Queen’s formally apologizes for Black medical student ban

Faculty of Health Sciences to fund recruitment of Black medical students

Daniel Woolf, Queen's outgoing principal (left) and Richard Reznick, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences (right), sign a formal apology at the April 16 Senate meeting.
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More than a hundred years ago, Queen’s banned Black medical students from enrolling in the program. On April 16, the University apologized.

At Senate, Daniel Woolf, Queen’s outgoing principal, and Richard Reznick, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, signed a formal letter of apology for a 1918 “colour ban” that prohibited Black students from attending the Queen’s School of Medicine.

In statements made at Senate, Woolf, Reznick, and Stephanie Simpson, associate vice-principal (Human Rights, Equity, & Inclusion), explained the decision to apologize.

“We’re gathering prior to Senate today to apologize formally for a past wrong that affected many people and contributed to a culture at Queen’s that was neither welcoming nor inclusive of Black people,” Woolf said in his statement.

The admissions ban, established by Senate in 1918, was enforced until 1965. In his statement, Woolf said archival evidence suggests the historical facts of the ban were repeatedly misrepresented by the University when confronted with the issue in 1978, 1986, and 1988.

At a Senate meeting last September, Edward Thomas, a PhD candidate at Queen’s, brought the century-old policy to the University’s attention. Woolf placed its repeal as a motion on the next meeting’s agenda. In October, the motion passed unanimously.

“This is a difficult chapter in Queen’s history,” Woolf said. “But we’re thankful to Mr. Thomas for bringing it to our attention so we can acknowledge and take responsibility for what happened over a century ago.”

Reznick—who carried the same tone as Woolf—spoke about his department’s commitment to addressing issues of diversity and inclusion.

“The letter of apology that Principal Woolf and I just signed is only one part of our plan for addressing the harm that Queen’s caused through the unjust motion,” he said. “But it’s a significant part, because it’s important that we as a university admit our wrongs and take ownership of them.”

Reznick added his Faculty formed a working group to generate recommendations surrounding the impact of the ban.

According to a press release issued on Monday, the working group has agreed to take a range of actions to address past discrimination and promote diversity in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

These include sending personal letters of apology to family members of the individuals affected by the ban and providing greater focus on inclusivity and diversity in the curriculum.

Reznick also said the Faculty would commit funding and resources to the recruitment of Black medical students and establish a new admissions award.

He pledged that in 2020, the Faculty of Health Sciences would host a symposium focusing on the history of the ban and the future of diversity in the medical profession.

“Apologizing is really only the beginning of the work,” he said.

2Stephanie Simpson, associate vice-principal (Human Rights, Equity, & Inclusion) addressing Senate on April 16. Credit: Tessa Warburton

Simpson spoke about the University’s broader efforts to address the legacy of racism at Queen’s, highlighting the work of the University Council on Anti-Racism and Equity (UCARE), established in 2017.

“Acknowledgement of past wrongs is always a crucial step towards moving forward and instituting systemic change,” Simpson said in an interview with The Journal following the event.

In her statement, Simpson acknowledged there’s much more work left to be done.

“We can and must move beyond the symbolism of moments like this toward fulfilling the promise of genuine reconciliation, inclusion, and accessibility.”

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