In September 2020, McGill released its new Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism, thanks in large part to the work of the Take James Down initiative and the Black Students Network (BSN) among other Black students, activists, academics, and organizers. The Take James Down initiative, launched in July 2020, called on the University to take several specific actions to support its Black students and instructors. These demands included the creation of a Black or Africana Studies department and an office for social equity, as well as the removal and replacement of the James McGill statue at the University’s downtown campus.
These demands, created and advocated for primarily by Black students, have materially affected McGill’s policy decisions, and their impact is clear in the University’s new Action Plan. This is an incredible testament to the Take James Down organizers’ labour, as well as the long tradition of Black activism and self-advocacy on campus by students and staff alike. But the University has yet to fully acknowledge this labour, and its Action Plan remains inadequate: it fails to address several key requests made by Take James Down. In the initiative’s formal response to the Action Plan, Mohammed Odusanya and Sarah Abdelshamy write: “while well-written and seemingly comprehensive, this report remains meaningless unless it is accounted for by material evidence.”
The University has pointed to the Action Plan, along with other anti-racist initiatives, as evidence of its progress towards creating an equitable campus. These initiatives are the culmination of years of mobilization and action by Black students and faculty, and as Odusanya and Abdelshamy point out, the completion of the goals outlined in the Action Plan will require constant diligence. Given how much labour Black students have historically done to ensure that the University meets their demands, they write that it is clear that “the University has actively chosen, for the past five decades, to neglect their responsibilities until it was physically impossible to ignore the continuing calls for action by the student body,” (emphasis original).
It is ultimately Black students, faculty members, and activists who should be credited with the progress that has been made in promoting anti-racism at McGill. It is the responsibility of non-Black members of the McGill community to actively support this labour. Beyond signing and sharing the Take James Down initiative’s petition, non-Black members of the McGill community – including the Daily’s current Editorial Board – must pay attention to whether or not the University is following through on its promises. This includes showing up for peers who have taken the time and energy to ensure that McGill is held accountable, pushing for more action at town halls and information sessions, pressing faculty and department heads on how the administration’s plans are being implemented, and holding professors and classmates accountable for their words and actions. In addition, we can support the Black Students’ Network by attending their events and donating to their upcoming Black Grad fund. It should not be the responsibility of Black students to ensure that McGill meets their needs in the first place, and non-Black members of the McGill community must do their part in holding the University accountable.