Western University names special advisors on anti-racism

Western University named two special advisors to lead the anti-racism fight at the school that's found itself at a loss for answers to a longstanding problem.

Nicole Kaniki and Bertha Garcia to help heal a campus still raw from old wounds

Nicole Kaniki (left) and Bertha Garcia (right) have been named as special advisors on anti-racism to Western University president Alan Shepard. (Western University)

Western University named two special advisors on anti-racism Thursday, whose job will be to advise the school's president on how to create a safer place for students and staff on campus. 

A report released by the university in June spelled out how the picturesque campus is struggling with the ugly legacy of anti-Black racism, a problem it called "deeply entrenched" and "evident to those who live it, but hidden from, willfully ignored, or denied by those who don't." 

That legacy includes the school's funding of Phillipe Rushton's research, a psychology professor who was notorious for his widely derided and discredited research that ranked human intelligence by racial group, presenting Black people in particular as intellectually inferior.

The Parr Centre for Thriving will create greater awareness and provide more support to Western students than ever before, the university said. (Colin Butler/CBC)

On Thursday, the university announced it had chosen Nicole Kaniki and Bertha Garcia as special advisors to president Alan Shepard's anti-racism working group. 

Western said both women will hold the roles until the school establishes a new permanent senior administrative role dedicated to anti-racism that Shepard promised would be in place later this year. 

Kaniki is the equity, diversity and inclusion specialist at BrainsCAN, a multi-million dollar brain research initiative at Western University. Garcia is a professor in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine, also serving as the acting vice-dean and director of dentistry at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry. 

Both women will be tasked with steering the school toward developing strategies for better equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives at a school where a number of current and past students have come forward with stories of racial insensitivity at the hands of university professors and the administration. 

Marcia Steyaert, a Western University spokeswoman, wrote in an email that Kaniki and Garcia were not immediately available for comment. 

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of.