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Report calls out 'deeply entrenched' racism at Western

Western University will move to hire a senior advisor to the president on diversity issues, one of several steps the university says it will take in response to a sweeping report released today into racism on campus.

Western to hire senior advisor on diversity issues, apologizes for work of professor Rushton

Western University will hire a senior advisor to President Alan Shepard on diversity issues following a report into racism on campus. (Alvin Yu/CBC News)

Western University will move to hire a senior advisor to the president on diversity issues, one of several steps the university says it will take in response to a sweeping report released today that looks into racism on campus. 

The new position is subject to approval by the university's board of governors and will operate at the level of associate vice-president. 

It's one of a number of measures the university plans to take in response to a 66-page report released today and commissioned last year after a series of racist attacks directed at a Black student who called out a professor who used the "N" word in class. 

The report was compiled and written by Western's Anti-Racism Working Group, a committee of students, staff and faculty members who gathered input through surveys of groups across campus. The stories were collected through open and closed listening sessions, written submissions and in an online survey. In total, more than 300 people provided input.

"For the past four months, we have heard from hundreds of community members about the insidious, often violent, nature of racism at Western and its devastating impact on their mental and physical health, and on their sense of well-being and belonging," the report says.

The report found that racist incidents last fall weren't isolated occurrences but "part of a deeply entrenched anti-Black legacy that remains pervasive — evident to those who live it, but hidden from, willfully ignored, or denied by those who don't."

The report also surveyed anti-racism initiatives at other Canadian universities and found Western lacking. 

"Western is far from being on the vanguard of anti-racism activity when compared to several of its peer institutions," the report says.

The report lays out 23 recommendations, the hiring of a senior advisor to the president among them. It also calls for: 

  • The creation of an anti-racism task force. 
  • More supports for people impacted by racism on campus. 
  • Use the data to "recruit more racialized students, faculty and staff.

The report also calls for creating more safe spaces to "promote diversity, counter racism, and drive constructive change" and increase the number of courses focused on the study of racialized groups, including "Black studies, Indigenous studies, Jewish studies, Islamic studies."

It also calls on the university to offer more financial supports for racialized student groups and to make them more aware of the bursaries and scholarships available to them. 

The report also demands that Western gather more comprehensive and publicly available data on the makeup of the staff, student and faculty populations. 

"The fact that we are unable to tell what the percentages of marginalized groups are at our institution is a pressing problem that needs to be addressed for real progress to be made," the report says. 

In a letter responding to the report, Shepard also says Western will:

  • Establish a council to advise university groups on "our ongoing anti-racism and equity diversity and inclusion work, including the collection and publication of relevant data, and metrics that measure our progress."
  • Review existing policies on how the university responds to racist incidents. 
  • Step up anti-racism training programs across campus. 
  • Start an anti-racism campaign, with a particular focus on anti-Black racism and racism against Indigenous communities.
  • Make available more money for anti-racism, equity and inclusion initiatives.

The report also called on Western to apologize for the work of the late Philippe Rushton, a psychology professor whose work attempted to draw conclusions about race, physical characteristics and intelligence that were widely criticized as racist nonsense. As a tenured professor, he was allowed to continue teaching under the protection of intellectual freedom. He died in 2012.

Shepard included an apology about Rushton's work in his written response to the report.

"I do apologize sincerely for that deep harm that has been experienced," he said. "I acknowledge how divisive events of decades past can continue to impact the present."

Town hall on Wednesday

In an interview with CBC News on Monday, Shepard said he's committed to taking action in response to the report's findings, in particular the hiring of a senior diversity advisor. 

"I'm optimistic that getting someone in the senior leadership role will help bring together activities we already have happening, we have a lot of work going on equality, diversity and inclusion already at Western," he said. "Having more visibility for that work, and having it at a senior leadership role will be helpful, I think." 

The university will hold a virtual town all on the report on Wednesday between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. It will be hosted by David Simmonds, a past vice-president of the USC, past president of the Alumni Association, and current member of the Board of Governors.

Three co-leaders of the Anti-Racism Working Group will also give their comments on the report, along with Shepard.

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