During the Spring 2020 semester, McGill’s Senate and Board of Governors released the university’s first Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Plan (EDI Plan). According to an email that Principal Suzanne Fortier sent to the student body on June 12, 2020, the plan aims to “confront systemic racism” at McGill by researching the University’s ties to slavery, providing more support for Black students, and working towards creating a more diverse and representative faculty and student body. These measures come after years of student concerns regarding the equity of the university – a SSMU hiring equity report from 2016 noted that the University has not changed its Employment Equity Policy since 2007, and that this equity policy has “produced few results” since being passed.
However, Associate Provost of Equity and Academic Policies Angela Campbell maintains that the university has addressed equity complaints, citing reports such as The Report of the Working Group on the Principles of Renaming and Commemoration and McGill’s Canada Research Chair EDI Plan, among others, in an email to the Daily. Renee Corbiere, a member of the Indigenous Student Alliance (ISA), expressed concern over Campbell’s comments: “It was only after tumultuous efforts, protests and petitions that McGill made any indication they would be willing to change the name… McGill has already made it clear on which side they stand regarding harmful iconography.” Corbiere also pointed out that task forces and studies are not productive unless their recommendations are implemented. Aina Louisa-Carter, Vice President Social for the Black Students’ Network (BSN), told the Daily that university administrators have historically been “weak in their attempts” to address the concerns of Black students, though not completely unresponsive.
The EDI Plan includes a mandate to “[r]eflect diverse identities” through iconography on campus,” but it remains unclear if these efforts will include the removal of the statue of James McGill. Many students have been advocating for the removal of said statue, with the Take James McGill Down open letter having garnered over 1,000 individual signatures. According to Media Relations Officer Frédérique Mazerolle, the removal of the statue is “under consideration” as the University continues to work on the “Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism,” to be released on September 30. Campbell also emphasized that the forthcoming plan would take demands from the BSN into account, and that the University has familiarized themselves with the demands of the Take James McGill Down movement. While she said that “there won’t be… an ability to meet all of the demands” of the movement, Campbell stressed that the demands of the BSN would be “centered” when working on the “Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism.”
Louisa-Carter said that consultations with McGill’s administration “appear to be going well,” and she is hopeful that slow progress will be made if the University continues to work with student organizations. Corbiere expressed similar sentiments, writing that the plan has “great potential,” but will only succeed if the university continues to work with the student body and is genuinely invested in making McGill more equitable.
In addition to working with student organizations, the University has recruited two postdoctoral fellows to conduct research into the university’s historical connections to slavery and colonialism. According to Campbell, these fellows were recruited in order to “nourish their own research” as well as to “animate a series of actions and initiatives” that will be included in the forthcoming Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism; she did not specify whether the university will create more permanent research initiatives, nor how the university will use the research generated in the future. Previously, research on McGill’s connections to slavery had been conducted by former McGill professor Charmaine Nelson and her students in her Art History course James McGill was a Slave Owner: Slavery and the History of Universities. Campbell claimed that Nelson’s research will be taken into account in the formulation of the Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism. While this plan has not yet been released, and it is unclear how it will be implemented, the Daily intends to follow the story.
Additional reporting provided by Willa Holt.