Opinion: New report contains 54 recommendations aimed at addressing racism and promoting inclusive excellence at UBC

Opinion: As we reflect on the somber second anniversary of George Floyd’s death, it is incumbent on us as leaders in higher education to address racism that cuts across university campuses.

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This May marks two years since George Floyd was murdered. Handcuffed and pinned to the ground by his neck under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, Floyd desperately pleaded for help until the moment he took his very last breath. Floyd’s cruel death ignited a racial reckoning felt around the world.

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As Black Lives Matter protests burgeoned across North America immediately after, institutions of higher education also came under scrutiny. Universities, including UBC, were being called to account for systemic racial inequities that continue to permeate the halls of academia.

It was a time of great uncertainty. Not only was the world in the grip of a deadly pandemic, but social unrest was sweeping across nations. Anti-Asian racism, fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, was escalating. Antisemitism and Islamophobia were also on the rise. Later, the discovery of unmarked graves at the Kamloops Residential School, followed by discoveries of unmarked graves at additional sites, reopened wounds for survivors of the residential school system. This intergenerational trauma continues to affect Indigenous peoples across Canada. All of this made for an urgent need to undertake anti-racism and to address historical and contemporary forms of anti-Indigenous racism.

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Shortly after Floyd’s death, UBC issued a letter reaffirming the university’s commitment to combatting racism and calling for the acceleration of efforts to build a more inclusive campus community. As part of that commitment, the Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force was created, bringing together a group of 34 faculty members, students, and staff to examine systemic racism at UBC.

This month, the task force released a 296-page report containing 54 recommendations aimed at addressing institutional and other forms of racism against Indigenous, Black and People of Color (IBPOC) and promoting inclusive excellence at UBC. The report underscores that UBC, like many post-secondary institutions across Canada, has not been immune to the scourge of racism. We are aware of the discrimination, including micro-aggressions, that IBPOC community members routinely face in classrooms and other university spaces. Racism can be explicit and blatant, or it can be subtle and difficult to identify. It is pervasive and has significant harmful impacts on the health and well-being of those who are recipients of such oppressive behaviour. That must end now.

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The recommendations of the task force report have been reviewed by stakeholder groups across UBC’s campuses. Several recommendations have been implemented, and others are in the planning stage. Those underway include education and professional development to increase knowledge and skills necessary to reduce and prevent race-based discrimination in the classroom and in workspaces, as well as intentional efforts to recruit and retain faculty members from underrepresented groups, especially Indigenous and Black scholars. Other initiatives include the launch and ongoing fundraising for the Beyond Tomorrow Scholars Program to increase recruitment and support the success of Black students at UBC. The university is also working to develop a systemic approach to collection and reporting of disaggregated race data for students, faculty and staff that will help address issues such as representation and employment and pay equity.

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But we still have a long way to go. As we reflect on the somber second anniversary of Floyd’s death, it is incumbent on us as leaders in higher education to address institutionalized, systemic, and other forms of racism that cut across university campuses. We must ensure that universities are communities in which anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, or background can succeed and flourish. Our community members must feel empowered to stand up to racism and to speak truth for equity and justice. It is not enough to say we are not racist. Rather, we must take active steps to demonstrate our commitment to anti-racism and inclusive excellence. 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.

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the task force report paves the way forward for UBC, but it is an invitation for everyone to read and find what resonates for them. After all, tackling inequality is everyone’s responsibility.

Santa Ono is the president and vice-chancellor of the University of BC; Shirley Chau is co-chair of the President’s Task Force on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence and an associate professor in the school of social work at UBC Okanagan. Handel Wright is co-chair of the Task Force and a professor in the department of educational studies at UBC Vancouver.

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