IDERD Remarks by Vice-President and Provost

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (IDERD) U of T Event
Monday, March 21, 2016
Remarks by Professor Cheryl Regehr, Vice-President and Provost

Good Afternoon. I am very proud to be here today to mark the 5th year of the tri-campus International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination campaign at the University of Toronto.

Professor Angela Hildyard, Vice-President Human Resources & Equity, could not be here today due to a longstanding commitment. The IDERD campaign is near and dear to her heart, and reflects the important work she is responsible for in the Equity component of her portfolio. And, I am honoured to speak on her behalf today.

The theme for U of T’s IDERD event this year is: History, Legacy and Reconciliations: Indigenous Education and the Role of U of T. This time will be remembered as a period of great historical significance for all Canadians. The impact of the Federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission is currently the subject of open discussion at all levels of government, in the judicial system, in our schools, in the media, and in homes across the country.

As a social worker, I know that Indigenous Canadians are over-represented in child welfare and criminal justice systems. As a professor and administrator, I know that Indigenous Canadians are under-represented in our universities. This is an indictment of Canada’s past and present.

The TRC acknowledged that education is essential to the success of its mandate – and they have called upon all Canadian universities to engage in this process. Given U of T’s reputation as a leader in research and education, it is only fitting that we have a significant role in responding to the Federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

To this end, President Gertler and I have struck a University-wide steering Committee, co-chaired by Jonathan Hamilton-Diabo, Director of Aboriginal Student Services at First Nations House and U of T’s Council of Aboriginal Initiatives, and Professor Stephen Toope, Director of the Munk School of Global Affairs. Also serving on the Committee is Lee Maracle, one of U of T’s Indigenous Elders, and Professor Eve Tuck of OISE, both of whom are also here today to participate in the panel discussion.

The Committee will review and recommend priorities for the University in responding to the calls to action specific to post-secondary education institutions. They will address matters related to:

  • The recruitment of and support for Indigenous students, staff and faculty;
  • Indigenous alumni engagement;
  • Inclusion of Indigenous content in U of T curriculum, and;
  • Inclusion of Indigenous issues, research and themes in university programming.

Indigenous issues, education, and research are interrelated with the University of Toronto’s priorities of engaging with and shaping the discourse of the most pressing and important issues facing society, and (in line with the President’s priorities) re-imagining undergraduate education.
This afternoon is part of these important conversations. A panel of U of T thought-leaders will discuss the legacy of the residential school systems for Canada and explore the future of Indigenous education within the University context.

As we look towards the future, we remember that it is only possible to move forward if we acknowledge and correct historical injustices.

For many members of our community, racism and racial discrimination continue to permeate their daily experiences and shape their interactions with societal systems and structures. Mounting racial and religious tensions around the world are sparking more discussion and debate on these important issues – on our campus and far beyond it. Our students are telling us we need to do better.

If we are open, we can often learn more from our students than they learn from us. Let me give you an example… Cindy Blackstock, the Director of the First Nations Caring Society of Canada, was my doctoral student.

A few years ago, I chaired a search committee for a faculty member in social work. Cindy was a student representative sitting on the committee, and she asked us to add a question for all candidates interviewed. Her suggested question was: “When in your career have you demonstrated courage? Give us an example of when you have demonstrated courage.”

I have to say that this question has stuck with me, haunted me really. When had I demonstrated courage?

  • I thought back to my days as a health science professional, reflecting on how I regularly felt I needed to muster courage in my job – just like many of you do.
  • As a former social worker in the ICU, I recall the courage required each time we approached a family who had lost a loved one, requesting them to consider organ donation.
  • As the Director of the trauma response team at Pearson International Airport, it took courage each time I flew down the highway, having been called in to assist staff in managing a tragic situation.

We all have small moments of courage such as these. I am sure that you have also demonstrated courage at a personal level.

  • Many of you are now committed to life partners or are married – that takes courage.
  • Some of you are no longer committed or married – that also takes courage.
  • Some of you are parents – that is a very courageous thing to do.
  • Embarking on university, moving from one country to another, overcoming barriers – all of these take individual courage.

Now is the time for organizational courage – drawing together our individual acts of courage.

U of T is unique in Canada in having a Statement on Equity, Diversity, and Excellence. The Statement outlines our commitment to be “an equitable and inclusive community, rich with diversity, protecting the human rights of all persons, and based upon understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of every person.”

While we have much of which we can be proud, we understand there is still a need for change. We are committed to looking for new and better ways to proactively put the principles in the Statement on Equity, Diversity, and Excellence into practice in our community. Angela is a staunch advocate of improving existing practices and building new initiatives to focus on diversity and inclusiveness at the University.

We can see that our community of faculty and staff at U of T is not representative of the demographics of Toronto and our city region, nor our students. In fact, our NSSE results show that 50% of our most recent entering class of students identify as racialized persons.

For years we have not had accurate data on the composition of our employees at U of T. As many of you may have read, Angela has committed to putting systems in place for race-based data collection of employees, and my office will do the same for students. This will enable us to have the statistics necessary to assess our community diversity, identify gaps, set benchmarks, and evaluate our progress.

The senior management team at U of T is committed to instituting processes to support the diversification of our faculty. To advance this commitment, I have allocated $1.5 million dollars per year for the next three years to support 50% of the salary and benefit costs for hiring 20 outstanding new faculty per year who also increase the diversity of the divisional faculty complement across our three campuses.

We are also looking at ways to encourage and support diversity in our succession planning and the development of future leaders. For example, Vice-Provost Sioban Nelson is working to foster mentoring and networks among faculty members across the divisions, and we are identifying ways we can increase outreach and reduce barriers in our faculty recruitment candidate pools.

Angela and I are also supporting the launch of a new affinity group called Connections and Conversations. This staff-driven initiative offers discussions and a support network for racialized administrative staff to flourish at U of T. The focus of the group’s steering committee has been to create an open and empowering environment for racialized staff to celebrate their accomplishments and contribute their unique ideas and talents to the University through networking, mentoring and other activities. Given U of T’s size and diversity, it is our hope that other affinity groups will form for racialized administrative staff and faculty members at all three campuses.

Angela is also launching a new Diversity Internship Program in Human Resources & Equity. The program is specifically for human resources graduates who self-identify as Indigenous, racialized, or having a disability. There will be up to three 12-month internships available in Divisional HR offices or departments across the University each year.

This spring we are launching a new recognition program to recognize U of T staff and faculty who make valuable contributions to the University in their daily work. One of the criteria will be a demonstrated drive to foster diversity and inclusion. In fact, we just kicked off a contest in The Bulletin to name this new recognition program and we invite all of you to submit suggestions from now until April 4.

Each of these are small steps toward our larger goal. Together, we can take courageous action at U of T.

A huge part of why we are here today is to celebrate the innovative and courageous students, faculty, and staff who have been working to break down barriers to racial equity, and make U of T a more inclusive community.

Thank you all for your courage and for helping to making U of T a better place to work and learn.

I will now turn the floor back to Sandra Carnegie-Douglas who will introduce our 2016 IDERD Award recipients.