University of Manitoba signs charter on anti-Black racism and Black inclusion

The University of Manitoba has endorsed the Scarborough Charter, a document that sets out anti-racist principles and accountabilities.

Recommendations will be implemented by the university's anti-racism task force

The University of Manitoba announced last week that it would sign on to the Scarborough Charter, which outlines commitments to action, including taking concrete actions toward inclusion. (Dana Hatherly/CBC)

The University of Manitoba has formally committed to combating anti-Black racism by endorsing the Scarborough Charter.

The historic 22-page document, which has been signed on to by several universities and colleges across Canada, sets out anti-racist principles and accountabilities and is dedicated to fighting anti-Black racism and promoting Black inclusion. 

"What makes the Scarborough Charter very important …is making universities accountable for making meaningful change," said U of M vice-president (administration) Naomi Andrew said Tuesday.

"It's not rhetoric. It's a collaborative, nationwide effort," and will involve reporting back to the community and stakeholders, she said.

The university announced last week that it would sign on to the charter, which was drafted by an advisory committee after 2020's National Dialogues and Action for Inclusive Higher Education and Communities Forum at the University of Toronto, which sparked national conversation about fighting anti-Black racism in Canadian post-secondary institutions.

It's built on four principles: Black flourishing, inclusive excellence, mutuality and accountability.

It outlines commitments to action, which include removing institutional barriers to equity, recognizing intersectional identities, and taking concrete actions toward inclusion.

The charter's recommendations will be driven at the U of M by its new anti-racism task force, lead in part by Andrew. The task force will hold its first meeting in February 2022, and will make specific and immediate recommendations to the school. 

Step in right direction: student union

Reem Elmahi, president of the University of Manitoba's Black Student's Union, says the charter endorsement is a step in the right direction. 

Elmahi is a third-year psychology major, and hopes that the signing of the charter will help improve Black students' access to mental health support.

"Having someone to be able to relate to and to understand what you're going through in terms of anti-Black racism is important," Elmahi said.

She said she's had the experience of calling a therapist, "and if I mention that I'm Black or that would come up, I can feel the therapist be kind of uncomfortable discussing being Black."

Reem Emahli is the president of the University of Manitoba's Black Student's Union. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

The union president helped co-host an event last year that included a panel discussion with Black therapists. Hearing stories from people about how much they're hurting reaffirmed her goal to expand mental health resources for Black students, she said.

Andrew says these concerns have been brought up by the school's equity, diversity and inclusion task force, and will be examined closely by the anti-racism task force as well.

"There's a scarcity of culturally relevant mental health and wellness support and resources that meet the needs of not only Black students, but Indigenous and racialized campus members," Andrew said.

The university is committed to looking at the issue and acknowledges that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted those who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour.

Task force will review racism reporting procedures

Elmahi also wants to see a review of the process for reporting racist events.

"It's kind of very convoluted to have to say, 'this professor was racist — how do I get justice?' That [process] is definitely something that needs to be streamlined."

The university currently has respectful workplace and learning environment policies that include a complaint process. 

Andrew acknowledges that sometimes, acts of racism are done anonymously or are microaggressions, which don't always lend themselves to a formal complaint process. 

"We certainly need to look at those policies and procedures to see how they can truly combat racism and support those who experience it," Andrew said.

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. You can read more stories here.