York signs charter to fight against anti-Black racism

(Courtesy of Riddhi Jani)

On November 18, 2021, York along 46 universities and colleges across the nation, signed a 22-page charter; the Scarborough Charter, addressing ways and methods to address anti-Black racism within campuses.

Dr. Carl E. James, professor and the Jean Augustine chair in education, community and diaspora in the faculty of education, says that “beyond signing the charter from all these universities, we need to see how they operationalize what they mean.”

As a step forward last year, York introduced a Black Canadian Studies Certificate in the department of humanities to “learn from a diverse group of internationally recognized faculty in the areas of Black Canadian culture, race and social policy, Black resistance and identity, and much more,” according to the program’s website.

Professor Leslie Sanders, co-coordinator of the Black Canadian studies certificate says they look forward to the way “in which the policy will support the development of an even more robust Black Canadian studies degree, both at the graduate and undergraduate level, supporting our students and making York a leader in the field.”

Professor Lorne Foster, York research chair in Black Canadian studies & human rights, further comments, “The Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion In Canadian Higher Education lays out a path for equitable participation at the student, staff, faculty, and senior administration levels that includes concrete and scalable outcomes. To my knowledge this is the first official sector document that clearly acknowledges that disaggregated race data is the lynchpin between our equity aspirations and our human rights obligations.”

In addition, York also provides a certificate program for anti-racist research & practice, where students learn and ”develop comprehensive knowledge about how to challenge systemic and institutional racism, with a special focus on addressing issues in the workplace, educational and health care sectors, immigration, law enforcement, media, and the expressive arts,” according to the program’s website.

Genelle Pollydore, York alumna and founder of Swen Equity, was the recipient of the Skinner Agents of Change Leadership Award and a graduate of the anti-racism research & practice certificate. Pollydore discusses her experience when gaining this certificate: “What I learned throughout this certificate was transformational, and that is a transformation that every student, not just at York and not just in the global health program should have information for. I firmly believe that we should not have to seek out ‘additional education’ to get some of the foundational concepts, because it really does relate to all different disciplines.”

York President Rhonda Lenton acknowledges, “The charter affirms our collective commitment to addressing the systemic anti-Black racism that pervades academia, and to foster pan-Canadian communities of learning that build inclusive, substantive equality.”

Head of Mclaughlin College and Associate Professor Dr. James Simeon says, “Personally, I am very pleased that our university has been part of this initiative from the outset and that Lenton has signed the Scarborough Charter on the York community’s behalf. I am also very pleased at the way our faculty and the university has taken the initiative to implement positive change to address systemic anti-Black racism on our campuses.”

To further address these issues, an advisory committee was formed. Made up of staff, professors, and students, the committee aims to “bring unique perspectives to LA&PS’ efforts to combat anti-Black racism,” according to the Addressing Anti-Black Racism page on York’s website.

What do students think?

Third-year bachelor of commerce student and member of the Anti-Black Racism Advisory Committee Nathaniel Boateng gives his remarks: “The Scarborough Charter is a step in the right direction. I am glad to see that the university is listening and helping address the flaws in the system. Giving more students the chance to reach their full potential puts more creative and intuitive minds on our campus and in our communities. There’s still work to be done, but I am happy to see where we will be real soon.”

Aija-Simone White, fourth-year health studies student, says, “It’s going to be very easy for all of these universities to sign off on this document, but there has to be action and then an accountability aspect. 

“Who’s going to keep them accountable?” White asks. “Black students want action-measurable and visible change.”

The York United Black Students Alliance (YUBSA) says that YUBSA “welcomes and encourages the signing of the Scarborough Charter. The signing of this document presents an opportunity for York and other post-secondary institutions to focus on improving their inclusion of the Black members of their communities. 

“As we continue to fight for inclusion and representation at York, we hope that the university seizes this opportunity to improve the experience of its Black community members. Reports of anti-Black racism in Canadian post-secondary institutions have become widespread and YUBSA hopes that the signing of this charter serves to reverse that trend,” they continue.

Students, faculty, and staff all hope the Scarborough Charter provokes positive steps to be taken in the near future, and for action and change to be truly implemented, and that through these changes, inclusivity and representation will be attained and continued.

About the Author

By Jannat Yaqobi

Former Editor

Jannat is a first year Criminology student at York. Along with being part of Excalibur, she is also part of the Criminology Society, SCOLAPS, and the YFS. She has a passion for reading, writing (particularly spoken word and slam), photography, and watching classic and vintage movies. Apart from juggling her busy (and at times hectic) schedule, one can occasionally find Jannat journaling, graphic designing, or watching Golden Girls with her mom or Friends with a cup of black tea.


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