Working toward an anti- racist U of M

The U of M hosts its first anti-racism forum

The University of Manitoba hosted its first anti-racism forum on Monday, March 6, to connect members of the U of M community with the university’s Anti-Racism Task Force.

The event was collaborative in nature, and those in attendance brought forward ideas and suggestions to support an anti-racist university community.

Reem Elmahi, a fourth-year student and a student member of the Anti-Racism Task Force, attended the forum. She said that the purpose of the event was to “get [community members’] opinions on the Anti-Racism Task Force initiatives.”

Elmahi said that “there was a good mix of people” at the event, and that in addition to members of the Anti-Racism Task Force there were also faculty and students in attendance who “maybe, if this opportunity had never happened, would never get the chance to talk to each other.”

Elmahi said she appreciated that students and faculty members were able to “bridge that gap.”

She thinks that students can feel supported knowing that the U of M has made a commitment to anti-racism that “they are taking steps toward.”

Vice-president (administration) Naomi Andrew and vice-president (Indigenous) Catherine Cook co-chair the Anti-Racism Task Force.

The group was created in 2022 to help the U of M develop an anti-racism strategy, a commitment that the university made in its 2021 interim strategic plan. The task force has the overarching goal of “dismantling racism in all its forms.”

In its interim report released last month, the task force acknowledged the efforts already made by members of the university community to work toward an anti-racist environment, while also highlighting the work that still needs to be done.

One recommendation the report outlines is that the university collect and distribute diversity data to address gaps in diversity and support community members. The task force also proposed that the university educate decision-makers on how to perform their duties through an “anti-racism lens.”

Milestones in anti-racism at the University of Manitoba recognized in the report include the hiring of a vice-president (Indigenous) in spring 2020, the creation of the President’s Task Force on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in winter term 2020 and the university’s formal endorsement of the Scarborough Charter in winter term 2022.

The anti-racism forum discussions began with attendees sharing what an anti-racist University of Manitoba may look like for them. Multiple attendees shared a similar vision for an anti-racist University of Manitoba, and emphasized that the university should be “diverse,” “safe,” “inclusive” and “welcoming.”

There were six themes at the event that attendees used as a framework for discussion — overcoming institutional and systemic racism, academic and research, leadership and accountability, education and empowerment, representation and equity and safety and wellness.

U of M president Michael Benarroch has spoken in the past about how the university is striving to become more anti-racist.

“We can and will do better in the area of anti-Black racism, and we will grow stronger because of it,” Benarroch said to UM Today regarding the endorsement of the Scarborough Charter.

When the final report of the President’s Task Force on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion was released in 2021, Benarroch endorsed all of its recommendations and wrote in a statement given to UM Today that “it shows us clearly the work still needed to be done, beginning with prioritizing equity, diversity and inclusion in institution-wide planning and action.”

Elmahi said that, with the anti-racism forum, “the university is definitely taking steps in the right direction to support anti-racism, giving opportunities to students to voice their opinion.”

She added that the forum fostered “collaboration between different faculties and getting like-minded people together.”

“That was what was really refreshing about it as well,” she said.

“Students, staff [and] faculty were all in one space and had one goal, and were like-minded in that way.”