National Dialogues
Members from the post-secondary sector across Canada are in the process of drafting a charter that will serve as a national plan of action to fight structural racism.
Monday, March 22 - 2021
Don Campbell

Canadian universities and colleges are moving closer to creating a national charter aimed at dismantling anti-Black racism and fostering Black inclusion in the post-secondary sector.  

The charter is an outcome of the first National Dialogues and Action for Inclusive Higher Education and Communities held in October 2020. More than 3,000 members of the higher education community – and more than 60 partner institutions across Canada – came together for two days of conversation focused specifically on anti-Black racism and Black inclusion.

The charter document, called the Scarborough National Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion in Canadian Higher Education: Principles, Actions, and Accountabilities, will be a national plan of action that participants agreed was an important step to fight structural racism, says Kelly Hannah-Moffat, U of T’s vice-president of human resources and equity. 

“It’s been a privilege to work alongside post-secondary partners from across Canada on this important document,” says Hannah-Moffat.

“Addressing something as complex as systemic racism requires insight from a diversity of voices, and we’re proud that’s been the case in drafting this charter. The charter will inform our ongoing work on inclusion and inspire new initiatives at the university.”

The charter co-creation process included input from people in the post-secondary sector and other partners across Canada. Drawing from that input, the national dialogues advisory committee, consisting of members from the post-secondary sector across Canada, captured those perspectives, insights, and ideas into a draft charter that is currently being reviewed by partner institutions for their feedback. Members of the U of T community can provide feedback on this form

I think the charter can serve as a North Star in guiding policies and strategies at universities and colleges across Canada. 

Once the charter is finalized, there are also plans to establish an association of institutions that will meet on an ongoing basis to sustain the commitments made in the charter.

“There’s been good discussion and debate about the charter’s contents, but it’s been done in a spirit of co-operation and working towards a collective goal,” says Robert Summerby-Murray, president and vice-chancellor of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.

One important lesson he’s taken away from the National Dialogues is the need to shift the conversation away from “equity-seeking” to “equity-deserving” – a phrase now being used at Saint Mary’s.

“Understanding that distinction is a recognition that equity is something individuals deserve. We all have a role to play to step away from being equity gatekeepers and instead focus on what it means for people to deserve it.”

Annette Trimbee, president and vice-chancellor of MacEwan University in Edmonton, hopes the charter can be a guidepost to help institutions work towards their own equity, diversity and inclusion goals and be held to account for the goals they have set.                                                                            

She says local context and place matter and some institutions are further along in advancing the goals of the charter.

“I think the charter can serve as a North Star in guiding policies and strategies at universities and colleges across Canada.”  

She says the two universities in the prairies that she has led, have made reconciliation with Indigenous peoples a priority but stressed that the National Charter is something that should work together with those efforts. 

“These pieces work together. Inclusion is inclusion, and racism is racism, whether it’s anti-Black or anti-Indigenous racism. It’s important to be mindful that this charter will only add to the work being done on reconciliation.”

Barrington Walker, associate vice-president, equity, diversity and inclusion at Wilfrid Laurier University, hopes the national charter can inspire positive change in a similar vein as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) calls to action in seeking to resolve Canada’s past wrongdoings and conflict with Indigenous peoples.

He says the charter should provide a blueprint for addressing anti-Black racism in the Canadian post-secondary sector.

“I hope that universities and colleges will no longer be in a position where they can throw up their arms and claim they have no idea how to address these issues on their campuses,” he says.

He’s also optimistic that other non-partner institutions that didn’t take part in the National Dialogues can use it as inspiration for work on their own campuses.  

“This experience has been unparalleled in my personal and professional life, and it’s been an absolute privilege to take part,” he says. “I also think it’s a historic moment for Canadian post-secondary education, and one that I hope will leave a lasting impact.”