To the uOttawa community,
In June last year, following a disturbing race-related incident on campus, I made a public commitment to take meaningful actions to cultivate tolerance and inclusion and to eliminate racial discrimination at uOttawa. A second incident involving a Black student in September further emphasized the urgent need for concrete actions to combat racism on campus.
Today I want to provide an update on the measures we have implemented this past year and the achievements we have made as a community toward this goal. Certainly, much remains to be done, we are a microcosm of society after all. Nonetheless, I have been encouraged by our community's commitment to acknowledging instances of racial discrimination and to identifying and implementing solutions.
The timing of this update is particularly relevant in light of our collective outrage at the horrific killing of George Floyd, and the outpouring of anger and grief we have seen in the protests against systemic anti-Black racism. I wish to express my personal solidarity with all those who seek to end racial discrimination and who work to promote justice and equality for all.
Independent Investigation, Policy Changes and Formal Apology
Our efforts this past year have included commissioning an independent human rights investigator to examine both the incident last June involving one of our students and our Protection Services, and the University’s Protection Services policies and procedures and their impact on racialized community members. Those reports were released last fall and concluded that race played a part in the June incident. I immediately offered both a public and a private apology to the student who was victimized by the incident, and to the racialized uOttawa community at large.
As a result of the investigator’s review of our Protection Services policies and procedures, we introduced new directives to clarify when and how requests for identification may be made by Protection Services officers on campus (Policy 33) to ensure that problematic incidents would not reoccur. We also implemented mandatory training for Protection Services officers focused on unconscious bias and equity, diversity and inclusion. In addition, a more effective, responsive and transparent complaints mechanism was developed and introduced.
President’s Advisory Committee for an Anti-Racist and Inclusive Campus
Following the June incident, we also established the President’s Advisory Committee for an Anti-Racist and Inclusive Campus; a group that has worked diligently to identify goals and strategies designed to achieve its stated mission. I have no doubt that once implemented, these systemic changes will significantly improve the lives of members of uOttawa’s racialized community by reducing the personal and professional barriers to success that they face as a result of historic and contemporary racism. I want to thank the committee for their work and their commitment to our goal.
Town Halls and Public Forum
Two well-attended and deeply moving town halls addressing anti-Black Racism at uOttawa have deepened our community’s shared understanding of the multiple and varied impacts of racism on campus. These events were followed by an informative public forum where leading experts shared best practices and strategies to combat racism, better equipping us to ensure greater acceptance and inclusivity on our campus. These conversations – like others still to come – were important to understand the realities of anti-Black racism on campus and to determine the extent of the systemic challenges we face as we seek to change our culture.
Demographic Data to Combat Discrimination and Promote Inclusivity
In a community as large and complex as uOttawa, accurate data is vital to making informed, optimal decisions. Until very recently, however, uOttawa (like most Canadian universities) lacked meaningful demographic data to help us understand where we were coming up short in terms of representation and inclusivity. In recognition of this we launched the University of Ottawa Campus Climate Survey on Diversity and Inclusion, which generated more than 6,000 completed responses. The results of this survey, and others to follow, will enable the University to implement a wide range of more inclusive policies to promote diversity across campus.
In addition, uOttawa signed on to a federal government pilot project known as Dimensions, whose aim is to “to foster transformational change within the research community at Canadian post-secondary institutions by identifying and eliminating obstacles and inequities.” Our participation commits us to embedding equity, diversity and inclusion related considerations in both our research design and practices.
Training for Senior Administrators
During this past year we held a series of mandatory training sessions for senior administrators, including myself and all the University’s vice-presidents and deans, to increase our sensitivities to racial biases in ourselves and in our community. All members of each of the vice-presidential and decanal selection committees, as well as members of all faculty hiring committees, now also attend similar anti-bias training sessions. Such sessions will be expanded to all University employees.
Reaffirming my commitment
Our work this year represents an important beginning, yet as we have been reminded so urgently in recent days, much more remains to be done. Thus, one of our next steps in the very near future will be to announce increased mental health supports for members of our Black and racialized communities.
There is still much more to do. I reaffirm my commitment to you as President of the University of Ottawa to pursuing this just cause with humility, compassion and determination.
We must stand together to do what is right. We must stand together to fight racism.
Black lives matter.
President and Vice-Chancellor