‘I think it is a crisis, I think there’s no doubt about it’: Principal Deane talks campus racism, COVID-19 in virtual town hall

Queen’s develops strategies for managing future outbreaks

Patrick Deane addressed staff and faculty in a virtual town hall on July 22.
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Principal Patrick Deane said racism on campus is a crisis in a July 22 virtual town hall for staff and faculty.

The virtual town hall was hosted by Stephanie Simpson, associate vice-principal (human rights, equity & inclusion). The discussion included Deane, Mark Green, provost and vice-principal (academic), Donna Janiec, vice-principal (finance   and   administration), Kim Woodhouse, vice-principal (research), Jane Philpott, dean (faculty of health sciences), and Kanonhsyonne (Janice Hill), associate vice-principal (Indigenous initiatives and reconciliation).

“I think it is a crisis,” Deane said. “I think there’s no doubt about it.”

Deane’s comment was prompted by a question drawing on dissimilarities between the University’s “centralized, quick, and decisive” response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of response taken by the institution on displays of racism on campus.

This question was referring to the recent vandalism of the Four-Directions Indigenous Student Centre and anonymous accounts of overt racism and abuse published on the “Stolen by Smith” Instagram page.

“All of these things speak to a racist culture that is alive and well around us and within us to a degree that is very, very concerning,” Deane said.

READ MORE: ‘Stolen by Smith’ Instagram account details systemic violence at Queen’s business school

He said the University has so far only done the easy things to address the issue of racism, adding it’s time to start thinking about more comprehensive measures.

“[Change] requires a robust, aggressive, longer-term plan for cultural transformation which will depend on very forthright and strong measures at the curricular level, in terms of hiring,” Deane said. “And then, it will take also short-term measures which directly address some of the immediate concerns.”

Other than hiring practices, Deane didn’t share details regarding how the University intends to address issues of racism on campus, but said

Queen’s is doing everything it can “in terms of measures, short, medium, and long.”

He said true change will take time and a process of redefining the University’s history and culture.

Deane’s pledge was followed by praise for the Queen’s Black Academic Society (QBAS) for initiating conversations about equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-Black racism at Queen’s.

He said it was “very gratifying to see and very gratifying to feel” the Black Lives Matter movement on campus.

READ MORE: Flags vandalized at Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre

Green added the University’s success in combatting racism relies on everyone doing their part and called for the leaders at Queen’s to take responsibility and initiate these difficult conversations.

COVID-19

Deane said progress has been made since he hosted the last town hall on May 13, adding the University is moving forward with some concrete plans for the fall term.

However, he said the status of the winter term remains unclear.

“We are not losing sight of the expectations and directions of public health in everything we do,” Deane said. “The plan for our return to work is a phased plan.”

Deane said there are logistical concerns that need to be considered while making strides to return to campus, including how often a building should be cleaned while accounting for physical distancing and the maximum number of people permitted in a particular space.

The default for both students and staff will be to work from home, Deane said. This arrangement will continue until the University is confident that whoever chooses to return to campus can do so safely.

Acknowledging the return to in-person activities has limitations for those with children and risks to those living with health-compromised individuals, Deane said the University intends to cooperate with individuals to find a solution.

“The University will continue to be flexible and open to different ways of working,” Deane said.

Having reintroduced graduate students to research laboratories and some staff to campus in the summer, Green said the University is now planning for a Phase 3 strategy in the fall term. 

“In all faculties there will be some graduate courses that are delivered in-person in the fall and certainly in health sciences there will be undergraduate courses delivered [in person],” Green said.

Individuals returning to campus will also be required to wear masks. The University announced face masks will be mandatory in all indoor public spaces starting July 24.

READ MORE: Queen’s makes masks mandatory in all indoor public spaces

Individuals returning to campus will also be required to wear masks. The University announced face masks will be mandatory in all indoor public spaces starting July 24.

“Queen’s has procured reusable cloth masks and […] we will be providing two to every employee and student that needs to be on campus,” Janiec said.

Beyond masks, Green said the University is taking several measures to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak on campus, including housing first-year students in single rooms within residences.

In the event an outbreak occurs, Deane said normal public-health measures will be applied. Queen’s has the capacity to isolate and quarantine first-year students, but those outside of residence are expected to comply with the same standards.

Philpott added the University intends to use extensive contact-tracing as another method to control an outbreak.

“We know with a fair degree of certainty who has been in a building on a given day at a given time and that’s how we are going to be able to have that precision response,” Philpott said.

The goal, according to Philpott, is to avoid a complete shutdown of all buildings by acting in a targeted manner if an outbreak occurs.

Current guidelines on returning to campus and any updates will be posted on the Queen’s COVID information website.  

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