Western’s Response to the Anti-Racism Working Group Final Report

Dear Members of the Western Community,

I am writing in response to the thoughtful report of the Anti-Racism Working Group (ARWG) at Western. This response makes some administrative commitments to action as we go forward with critical efforts to combat racism in the world around us, including anti-Black racism. These commitments will I hope be foundational in creating systemic change, and setting Western on the path of a more just future for all of its students, staff, and faculty.

For context, last fall, some racist online attacks were directed at a Black Western student when she shared her experience of anti-Black racism on campus on social media. The virulent online responses to our student brought me into an urgent conversation with the leaders of several ethnocultural student organizations. We had good discussions about their views and experiences of racism at Western and in the broader community. As a still-new president of Western, I learned a lot, and concluded that the university would benefit from a broader discussion and response to both overt and indirect racism.

During that period, our Ethnocultural Support Services, the African Students’ Association, the Black Students’ Association, the Caribbean Students’ Organization, the University Students’ Council, and the Society of Graduate Students released a joint statement in solidarity with the student whose efforts to counter racism had been verbally threatened.

In January 2020 we established the Anti-Racism Working Group, comprised of 20 students, faculty, and staff.

As you will read in its Report, the Group has undertaken both qualitative and quantitative engagement with the university community. The Report crystallizes some sixteen themes (pages 17-18) and issues twenty-four recommendations (pages 19-22). The recommendations cross the institution—from policy and training, to hiring and development, to curricula and research, to student experience, to our history as a public institution of higher education and research.

These recommendations will help us build a better Western for now, and for the future.

The Report is a call to action. It also acknowledges its “cautious optimism” about the future of our anti-racism efforts in the context of work that is carried out today at Western by a number of staff and faculty members and their respective units. The Report conveys that Western is not starting from scratch, but that we can do better, and we must.

The world is at a turning point.

And at Western, we have opportunities to participate fully in that turning point.

So in response to the Report’s recommendations, the university will take a number of concrete steps to build that better future by working to combat racism.

While all of the recommendations are helpful, and will be addressed as we move ahead, I am identifying today several that can receive immediate resources, attention, and commitment to make them happen: 

  1. Establishing a senior role at the university to help lead our EDI efforts. This senior role will begin as a Special Advisor to the President because that can happen this summer, and will be subsequently proposed to the Board of Governors as an Associate Vice President’s role.

  2. Establishing a Council to advise the various constituents of the university on our ongoing anti-racism and EDI work, including the collection and publication of relevant data, and metrics that measure our progress.

  3. Strengthening our training programs across campus to combat racism.

  4. Conducting a review of existing policy and the mechanisms for reporting racist incidents.

  5. Carrying out an awareness campaign to combat all kinds of racism, especially anti-Black racism and racism against Indigenous communities, and attending to the intersectionality of other kinds of oppression.

  6. Committing to additional funding for anti-racism, equity and inclusion initiatives.

The Report makes special mention of the research performed by the late Philippe Rushton, a faculty member at Western from 1977 until his death in 2012. For some of his career Rushton pursued work on race and intelligence. That work produced great controversy in several directions: notably heated challenges to the work itself and broad discussions about academic freedom in Canada.

The ARWG Report asks me to acknowledge and apologize for the deep harm that has been experienced by many members of the Western community and beyond as a result of Rushton’s work. I do apologize sincerely for that deep harm that has been experienced. I acknowledge how divisive events of decades past can continue to impact the present. And I do so in the hope and conviction that Western has the opportunity to focus on the future, and to participate fully in building a better and more just world.  

To that end, Western will hold a Virtual Town Hall on the ARWG Report and this response on Wednesday, June 24, 2020, 2-3 p.m. I’ve asked David Simmonds, a past vice-president of the USC, past president of the Alumni Association, and current member of the Board of Governors to host the session.

There I will be joined by the three co-leaders of the ARWG—Lisa Highgate, Jina Kum, and Erica Lawson—who will offer their comments, and I will speak to the Report and our response.

I sincerely thank Lisa, Jina and Erica for leading the group this semester, and for pressing on with the work of the ARWG even through the pandemic.

I want to thank all the members of the ARWG for their work, which required some difficult emotional labour. The members were:

Co-leads:

  • Lisa Highgate, Associate Director, Conduct and Conflict Resolution, Housing & Ancillary Services
  • Jina Kum, President, Society of Graduate Students (PhD Candidate, Pathology & Laboratory Medicine)
  • Erica Lawson, Undergraduate Chair & Associate Professor, Dept. of Women’s Studies & Feminist Research

Members:

  • Wesam AbdElhamid Mohamed, Graduate Student, Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Razan Abdellatif Mohamed, President, Black Students’ Association (undergraduate student)
  • Vanessa Ambtman-Smith, (Nehiyaw-Métis), PhD Candidate, Geography
  • Larissa Bartlett, Director, Equity & Human Rights Services
  • Henri Boyi, Professor, Department of French Studies
  • Candace Brunette-Debassige, (Mushkego Cree) Acting Vice-Provost & Associate Vice-President (Indigenous Initiatives)
  • Chava Bychutsky, Vice-President, Education, Western Hillel (undergraduate student)
  • Adriana Dimova, Academic Coordinator
  • Bertha Garcia, Professor, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry
  • Nicole Kaniki, Staff Representative for Professional & Managerial Association (PMA)
  • Cecilia Liu, University Students’ Council (undergraduate student)
  • Michael Milde, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Humanities
  • Chizoba Oriuwa, President, African Students’ Association (undergraduate student)
  • Grant Saepharn, International Learning Coordinator, Western International
  • Cheryl Senay, Chief Steward, CUPE Local 2692
  • Mohammad Sharifi, Racial Equity & Inclusivity Commissioner, Society of Graduate Students (PhD Candidate, English & Writing Studies)
  • Raine Williams, President, Caribbean Students’ Organization

I would also like to thank Erin Huner, Kate Schieman and Sara Wills for the campus climate survey that helped round out the research that underpins the recommendations in the Report. 

And I want to thank all of the Western staff, faculty and students who already work hard to create a more just world, and whose efforts to combat racism are carried out right across the university in our teaching, research, student engagement and community service. The Report points out that the university is already well-engaged in this work, and has been for many years. The Report asks us to do more. 

I invite the entire Western community to join in the important work of fighting against racism and, in the words of the Report, “practicing equity.” I am optimistic the efforts as outlined above will make a big difference to Western’s community and its future.

Yours sincerely,

alan shepard signature

Alan Shepard
President and Vice-Chancellor