded me to address: diversity in the classroom, diversity in health care providers on campus, speakers who seek only to offend and divide rather than educate, resources for culture-specific programs and services, and space for cultural groups.

All of this underscores what I said in my statement, that as a university, we need to make it crystal clear that racism and bias have no place in our community and that we have zero tolerance for it.

I have called for a full formal external investigation of the Savoy Williams incident.

I have also asked for an external review of incidents, policies (and their application), practises and training within campus security to ensure that racialized members of our community are treated equally to all other members of our community. This will include a consideration of the role and tenor of other organizations that also provide campus security, including the RCMP. As a priority, I am meeting with members of the Black Caucus to listen and to learn from their experiences of racism on our campuses.

Only after I have listened will we begin to move to action as recommended by the Black Caucus. Over time, I will expand my listening sessions to include Indigenous and Asian groups as well as other marginalized communities.

Following these consultations, I will establish an advisory committee on systemic racism. Working together, we will develop terms of reference that could include:

  • Establishing processes for open discussions on systemic racism: We have heard about the need to listen to lived experiences of systemic racism. The committee could work actively with the UBC community to create the spaces and processes which enable such listening.
  • Embedding principles of equity, diversity and inclusion into our core academic mission: I have already charged the two Provosts to work with their respective Deans towards matters related to curriculum and the diversity of the faculty complement – which we know are long-standing concerns about systemic racism in academia. We will engage the Senates, the Council of Senates, and all established governance mechanisms in these endeavors.
  • Identifying and addressing gaps in supports for racialized students, faculty and staff.
  • Addressing systemic barriers which may impede qualified racialized faculty and staff from applying to, being hired in and being retained at senior leadership positions at UBC.
  • Developing an inventory of existing anti-racism policies, practices and training and identify new initiatives to address gaps.
    I will discuss with the committee the appointment of a Senior Advisor to work with me on this initiative (as has been recommended by several people during consultations).

As I said in my statement, at UBC, diversity is our strength. We can play a role against hatred, oppression, violence and injustice and find a way to support and elevate those who have been traditionally, systemically, and historically marginalized.

Santa J. Ono
President and Vice-Chancellor

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