Meric Gertler
U of T President Meric Gertler signs the Scarborough Charter, a document pledging to fight anti-Black racism in the Canadian post-secondary sector (photo by Lisa Lightbourn)
Thursday, November 18 - 2021
Don Campbell

U of T has joined nearly 50 universities and colleges across Canada in signing a historic charter pledging to fight anti-Black racism and to promote Black inclusion.   

The 22-page Scarborough Charter outlines key barriers to Black inclusion and possible ways to respond to them. It also contains actions and accountability mechanisms for individual institutions and the higher ed sector as a whole to deliver on promises to make structural and systemic change.

“We are tremendously proud of the role that the U of T community has played in the development of the charter alongside our colleagues across Canada,” said University of Toronto President Meric Gertler

“Combatting anti-Black racism and promoting Black inclusion are urgent priorities in our society. This is also a crucial component of inclusive excellence which is so fundamental to our academic community.”

The charter itself outlines four guiding principles: Black flourishing (removing structural barriers to equity, inclusion and social justice); inclusive excellence (valuing, embracing and promoting contributions from diverse backgrounds, perspectives and experiences); mutuality (fostering equitable relationships within communities that have reciprocal benefits); and accountability (delivering on commitments made to transform structures, policies and procedures).

Each institution signing the charter will use these principles to guide their own policies and practices relating to decision-making processes and governance structures, as well as those relating to research, teaching and learning, and community engagement. For example, it provides guidance on curriculum development that centres Black expertise and knowledges, hiring practices, and research support, among others.

Combatting anti-Black racism and promoting Black inclusion are urgent priorities in our society. 

McGill University Professor Adelle Blackett, a renowned international law expert who led the drafting of the Scarborough Charter, said the benefit of this particular type of charter approach is that it is precise, detailed and comprehensive enough to allow partners to build their own action plans while respecting institutional and regional diversity. She added it also provides the architecture to sustain and enhance their commitments over time.

“By drafting a Charter, we sought to centre the experiences, contributions and aspirations of people of African descent in Canadian higher education and assist processes of respectful, local co-construction,” she said.

The partner institutions also agreed to create an Inter-institutional Forum that will continue to guide and promote the goals of the charter. This includes sector-wide collaboration, sharing of resources (such as data and best practices) and a sustained commitment to fighting anti-Black racism and promoting Black inclusion. This body will also periodically review and recommend a schedule of contributions made by the partner institutions.

“Signing the Charter sends a clear message to our community that U of T will continue to support and advance work that enables Black faculty, staff, librarians, and students to thrive,” said Kelly Hannah-Moffat, U of T’s vice-president, people strategy, equity and culture.

“This work is occurring across our three campuses, both in partnership with our Equity Offices and independently, and we are committed to moving forward with the principles and actions outlined in the Charter.”

Hannah-Moffat said the charter will also work in tandem with U of T’s Anti-Black Racism Task Force Report recommendations that will be implemented across all three U of T campuses.  

The charter is the result of a year-long collaborative process that started during the first National Dialogues and Action for Inclusive Higher Education and Communities held in October 2020. The two-day national forum focused on anti-Black racism and Black inclusion in Canadian higher education. Following the forum, a charter was drafted and then the partner institutions consulted with their own communities for feedback and input.

Professor Wisdom Tettey, U of T vice-president and principal of U of T Scarborough, said the entire process has been a truly collaborative effort involving input from partners across Canada.

“It’s heartening to see these efforts manifested in this charter,” he said.

Graham Carr, president and vice-chancellor of Concordia University, said he was proud to sign the charter and that it aligns with current work the university is doing relating to anti-racism and promoting Black inclusion.

Carr added it was crucial for partners from across the Canadian post-secondary sector to unify in creating an instrument that would hold each other accountable.

“These institutions will be called upon to take bold, decisive and transformative action to move beyond representation by removing systemic barriers to their Black communities so that they can be meaningfully included at every level of their institution,” he said.

“These actions are generations overdue and must be considered a national priority.”