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How Universities are Reacting to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

Following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, many Canadian cities have also witnessed their own anti-racism protests in recent weeks.

Defunding the police and supporting the Black Community have become worldwide discussions. Customers are demanding accountability and action from organizations and companies.

Canadian universities are not exempt and a number of them have reacted relatively quickly, releasing their own Black Lives Matter solidarity statements. However, students are speaking up about conflicting experiences like non-Black professors using the N-word, justified by academic integrity or free speech.

Earlier this week, Michael Korenberg, chair of the University of British Columbia’s board of governors, resigned from the position. The resignation took place after The Ubyssey, UBC’s student newspaper, reported that he had liked a series of tweets that criticized the Black Lives Matter anti-racism campaign.

Below, you’ll find out more on how four Canadian universities are responding and taking action in supporting their Black student body and community.

University of Waterloo: “Black Lives Matter Here”

Aside from Black students, Black faculty members also face challenges. When they experience discrimination, many still choose not to report their experiences out of fear they won’t be taken seriously. In addition, underrepresentation is a continuous issue. Victoria Rodney, the associate vice president, equity at Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association, wrote about this in, highlighting a 2015 study that found that Black professors only make up 3.1 percent of all university professors in Canada. 

On June 19, Rodney along with Dr. Christopher Taylor, a lecturer in Waterloo’s Department of History and the Arts First program, facilitated a virtual space “Black Lives Matter Here” to provide Black community members with support, community care, and a safe space to voice their experiences with racism. 

During one of the consultations, a student broke down and cried to Rodney as he shared about an encounter with Waterloo police where they harassed him. “It really fucked up his psyche,” she recalled. 

Mental health resources specific to the Black experience are needed on campus and the lack of has been overwhelming for Rodney; she expressed that she and her coworkers are not formally trained to support students going through such trauma.

University of Toronto: Black Female Med Student Named Valedictorian

There is only one Black woman in this year’s University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine’s graduating class. Chika Oriuwa is also the valedictorian, the first standalone Black woman to give the Faculty of Medicine’s valedictorian speech. The child of Nigerian immigrants, she always knew she wanted to be a physician. Oriuwa started medical school at the University of Toronto four years ago, the only Black person in a class of 259 students. 

Now, she is the second Black female valedictorian in the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine’s history, following Dr. Kristine Whitehead who was co-valedictorian alongside Dr. Gideon Cohen in 1992.

Unfortunately, Oriuwa has also experienced racism during her education and residency. She shared with CTV about one instance at a hospital when she was mistaken for a janitor. Her experiences as a young Black woman pursuing the field of medicine have propelled her to advocacy, leading changes that would help diversify the student body.

Oriuwa’s involvement with the Black Medical Student Association and the Black Student Application Program has made significant progress in boosting the number of Black medical students. In the coming fall semester, twenty-four Black medical students will join the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine graduating class of 2024 – an unprecedented feat in Canadian history.

Ryerson University: New Course Supporting Aspiring Black Journalists

A group of recent Journalism graduates Breanna Xavier-Carter, Tiffany Mongu, Rosemary Akpan and Sara Jabakhanji called on Ryerson University to develop a new Black Canadian reporting course in its curriculum by starting a petition.

The graduates expressed the need based on how Black people are often highlighted in a negative light in the media. The petition also asked the faculty to recognize the accomplishments of Black journalism students by making more awards and scholarships applicable to them.

Many agreed and the petition attracted thousands of signatures within its first week. As of Wednesday morning, the petition has received more than 3,600 signatures of its 5,000 target. 

Despite not having reached its goal yet, the university acknowledged the petition. Only a few days after the launch, Ryerson University reached out to the young graduates to discuss their ideas. As a result, the School of Journalism will be offering the new course, “Reporting on race: The Black community in the media,” this fall. 

Dalhousie University: World’s First Restorative Justice Lab Opens

On June 10, Dalhousie University officially launched the world’s first international lab focused on restorative justice. The International Restorative Research, Innovation and Education Lab, located in the Schulich School of Law, has received $750,000 from the Donald R. Sobey Foundation as an initial investment. Professor Jennifer Llewelyn, a distinguished global leader in restorative justice and Keddy Chair in Human Rights Law at the Schulich School of Law, will lead the new centre.

Llewellyn told National Post on Wednesday that anti-Black racism protests have made the opening of the new centre at Dalhousie University particularly “timely. “I think the lab will capture what we’ve been able to do and amplify it and accelerate it and let us do it in a scaled up way.”

The professor explained that restorative justice is an alternative approach where people who are harmed and people who caused the harm communicate with one another to bring forth solutions. She further shared that the method is best known for its role in the criminal justice system and as an alternative approach in school discipline, inspiring new ways to correct “big, complex problems.”

Llewellyn has guided various restorative inquiries in recent years, namely a four-year investigation of a Nova Scotia orphanage with allegations of long-term abuse at Black children. The findings were released in November 2019.

Naomi Kwok