In 2011, 14.2 per cent of McGill University staff self-identified as visible minorities and 23.7 per cent as ethnic minorities. Currently, there is one person of colour amongst the 25 senior administrators at the University. The Principal’s Taskforce on Diversity, Excellence and Community Engagement released a report in 2011 that asserted the University demonstrated “an extreme lack of diversity of faculty; lack of awareness [and] commitment to diversity as more than a catch phrase; [and a] lack of understanding opportunities and benefits of diversity.”
McGill exists in a society characterized by racism built into its very structures and institutions, which the University not only fails to actively combat, but perpetuates through its hiring and promotion practices, as well as it curriculum, campus culture, and student life. In its self-report forms for staff and faculty, for example, the University does not allow individuals to identify as belonging to more than one minority group, and thus fails to incorporate people with different backgrounds and perhaps less privilege. One of McGill’s largest flaws is its failure to recognize the relation between race and opportunity inherent in society, and the lack of attempts to remedy this.
The denial of opportunity for people of colour at the University results in their severe under-representation among the ranks of academics, staff, and the senior administration. The institutional culture of post-secondary institutions has been proven by a study published Museus et al. in the Review of Higher Education to directly affect the experiences and outcomes of students of colour, and thus it is crucial that McGill addresses its structural problems of racism.
The tangible influence of structural racism can result in students of colour feeling isolated and under-served during their time at university. The lack of visible ethnic minorities in positions of leadership and guidance means that students may lack mentors that can relate to their experience as a person of colour, or the established social infrastructure they may rely on for support. Moreover, the lack of diversity among faculty members affects the content of curricula, which is mostly focused in traditional Western thought, as evidenced by the history of a lack of support for programs such as African and Indigenous studies. The inability to connect with the curricular content, and the tacit erasure of racialized identities and narratives within the classroom means students of colour may feel disenfranchised, and classrooms and conferences become subtly hostile and unsafe spaces.
Although the University created the Joint Board-Senate Committee on Equity and the Social Equity Diversity Education (SEDE) office, there have not been any efforts to substantially address the issue. Many of the recommendations coming from the subcommittees are not acted upon, and the University has yet to fully commit its finances to equity education through SEDE.
It is not enough to pay lip service to racial equality, and then sweep a resource like the Principal’s Taskforce on Diversity under the rug and refuse to constructively engage with its implications and recommendations in a sustained manner. Continuous and conscientious monitoring is necessary to identify and reform the subtle operations entrenched in McGill’s institutional culture that reproduce racial inequalities.
The administration must pursue an explicit top-down anti-racist agenda that confronts hiring policies, career advancement and curriculum reform, and strive to change institutional culture at the level of its staff, as well as address the subjective experience of discrimination among students of colour.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board