On September 30, Principal Suzanne Fortier sent an email to McGill students and staff announcing the release of McGill’s Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism. The plan is modeled on McGill’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Plan, with a distinct focus on the needs of Black students and staff.
While some elements of the plan will go into effect immediately, others will not take place for several months. The final decision about what will be done with the statue of James McGill will, for example, be made “by the end of the Bicentennial year,” beginning in March 2021. In the meantime, a plaque explaining James McGill’s connections to slavery will be placed next to his statue. When the University administration was asked about the delay in removing the statue during a press conference, Associate Provost of Equity and Academic Policies Angela Campbell explained that “the commitment is to look at the most suitable location of the statue,” and claimed that members of the Black community at McGill have said that “the statue is not the priority.” Similarly, Vice-Principal Academic Christopher Manfredi stated that the plan aims to contextualize, not remove, iconography on campus. Manfredi pointed to the final report of the “Working Group on Principles of Commemoration and Renaming,” which recommended that McGill contextualize its iconography. However, the organizers of the Take James McGill Down campaign expressed disappointment with the university’s reluctance to remove the statue in their response to the release of the Action Plan, writing that placing a plaque next to the statue is “a misuse of time and resources” and “insincere pandering.” They also affirmed that the removal of the statue was “a primary component of [their] petition.”
Still, Campbell and Manfredi maintained that student feedback will be an important factor in all decisions relating to the Action Plan. Campbell emphasized that student feedback will be “a central guiding thread” to the design of an online learning module about systemic racism modeled after “It Takes All of Us.” The criticism which “It Takes All of Us” received upon its implementation will be used to modify online learning modules in the future, Campbell claimed. Manfredi followed Campbell’s comments by alleging that, despite the lack of harsh consequences for not completing “It Takes All of Us,” the program has an almost 100 per cent completion rate. Campbell also cited the inclusion of students in the revision of the university’s policies on harassment and discrimination as an example of student involvement in the implementation of the Action Plan.
In addition to the creation of this module, the plan states that McGill will work with Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) to “support the development of inclusive pedagogies… without interfering with the freedom of individual instructors to determine the content of their courses.” Campbell clarified that this will involve hiring a pedagogical developer in TLS, and that professors will not be punished for not having inclusive material in their classes. Instead, Campbell hopes that the plan will build “capacity… [and] awareness and knowledge among instructors,” and believes the creation of inclusive classroom environments will be incentivized by the “excellence in teaching” awards that department chairs distribute.
In order to hold the University accountable to the commitments made in the Action Plan, Campbell has stated that a dedicated project manager will be hired. University administrators will also meet with members of the Black community three to four times a year, and a Black Student Affairs Liaison will be appointed “to facilitate the sharing of student concerns and questions with McGill’s administration.” The plan does not detail how often these meetings will be held, or what they will entail. Manfredi stressed that students must hold each other accountable, too: “The university’s not just the administration. The university is 50,000 people who are members of the community, 40,000 students, 10,000 employees. And I think it’s important that we all hold ourselves accountable to making sure that anti-Black racism is diminished within our community.” Manfredi also claimed that, according to surveys conducted by the university, many of the microaggressions that students experience have come from their peers. The Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures will serve to discipline students for creating a “non-respectful environment,” per Manfredi; however, Manfredi did not specify how university faculty will be held accountable for discriminatory behavior. Campbell hopes to increase general access to reporting channels to disclose discriminatory behavior, “much in the same way as we… facilitated easier access to reporting channels for sexual violence.”
To further support racialized students at McGill, the University will appoint “at least one Wellness Advisor or Counsellor with expertise in connection with the psychological impacts of racism.” Students have historically had difficulty accessing mental health resources from the Wellness Hub, but Campbell says that the University will make adjustments to the program if racialized students cannot reliably access this resource. Currently, only 28 per cent of counsellors at the Hub identify as members of racialized groups, and there is one Indigenous case manager.
As many of the commitments in the Action Plan will not be implemented immediately, it is unclear how the plan as a whole will be put into effect. Per Manfredi, a website will be created to track McGill’s progress on the application of the plan – he did not specify what the name of this website will be, nor when it will be created. Regardless, the Daily will continue to report on the University’s fulfillment of the Action Plan.