Provost gives update on McGill’s Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism

Provost Manfredi discusses the consultations that have gone into formulating the Action Plan (due to be completed by Sept. 30), the Plan's goals and its eventual implementation

On 30 June, Principal Suzanne Fortier announced her mandate to Provost & Vice-Principal (Academic), Chris Manfredi, to develop, in collaboration with McGill’s Black community, an Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism. This Plan will be completed and communicated to the McGill community by September 30. The Reporter met with Provost Manfredi to learn about the development of this Plan to-date and about his consultations with the McGill community to carry out his mandate.

To start, can you tell us how work on the Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism is going?

Over the summer, I had two meetings with each of the following groups: the Black Students’ Network (BSN), the Dr. Kenneth Melville McGill Black Faculty Caucus, the Black Alumni Association, and the Subcommittee for Racialized and Ethnic Persons of the Joint Board-Senate Committee on Equity. These meetings were important for hearing and discussing the needs and goals of the McGill Black community.

Further, I held three Town Halls, including one for members of McGill’s Black community earlier this month, and those were instructive. I will hold one more session open to Black members of the McGill community on September 22. I am also having additional meetings with a subcommittee of the Dr. Kenneth Melville McGill Black Faculty Caucus this month and I hope to set regular meetings with the Caucus and the BSN going forward.

Additionally, I am reading all of the material that is being submitted to me, including the report prepared by Professor Charmaine Nelson and her students, various open letters and petitions, and many email messages that have been shared with me and other members of McGill’s senior administration.

These discussions and other consultations have helped heighten awareness of what Black members of the McGill community want to see within the Action Plan and my work is focused on ensuring that this Plan reflects the goals and needs of our Black students, faculty, and staff, to the extent possible within our institutional framework.

What has surfaced so far in these meetings?

First, I want to signal my appreciation for the time that Black students, faculty, and staff have given to sharing their insights and views as to how the Action Plan should be framed and the elements it should contain.

I would say that four principal themes emerge. The first is that members of McGill’s Black community, especially students but also faculty and staff, can experience isolation and a sense of exclusion. This is caused both by the underrepresentation of Black students, faculty, and staff at McGill as well as experiences of microaggressions. Microaggressions are often subtle but, especially when they occur repeatedly, can adversely impact on a person’s wellbeing and sense of confidence and belonging. So, we must all work to increase representation and educate our community on microaggressions, their impacts, and how to address these.

A second theme I have heard is that the Black community would like to see McGill do more to address the less celebratory aspects of our past and to enhance Black representation in our campus iconography and communications. There has been much discussion about the statue of James McGill on lower campus and it is something that I am personally considering within the context of the Action Plan. At the same time, we are examining how our University can undertake a more profound study of our past both to acknowledge historic connections to slavery and colonialism and to recognize the contributions of great McGillians whose stories remain untold, many of whom are Black, Indigenous and/or members of other equity-seeking groups.

The third theme relates to the importance of enhancing our course and program offerings in connection with African- and Black-Canadian studies. McGill has an excellent African studies program, but it requires further resources and the University is being called to explore its relationship to curricular initiatives that centre the African diaspora and Black Canada.

Fourth, the Black community would like to see further dedicated resources and a position within the University’s leadership devoted to anti-racism.

How has the Black community been given assurance that you are taking their views, experiences, and goals into account?

The fact that the Action Plan aims to capture key elements raised by the Black McGill community is a point that I am reiterating in various settings. I realize, though, that building trust depends on more than repeating a statement and requires me to demonstrate how the views and experiences of Black students, faculty, and staff will find reflection in the Action Plan. Therefore, I am holding a session for members of McGill’s Black community on September 22 at 10 am.

In that session I will discuss some elements of the Action Plan as developed by that date with a view to hearing further feedback from our Black students, faculty and staff, so that this can be reflected in the Plan that is ultimately submitted to the Principal. Additionally, Associate Provost Angela Campbell and I are holding further meetings individually with the Dr. Kenneth Melville McGill Black Faculty Caucus and the Black Students’ Network.

Although the Action Plan isn’t yet finalized, can you give us some insight into what it will include?

The Action Plan, like McGill’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Plan, will be organized by five themes: student experience, research and knowledge, outreach, workforce, and space. The Action Plan will include a series of specific commitments, each of which will have its own, clear timeline. The Action Plan will also be accompanied by a robust budgetary allocation over five years.

In terms of specific commitments, there will be several. Key to these will be measures to work with our Black community to support Black student outreach, enrollment, and wellness, a strategic Black faculty hiring initiative, enhanced supports for Black faculty and administrative staff, an examination of McGill’s historical connections to slavery and colonialism, and a commitment to exploring curricular and program offerings in the area of African diasporic and African Canadian studies.

How will the Plan be implemented and by whom?

Work on implementing commitments in the Action Plan will begin immediately following the Plan’s announcement. My team and I will oversee these commitments. Throughout, it will be critical to maintain dialogue and engagement with groups that represent the McGill Black community so that they can participate in the Plan’s implementation. Work on each commitment within the Plan will be publicly tracked with a view to boosting transparency and accountability. Although my office will oversee this work, taking up this challenge at McGill depends on each and every one of us across all Faculties and units to learn about systemic racism and what we can do to prevent and address it.

The Provost will submit the Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism by September 30 to Principal Fortier, who will in turn share this with the McGill community on that date. Black members of the McGill community are warmly encouraged to register for a session that will be held for them on September 22, from 10-11 am, at which the Provost will share elements of the draft Action Plan and welcome feedback and recommendations. Please write to equity.provost@mcgill.ca to register.

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