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.
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.”