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Why has a report about racism at Western University been sitting on the president's desk for a month?

Western University President Alan Shepard says he got a report from the anti-racism working group on May 19, but it won't be released until June 22, ahead of a campus town hall, a move one advocate says is problematic.

After repeatedly asking for a release date, the university said Monday it would make it public June 22

Western University says it will release a report about racism at the school next week, more than a month after it was delivered to President Alan Shepard. (Colin Butler/CBC)

A report that details reports of racism on campus and is to be a blueprint for how Western University deals with the problem has been in the hands of President Alan Shepard since mid-May, but won't be released publicly until next week, a move one advocate says is problematic. 

"I'm tired of Western dealing with things behind closed doors," said graduate student Ashton Forrest, who wants the report released immediately. 

"It's hard to be purple and proud when the university is managing us or trying to protect its image versus really doing the hard work and re-evaluating the systemic systems that are keeping people oppressed. I'm disappointed."

The report was commissioned last year after a series of racist attacks directed at a Black Western student who called out a professor who used the "N" word in class. 

More recently, Asian students at Western say they've been the targets of racism because of the coronovirus.

In an online statement, Shepard says he got the report from the Anti-Racism Working Group, made up of students, faculty and staff, on May 19. But the report won't be released until June 22, two days before a planned town hall about systemic and institutional racism at Western. 

But that's not good enough, said Forrest, who wants to report released now so Black, Indigenous and students of colour can look at the report, digest it, and figure out their responses to it before the town hall.

I'm tired of being the token black disabled girl that they like to put in pictures because it feeds into their narrative.- Ashton Forrest, Western University student

Forrest is also a disability advocate and says the university is ignoring the needs of students who might need more time with the report ahead of the town hall.  

"People like Alan Shepard, who are in a position of power and have privilege, are able to take a month or more to review it. They've been part of the process from the beginning, so they have an idea what the report looks like and how it was framed. We don't have that advantage," she said. 

Forrest said she's asked the university, as well as the philosophy department where she studies, for answers about when the report would be available and why it won't be released sooner, but has not gotten a straight answer.

CBC News asked repeatedly for a release date, a copy of the report, or a reason for it taking more than a month to be released. Monday night, university spokesperson Keith Marnoch said the report would made public June 22, writing that it "outlines several constructive recommendations for action that are being given serious and thoughtful consideration."

'Tough conversations'

Ashton Forrest is a graduate student at Western University. (Supplied by Ashton Forrest)

In the last few weeks, Forrest has been speaking with family members, friends and acquaintances about racism and disability, and how the two intersect. She said giving two days or less for people to prepare before the town hall is unfair. 

"These are tough, draining conversations. You're assuming that I have time in those two days. I have appointments scheduled in those days. I have meetings with the province about accessibility. Nobody asked if this would be a suitable time for the community to get the information we need so we can effectively engage with each other, with the report and the university," she said.

Like most other Canadian universities, Western does not keep statistics on the racial backgrounds of its students. Neither do any of the three affiliated colleges. 

Follow-through needed

In a statement about the upcoming town hall, Shepard called the report "strong" and said it "offers a compelling summary of our own community's experiences of racism."

Alan Shepard began his role as president and chancellor of Western University in June 2019. (Western University)

The report is important because the university needs to heal relationships, Forrest said, but it must do so in an open and transparent way that works with Black, Indigenous and people of colour on campus, as well as those who are disabled and part of the LGBTQ community. 

"The university needs to follow through on its promises and not just say things. They need to do the work," Forrest said. 

"I'm tired of being the token black disabled girl that they like to put in pictures because it feeds into their narrative. The people that see those pictures don't know that the very university that they're supporting or donating to is still keeping me back."

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