McGill releases Anti-Black Racism Action Plan

Developed in consultation with McGill’s Black community, the Action Plan deepens and elaborates on commitments within the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Plan to confront anti-Black racism

On Sept. 30, Principal Suzanne Fortier announced the release of McGill’s Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism, a plan that is as sweeping in scope as it is comprehensive in design.

Provost Christopher Manfredi, in collaboration with Associate Provost Angela Campbell, actively engaged in close consultation with key members of McGill’s Black community, including the Black Students’ Network, the Dr. Kenneth Melville McGill Black Faculty Caucus, the McGill Black Alumni Association, and the Subcommittee on Racialized and Ethnic Persons. The resulting Action Plan outlines the University’s commitment to an initial five years of concrete measures that will enhance equity and inclusiveness for Black students, faculty, and staff. Some $15 million has been allocated to the implementation of the plan. A number of measures are effective immediately or will be realized during the current semester.

“This Action Plan is impressive in its reach and ambition, and I endorse each of its action items,” said the Principal in a message to the community. “With this Action Plan, we renew our commitment to equity and inclusion in the pursuit of academic excellence as we prepare to mark McGill’s Bicentenary and enter into our third century.”

Re-examining the past, reassessing the present, rethinking the future

Using McGill’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Plan as a framework, the Action Plan focuses on addressing anti-Black racism in five critical areas: student experience; research and knowledge; outreach; workforce; and physical space.

Specifically, McGill has committed to investigating the University’s historic connections to the transatlantic slave trade; setting targets for Black students, faculty, and staff: and institutionalizing anti-racism efforts and resources.

“Combatting anti-Black racism is critical to the future of McGill, but the process will not always be easy. It will require that we re-examine our history with openness and earnestness, and that we reassess present-day McGill with the same honesty and clarity of vision,” said Provost Manfredi. “It is our duty to identify discrimination and racism, be it historical or ongoing, to address it, and to take an active role in building a more just and equitable society.”

The student experience

In addressing the student experience, the Action Plan focuses on recruiting a greater percentage of Black students to the University, enhancing the university experience for those students once they arrive on campus, and supporting their success.

A student leadership program will recruit and fund current students who self-identify as members of equity-seeking groups to lead outreach initiatives with high schools and Cégeps across the Montreal area that have strong Black and/or Indigenous student representation.

To support these students, the University will expand upon current support mechanisms by appointing at least one Wellness Advisor or Counsellor in Student Services with expertise in connection with the psychological impacts of racism, including systemic and anti-Black racism.

In addition, a new Black Student Affairs Liaison will facilitate the sharing of student concerns and questions with McGill’s administration and provide Black students with guidance and information about resources and supports on and off campus.

Instructors and teaching assistants will be able to receive training through Teaching and Learning Services on developing inclusive pedagogies and curricular approaches that foster the learning and development of the diverse University community and a sense of belonging for all students.

Research and knowledge

The University has committed to enhancing, through scholarship, a critical understanding of McGill’s connections to the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism. A fully independent research team led by one or more historians will issue a public report in the Winter 2022 semester that sets out historic findings, and will inform further work to address anti-Black racism.

As well, McGill will establish a Provostial Visiting Fellowship-in-Residence on Black Life and History that, each year, will welcome a leading Black scholar whose research focuses on Black life and the Black experience, whether historically or in contemporary society.

The University will also enhance support for its African Studies Program by funding guest speakers, workshops, and student-led activities, as well as creating a Working Group on African and Black Studies to explore options for the expansion of the Program’s scope.

Outreach activities

McGill is increasing scholarships and student aid opportunities that will enhance supports for students from the University’s most underrepresented student demographic groups. It will also create a fund to support Faculty-level initiatives tied to recruitment, outreach, and engagement focused on widening demographic representation within McGill’s student body.

The University is committed to supporting McGill’s Black Alumni Association through a fixed annual budget, to develop a mentorship program for Black students.

Looking ahead to the Winter of 2021, McGill will create an Advisory Panel on Black Student Life, with a mandate to advise on decision-making with University leadership on key areas affecting Black students at McGill including community outreach and support.

The University has also started to explore partnerships and exchange opportunities with historically Black colleges and universities; institutions of higher education in the Caribbean Community; and Institutions of higher education in Africa.

In the workforce

Understanding that Black staff and faculty members are also underrepresented at McGill, the University is committed to increasing its complement of Black tenure-track and tenured professors, and the representation of, and career opportunities for, Black administrative and support staff.

Currently, 14 tenure-track and tenured professors at the University self-identify as Black in McGill’s employment equity survey. McGill has set a target of 85 Black tenure-track or tenured professors by 2032, with an interim target of at least 40 Black tenure-track and tenured professors by 2025.

Black employees currently represent 3.4 per cent of McGill’s professional and executive staff. The University has committed to improving that number to 5 per cent by 2025 and 6.8 per cent representation by 2032.

In order to achieve these targets, McGill will, among other things, enhance its outreach with Black community groups and networks in hiring initiatives; explore mentoring and reverse mentoring/networking opportunities for students and staff with Black alumni and the larger Montreal community; and deliver equity and anti-racism training for all HR professional staff including HR Advisors, as well for senior management staff.

In the workspace

Consultations with Black members of the McGill community made it clear that they do not see themselves reflected in the iconography across University campuses.

To address this, a Campus Planning Working Group on Recognition and Commemoration will be struck during the current academic year. The Working Group will be mandated to examine issues of representation in the execution of the McGill Master Plan, particularly with reference to Black and Indigenous presence on campus.

Finally, during the current semester, the James McGill statue on lower campus will be fitted with a plaque explaining who he was, including his connections to and involvement with the transatlantic slave trade and his ownership of enslaved peoples. The University will assess and determine the statue’s most suitable setting – including its location and necessary contextualizing information.

Through the Action Plan, the University commits to an initial five years of concrete measures “that will enhance equity and inclusiveness for all, especially for Black students, faculty, and staff” – and acknowledges the importance of ongoing attention and effort.

“The Action Plan is the result of a lot of difficult but necessary conversations, and it’s just the beginning,” says Principal Fortier. “Every member of the McGill community has a part in fighting racism and discrimination, and in identifying and dismantling the systemic barriers to full and equal participation. Working together, we can ensure that McGill University’s third century continues to be defined by sustained excellence as well as inclusiveness and equity.”


Comments on “McGill releases Anti-Black Racism Action Plan”

  • Avatar
    Alex Simonelis

    This plan is toxic identity politics, includes racial quotas, and is itself racist.

    Terrible idea.

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      I agree 100%. It is madness and a big waste of money and resources. Systemic racism at McGill is a myth, a product of left-wing political activists and lobbyists.

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      Stephanie Lauredan

      How so, may I ask? Do you have any suggestions on how to improve this action plan?

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    Judy E Boldon-Bain

    Interesting, but the onus seems to be on Black People, when in truth the problem is the heritage and privilege of White People. As usual there are lots of initiatives to include Black and Brown People when the work needed is for White People to Recognize & understand that the institutions and wealth of the Western World were designed and built To exclude people of colour. The mere fact that we have all these organizations….black students this and that, black alumni, McGill Black Students Associations, are indications that the concepts for change are flawed. Let us concentrate on White People, they must examine the society that they put in place , why they delegated the lower end of the spectrum to black and brown people. How do they feel and accept those who do not look like himself. Good luck, we are long past ‘Affirmative Action’. We are in the age of self examination and honesty where racism is concerned.

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      Rubbish. I was a dirt poor kid (my parents didn’t get to high school) who went on to get a PhD at McGill. I was not privileged because of my white skin, but privileged to be born in a country that rewards hard work and gives everyone an equal opportunity.

  • Avatar
    Gordon Wallace, MD, FRCPC

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment. I attended McGill many years ago and loved the experience. I strongly support this new Anti-Black Racism Action Plan and recognize there will be many challenges to its effective implementation. Nevertheless, we must have courage and do what is right and press forward. My hope is that every student at McGill will have the same great academic and social experience that I had. I believe that efforts such as these will build an even better and stronger Canada.

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    Francesco Pistone

    You along with other universities in US and Canada and perhaps around the world have given up on critical thinking and succumbed to the mob. Erasing history and covering statues does not solve problems. No human is perfect and certainly shouldn’t be judged by today’s norms. Does McGill still teach history? What history professor can agree with removing statues? You are acknowledging contributions Mr McGill made to education. That’s it. He nor anyone else is a saint. Get over it.

    When you realize the error of your monkey see monkey do attitude, you can contact me. In the meantime, erase my email from your records. Totally disgusted by current administration’s governance of my alma mater.

  • Avatar
    Albert Rabinovitch, MD, PhD

    How about historical and current racism towards non-Black groups?

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    Norm Baillie-David

    As an alumnus (MBA ’85) I’m proud to see these steps taken as a beginning, but I concur with Ms. Boldon-Bain’s comment above that the focus is on the minority, when the issue lies with the privilege of the white majority, and the fact that most of us do not recognize those privileges as such.

  • Avatar

    As an alumnus (BSc’70) I’m happy some steps are being taken as a beginning, and I also agree with Ms. Boldon-Bain’s comment above, that the focus is on people of colour, when many of the present day challenges are with the privilege of the white majority and our world as it is, and the fact that most of us do not recognize those privileges as such. However, I am looking forward to seeing the whole Action Plan to really voice an opinion. Perhaps there will be opportunities for training white people as well and to change the tide of the world that has been created often unconsciously – because many people of different colours and races have been ignored and left out.

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    Stephen Lam, B Eng '81

    Racism is not confined to blacks. McGill should extend the initiatives to cover yellows and browns. I agree that the root of racism lies in the belief of whites in white supremacy, and that needs to be corrected.

  • Avatar
    Leon Fattal

    McGill Anti-Black Racism Plan
    There’s a lot going on here and the level of detail provided is not altogether sufficient to determine whether the proposed actions will actually help Black people in the long run. Here are a few of my thoughts:

    1. There’s a lot which need to be quantified. A greater percentage of Black Students will be recruited. What is the target percentage and how is it justified? McGill is increasing scholarships and student aid opportunities but by how much? McGill’s Black Alumni Association is to receive financial support, but how much? The 2032 target for more tenure-track/tenured professors is 85 – but what percentage does that come to?

    2. Where we do have numbers they throw up some interesting comparisons. Black employees at McGill currently represent 3.4 percent of professional and executive staff. According to Google, the percentage of black Canadians was 3.5% in the 2016 census. Despite the fact that black professional and executive staff are not under represented at McGill the target is to increase this number to 5% and then to 6.8% which means that they will be over represented.

    3. The Action Plan was produced after actively engaging in close consultation with key members of McGill’s Black community. Shouldn’t other communities have been consulted as well, e.g. White, Chinese, Muslim, Jewish etc.? After all, the plan will have consequences for them too. By recruiting a greater percentage of Black students, there will by definition be a lower percentage of other ethnic students – how will such affirmative action be received by those impacted?

    4. Isn’t it demeaning to Black people to treat them as needing special care, special attention, and special funding that no one else will receive? Don’t they want to be treated fairly rather than specially?

    5. Re-examining the past:
    a. An investigation into the University’s historic connections to the transatlantic slave trade is to be welcomed. I am sure many connections will be found. After all, James McGill was himself a slave owner. So, at least part of his bequest to McGill may have derived from the profits of slave ownership. So, I’m sure that James McGill will be found to have acted reprehensibly. But since James McGill is not here to defend himself and his actions, shouldn’t someone speak on his behalf? If his statue is to be fitted with a plaque explaining who he was and what he did, shouldn’t it also explain why he did it?
    b. We should remember that slavery was legal in Canada throughout James McGill’s lifetime.
    c. Throughout James McGill’s lifetime homosexual activity was a capital crime. And I’m sure he would have approved of that. Most reprehensible – as is the fact that he was a fur trader which many today would also consider reprehensible.
    d. My opinion? It simply isn’t fair to judge James McGill by today’s mores.

    6. At least seven generations have passed since James McGill died and slavery was made illegal in Canada. That’s not to say that racism ended then or indeed that it ended at all. However, many different ethnic groups have had to endure racism up to the present day. So why do we have an Anti-Black racism plan and not an Anti-Chinese or an Anti-Jewish racism plan, etc etc? In the article it states that the objective is to “renew our commitment to equity and inclusion…”. I don’t know about inclusion, but clearly the plans put forward are not equitable as they favour black persons over those of all other ethnicities.

    7. If you say that only black people have suffered the legacy of slavery and that’s what makes them deserving of special treatment then I have these replies: I am not responsible for the actions of my ancestors seven times removed. The average Canadian, did not even have ancestors living in Canada seven generations ago (in my personal case, my early nineteenth century ancestors were paying jizya to the Ottoman Empire). It seems to me that the Action Plan is being driven by some sort of collective guilt to which I do not ascribe.

    8. Another thought. I know that money isn’t everything, but when we look at prosperity that’s how it’s measured. If we compare the wealth of the average black person in Canada to that of the average black person in Africa, I’m sure that those in Canada are wealthier. Now, those in Canada are probably mostly descended from slaves, whereas those in Africa are not. Of course, I’m not condoning slavery or racism or the suffering black people genuinely endured, but its impact on the current generation of black Canadians has resulted in them being far more prosperous than had their ancestors stayed in Africa. So, Canada has not been all that bad to black people.

    In short, I am against racism in all its forms. I am in favour of being fair to all persons which in a university setting translates primarily to merit.

    As for James McGill’s statue, it should not move even one inch from where it is at present – for exactly the same reasons that it was put there in the first place.

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