Scarborough Charter aims to address Queen’s colonial past

Patrick Deane and Stephanie Simpson talk commitments to anti-racism 

Queen’s joined 40 universities and colleges in signing the Scarborough Charter.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo
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On Nov. 18, Queen’s announced it has joined 40 universities and colleges across Canada as a signatory to the Scarborough Charter on preventing anti-Black racism and fostering Black inclusion.
 
The Scarborough Charter is a sector-wide agreement designed to move post-secondary institutions to build more meaningful, concrete actions to address anti-Black racism. The charter follows commitments made by partner institutions at the October 2020 National Dialogues and Action for Inclusive Higher Education and Communities. 
 
Principal Patrick Deane said the charter was written after the killing of George Floyd and a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in summer 2020. 
 
“There are intractable problems with racism, particularly systemic racism, in institutions like ours and all universities—the universities saw the need to take action,” Deane said in an interview with The Journal. 
 
“It was unclear what individual institutions did. They took measures that were appropriate to them, and we issued a declaration on anti-Black racism […] but there was no sector-wide approach [before the Scarborough Charter].”
 
The initiative was spearheaded by Principal Wisdom Tettey of University of Toronto (Scarborough). Teti felt the whole country needed to be “brought together” to lay out some principles for combating anti-Black racism in Canadian universities, according to Deane. 
 
“[This] is a really important historical moment in terms of bringing the sector together to look at the impacts of anti-Black racism in many spheres of life,” Stephanie Simpson, associate vice-principal (Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion), said in an interview with The Journal.
 
“What was great about the effort was the way in which it made connections between all forms of anti-Black racism […] that the broader community was noticing in terms of state violence against Black communities and people through to university structures and systems.”
 
As a signatory to the charter, Deane said Queen’s is committed to developing a plan. 
 
“We actually have to look carefully at those areas in which we can actually make a difference, in which work really needs to be done,” Deane said. 
 
While developing a plan is the first step, Deane added that the goals will be a collaborative effort between partnering universities. 
 
“What that means for students and for faculty and staff […] we will see dramatic improvements on some of these systemic and other manifestations of racism,” he said. 
 
According to Simpson, the university will begin by putting together an advisory group of key stakeholders to examine the recommendations in the charter. 
 
“The process needs to be structured carefully, because we’re in this for the long term,” Simpson said. “This isn’t about a series of checkboxes that we are going to come to some conclusion around within the next few months.”
 
Simpson said the Scarborough Charter serves as a fundamental challenge to oppression and colonialism within institutions, and Queen’s is currently determining how to make the Charter recommendations “real and meaningful” on campus. 
 
“The charter encourages that institutions look at their own particular history and situation and to think about the present time by making the connections to that wider context,” Simpson said. 
 
Despite Queen’s strong ties to and foundation in colonialism, Deane said the university is focusing on identifying and addressing issues that are “invisible” yet “powerful” in impact. 
 
“The beautiful thing about the charter is it gives us a tool for identifying all these things,” Deane said. 
 
“[The charter] has five areas—governance, research, teaching, and learning and community engagement […] What we have to do is essentially take that paradigm, that framework, and look at our institution afresh.” 

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