Western creates new leadership role, advisory council to chart a path forward for anti-racism

Special to Western News

The President’s Anti-Racism Working Group’s report, and the university's response, were released to the campus community on June 22.

Western will create a new leadership role and an advisory council that will guide university-wide efforts to develop a sustained strategy for tackling racism on campus and in the world.

The actions were among a series of next steps the university announced June 22 in response to the final report of the Anti-Racism Working Group, struck last fall in response to anti-Black racism on campus. The 20-member working group, which included faculty, staff and both undergraduate and graduate students, spent months gathering input and hearing stories from the university community before making its recommendations.

“The world is at a turning point – and we have opportunities to participate fully in that turning point,” President Alan Shepard said. “These recommendations will help us build a better Western, for now and for the future.”

The new special advisor will lead the way in establishing an advisory council, which will work closely with other equity offices on campus – including the Office of Indigenous Initiatives; Equity and Human Rights Services; Student Experience; and the Office of Vice-Provost (Academic Planning, Policy and Faculty) – to advise the university on ongoing anti-racism and equity, diversity and inclusion work. As part of that work, the council will consider ways to collect and publish relevant data and set metrics that measure Western’s progress.

In its report, the working group asked for the university to acknowledge and apologize for the harm caused by the work of Philippe Rushton, a faculty member at Western from 1977-2012 whose research on race and intelligence was the subject of much controversy.

“I do apologize sincerely for the deep harm that has been experienced by many members of the Western community,” Shepard said. “And I acknowledge how divisive events of decades past can continue to impact the present.

“I do so in the hope and conviction that Western has the opportunity to focus on the future, and to participate fully in the building of a better and more just world.”

The new senior role will be created this summer as a special advisor to the president, and the university will ultimately propose an associate vice-president position to the Board of Governors.

“Important changes like those ahead of us are hard work, critical work. It is imperative that we have someone at the leadership table helping to guide us in all we do,” Shepard said.

The university also plans to strengthen its training programs to combat racism and conduct a full review of existing policies and mechanisms for reporting racist incidents.

Additionally, the university will launch a cross-campus campaign to combat all kinds of racism, especially against Black and Indigenous communities, and to address how other kinds of oppression intersect with racism.

Shepard also committed to establishing new funding to advance anti-racism, equity and inclusion initiatives across campus.

“This was a community effort toward a campus-wide change,” said graduate student Jina Kum, one of the working group’s three leads, and president of the Society of Graduate Students. “Western is not immune to racism. We heard how the university has a lot of work to do. But we also heard many hopeful comments.”

“We are cautiously optimistic about being able to make Western a safer, more respectful, more equitable environment in which to study, research and live.”

Kum’s co-leads of the working group were Lisa Highgate, Associate Director of Residence Conduct and Conflict Resolution, and Professor Erica Lawson, Undergraduate Chair of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research.

Shepard stressed the working group’s report, and the university’s response, mark only the beginning of the work needed to chart a better path for Western.

“I invite the entire Western community to join in the important work of fighting against racism and, in the words of the report, ‘practicing equity,’” he said. “I am optimistic that these efforts will make a big difference to Western’s community and its future.”