BIPOC representation needed at Rye to elicit change, panel says

Promotion poster for the event
Promotional poster for The Faculty of Arts' panel discussion about anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism on Nov. 3. (Image via Faculty of Arts)

Ryerson must commit to hiring more BIPOC faculty members to ensure the issue of systemic racism is addressed, according to members of the Faculty of Arts who participated in an open discussion about anti-Black and anti-Indigneous racism.

The Faculty of Arts hosted a panel discussion on Nov. 3 with the dean of arts, advisors to the dean, and members of the Taskforce on Anti-Racism at Ryerson to address students’ call for decolonizing the curriculum and fostering a more inclusive environment for BIPOC students.

Panellists stated that the only way to see changes happen systemically is if Ryerson’s president, provost and departments commit to hiring a more diverse faculty to pave the way.

“Without a critical mass of Indigenous and Black faculty, you can’t really implement meaningful change,” says Pamela Sugiman, dean of arts at Ryerson University.

A continued call for action 

This past summer, students requested an open forum to express their concerns regarding the 2020 Anti-Black Racism report, which highlighted issues such as a lack of BIPOC faculty representation, gaps in the curriculum, and next to no sense of belonging amongst BIPOC students.

Students of the Black Liberation Collective were not satisfied with the results of the report as there is no accountability from Ryerson over anti-Black racism within the institution. Instead, vague recommendations are made to demonstrate a lack of action, according to an article by The Eyeopener.

These issues were first identified approx. ten years ago when the Taskforce on Anti-Racism released a report that examined racial issues and systemic barriers on campus. Since then, some students believe they haven’t witnessed enough meaningful change.

“How many times do we have to say this is going on at campus, for us to be invited to several consultations, for us to be talked down to, to not feel like our voices are heard, for you to say at least we had that, check, and then keep doing that every year,” says Kwaku Agyemang, a former Ryerson Students’ Union executive in an interview with Canada’s National Observer.

Grace-Edward Galabuzi, co-chair of the 2010 Taskforce on Anti-Racism, stated there has been a continuity of concern with representation issues and systemic barriers for the past decade.

“We need to maintain a sense of community and a collective sense of action. If we cannot do that, it’s going to be very difficult for us to make progress,” says Galabuzi during the panel.

Challenges within the Faculty of Arts

Some students from the panel discussion and those who participated in the 2020 Anti-Black Racism report said they don’t see BIPOC representation in their faculties, making it more difficult for them to feel comfortable voicing their concerns.

In the 2015 – 2016 Ryerson Employee Diversity Self-ID report a 32 per cent gap was noted in 2016 between racialized full-time faculty (23 per cent) and racialized students (55 per cent).

“The underrepresentation is startling. When you can count on one-hand the number of Black faculty in the Faculty of Arts, that’s a problem,” said Melanie Knight, advisor to the dean on Blackness and Black diasporic education.

Curriculums must include anti-oppresive and anti-racist content to fill necessary gaps amongst all academic disciplines, according to Galabuzi.

Panellists echoed this concern during the discussion, enforcing the idea that without BIPOC individuals provoking change within their departments and education, barriers of systemic racism will continue to make BIPOC students feel isolated.

Galabuzi addressed that there are some professors who are utilizing the same 20-year-old lecture notes, which is not representative of societal changes. He believes that faculty must constantly update the content they are delivering to reflect the new realities that students face.

“If you hire people with lived experience… it is likely that you will increase the focus on curriculum change in content,” said Galabuzi.

Sugiman mentioned that the Faculty of Arts does not have enough money to independently pay the salary of a faculty member, which is why hiring can be a difficult process.

Galabuzi noted an influx of hires that occurred years ago, where he advocated for hiring more diversely, which resulted in many faculty members of colour being hired.

He recalls being denounced by an angry colleague for his advocacy because it was seen as black-mailing the hiring committee. Galabuzi was assured something like this wouldn’t happen again. Since then, he hasn’t seen many faculty members of colour employed.

“Those kinds of events leave a scar that we have to bear in our bodies of color, and live with. If you’re looking for manifestations of racism… you don’t have to look far,” he says.

Sugiman also highlighted the issue of department autonomy, where she can make suggestions, but has no power over whether the university decides to hire more diversely. Department hiring committees can also send their candidate recommendations to Sugiman and if she doesn’t feel like enough effort was put forth in finding diverse candidates, she can reject it, although this itself sparks controversy among the committees.

As the dean of arts, Sugiman must be clear about prioritizing issues of all students, ever since she received a complaint insinuating her efforts were too receptive of diversity and equity inclusion.

“How do you care too much? This is supposed to be a core value of the faculty and institution as a whole,” says Sugiman.

Hayden King, advisor to the dean on Indigenous education mentioned some success with hiring Indigenous faculty in the past three years. His goal is to show the Indigenous community at Ryerson that the school is becoming transformative in Indigenous education.

However, he is aware that some are merely not interested in decolonizing the curriculum and department, which fuels his “instinct that the relationship between Indigneous people and the university will always be a contentious one.”

This summer, Ryerson students once again called on the university to remove the statue of Egerton Ryerson from campus, who played a key role in the establishment of Canada’s residential school system.

King believes that the lack of Indigenous representation and education in Ryerson courses, as well as recorded instances of offensive lectures, discourages Indigenous students from joining the Ryerson community.

Working towards a more inclusive campus

The students who participated in the panel discussion voiced their concerns, stating that they are ready to see real action and a change towards inclusivity at Ryerson, starting with tackling issues of representation in the Faculty of Arts.

Knight believes that this push-back from students will evoke necessary action, aiding those who feel isolated within their own departments. “I don’t want to underestimate the voices [students] have,” she says.

Galabuzi believes that it is time for Ryerson to enact action for recourse, that it is time to stop tolerating racial harassment and make room for these changes.

“This is a transformative moment, but this is a moment we won’t always have, we have to take advantage of it and take action quickly,” says Sugiman.