Report shines light on anti-Black racism on University of Windsor campus

The dean of the University of Windsor's law faculty said she's taking steps to address issues of anti-Black racism on campus, which are being highlighted in a new report.

Report commissioned by Windsor Law

Reem Bahdi, dean of the University of Windsor's Faculty of Law, said she's working to address anti-Black racism on campus. (Sameer Chhabra/CBC)

The dean of the University of Windsor's law faculty said she's taking steps to address issues of anti-Black racism on campus, which are being highlighted in a new report.

The report was commissioned by the university's law school, and made available to the public this week.

Reem Bahdi, dean of the university's law school, said she understood the university needed to address anti-Black racism when she took on the role.

"I knew that from hearing from our students directly, from being a faculty member on campus for the last 20 years," she said. "And also from knowing that we've had many reports about anti-Black racism on campus over the years."

"That has told us that we need to do something," Bahdi said. "When I threw my hat into the ring for the deanship, addressing anti-Black racism was one of my key, articulated priorities."

Bahdi said she's hoping to build on a number of initiatives that had been introduced prior to her becoming dean.

"These include things like a series of multi-faceted policy and operational reviews," she said. "We're looking at the policies that govern what we do and how we do things at the university, and specifically in the law faculty."

"We're looking at some of our committees because, in an academic setting, it's not a top down, 'the dean says you must do this, and so therefore this will happen.'"

Bahdi said much of the decision-making takes place in committee settings.

Numerous incidents in last two years

"Those committees are looking at how they work and how they can ensure that in the work they do, they advance anti-racism and with special attention to anti-Black racism," she said. "We're looking at some of the financial supports that we can bring to ensure equal access and continuous equal access to education."

The report itself states there have been several incidents of anti-Black racism at the law school in the last two years, including "conflicts around questions of race" in class, and messages of racial hate being received by students Black students and faculty.

In addition, the report states faculty have felt unprepared to deal with race-related conflicts.

The entire report can be read online.

"We heard from many Black students that they felt that they had an extra burden placed upon them because not only were they trying to complete their studies in the Faculty of Law, but also to take on the issues of dealing with conflict, with anti-Black racist conflict, that came up from the areas of faculty and students and fellow students," Smith told CBC News this week.

Smith said the law school has taken steps to address the problems, including hiring more Black faculty, and providing more support to Black students.

'Exhausting' for Black students

He said, however, issues of anti-Black racism aren't limited to the law school campus.

"These issues of anti-Black racism have come up across several campuses, not just the University of Windsor and not just within the faculty of law," he said. "I've been doing this work for quite some time, so I'm not surprised."

"I'm saddened that in this day and age, these sort of these attitudes still exist, that they're pernicious in terms of how they express themselves, and they do rather serious damage, both immediate and, I would imagine, as some of the Black students become lawyers and practice, some of this stuff may well be trailing them."

Abigail Anderson, a second-year law student at the university and vice-president of the Black Law Students' Association, said anti-Black racism has been "blatant" on campus.

"Sometimes they came in the form of microaggressions," she said. "When we said anything or talked about an issue or raised a concern in class, I think it felt exhausting."

"I think this report has shown that a lot of the work fell on the Black students."

 Anderson said the report shows faculty needs to start taking the issue more seriously.

"It shouldn't have piled up to the point where we needed a report," she 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.