Marking One Year Since the Entrustment of the Antisemitism Working Group Report

In February 2023, our community is marking one year since the entrustment of the Report of the University of Toronto Antisemitism Working Group. The University of Toronto commissioned the Antisemitism Working Group to review the University’s programming, activities, processes, and practices and make recommendations to support its response to antisemitism.

Chaired by University Professor Arthur Ripstein, the Antisemitism Working Group began its work in December 2020. The Working Group consulted with students, faculty, librarians, and staff from across the tri-campus through a survey, focus groups, and interviews.

In December 2021, the Working Group released its Report, delivering eight recommendations that address antisemitic racism and antisemitic religious discrimination. Among other key topics, the recommendations addressed definitions of antisemitism, the relationships between academic freedom and inclusion in a university setting, religious observance accommodations, and the provision of kosher food on campus.

“Our aim was to make recommendations for the ways the University can deal with problems of antisemitism in light of its distinctive place in society—a place that is on the one hand dedicated to equity and inclusion for everyone, and on the other hand, committed to fundamental principles of free speech and academic freedom.”

— Arthur Ripstein, Chair, Antisemitism Working Group

The President, Vice-President & Provost, and Vice-President, People Strategy, Equity & Culture (PSEC) accepted the recommendations in their entirety and issued an Administrative Response outlining concrete steps that would be taken. In February 2022, the University released a video to mark the entrustment of the report and affirm its commitment to tackling antisemitism in all forms.

In the year since, students, faculty, librarians, and staff across the University have worked to develop and launch initiatives addressing the Report recommendations. As with all of the University’s work in addressing racism and inclusion, much remains to be done. Through these efforts, the University has made progress in situating antisemitism within our broader equity work, understanding and addressing antisemitism, clearly communicating our values and policies, and respecting religious observances. Our progress so far in each of these areas is detailed below.

Situating antisemitism within our broader equity work

Over the past year, the University has undertaken numerous actions that align with the recommendation to “situate its policies and programs concerning antisemitism within the broader framework of its equity, anti-racism, and cultural diversity initiatives and policies, taking it as seriously as it takes other forms of racism and exclusion.”

PSEC established the Institutional Equity Office in Fall 2022, with the objective of working collaboratively across the University’s three campuses to build capacity, support communities, and provide leadership in support of Indigenous initiatives, equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism efforts. Led by PSEC’s Executive Director, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Jodie Glean, as well as Acting Executive Director, Allison Burgess, the Office supports and guides the work of the Anti-Racism & Cultural Diversity Office, the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office, and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Office, and works in partnership with the Office of Indigenous Initiatives. The Institutional Equity Office explicitly includes antisemitism in its mandate, which informs the work of the equity offices and teams under its purview.

“Antisemitism is a pernicious and despicable form of racism that has no place at the University of Toronto. Our community has taken important steps to implement the recommendations of the Antisemitism Working Group. However, there is much more to be done. The University remains committed to implementing all of these recommendations, as we work to combat and eradicate antisemitism across our three campuses.”

— Meric Gertler, President, University of Toronto

In response to a recommendation from the Antisemitism Working Group, this year the University will begin recruiting for the role of Advisor, Faith and Anti-Racism, who will lead the coordination of a range of initiatives to combat antisemitism. The Anti-Racism & Cultural Diversity Office will lead a series of programs in recognition of the 2023 International Day of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. These will include community discussions to inform the development of a Faith and Anti-Racism Education Strategy at U of T, including efforts to address antisemitism.

The Vice-President, PSEC and Executive Director, EDI represented U of T as one of two Canadian universities at the University Presidents Summit on Campus Antisemitism, held in New York City in April 2022. Hosted by Hillel International and other key partners, this Summit provided an opportunity for senior leaders to discuss and share strategies and actions to confront antisemitism.

The Institutional Equity Office and representatives from Hillel at U of T are committed to meeting regularly in order to increase partnership opportunities, build relationships, and encourage participation in events and initiatives hosted by Hillel. For example, institutional and divisional equity offices joined the University community in attending the exhibition “Cattle Car: Stepping In and Out of Darkness” in October 2022.

Understanding and addressing antisemitism

Over the past year, the Anti-Racism & Cultural Diversity Office has provided numerous opportunities for all members of the U of T community to deepen their learning on antisemitism and Jewish inclusion. It has hosted workshops and events to broaden understanding and encourage difficult conversations about how to identify and address antisemitism on our campuses and in our wider society.

In January 2022, ARCDO welcomed Dr. Deborah E. Lipstadt, historian and author of the recent book Antisemitism: Here and Now, as part of the Race, Equity and Action Speaker Series. In March 2022, ARCDO and the Multi-Faith Centre also presented a feature workshop on Understanding and Addressing Antisemitism, facilitated by Dr. Shari Golberg. Dr. Golberg will return on March 14, 2023, to present A Shape-Shifting Hatred: Understanding and Addressing Antisemitism, which is open to all students, faculty, librarians, and staff.

Additionally, ARCDO supports Jewish community members through its annual Reflect. Restore. Action. programming, which aims to curate spaces of wellness, healing, and critical dialogue to address the impacts of racial discrimination. As part of this series, Jacqueline Dresser, Advocacy Manager of Hillel at U of T, facilitated a restorative circle for Jewish students, faculty, librarians, and staff on January 23, 2023.

Several Faculties have also created new opportunities for their communities to learn about antisemitism. The Temerty Faculty of Medicine instituted learning modules, lectures, and panels for all medical students to address lessons from the Holocaust. The Temerty Faculty of Medicine also hosted an evening of reflection in September 2022 at which the Dean formally apologized, alongside a group of CEOs from our affiliated hospitals, for its historical practice of imposing quotas on the number of Jewish medical students and trainees in the mid-20th century. Additionally, its Office of Inclusion and Diversity has invited Jewish students to participate in its Diversity Mentorship Program, which provides undergraduate medical students or first-year residents with a faculty mentor. The Faculty of Law is preparing mandatory training on antisemitism to be delivered to all first-year law students, in consultation with ARCDO, the Jewish Law Students Association, and Jewish faculty members.

Clearly communicating our values and policies

The University’s commitment to freedom of speech and academic freedom is enshrined in our Statement of Institutional Purpose. The Institutional Equity Office provides ongoing guidance to institutional and divisional EDI directors on the University’s principles of free speech, academic freedom and EDI—both within the classroom and at events held on our campuses—as they in turn support their respective stakeholders.

In response to the recommendation of the Antisemitism Working Group, the University has increased its communication on inclusive spaces, religious accommodations, and hate-related vandalism. In October 2022, the Vice-President, PSEC issued a memo outlining the University’s workplace policies and guidelines, as well as how employees who witness acts of racism or discrimination —including antisemitism— on our campuses can raise complaints or concerns, report vandalism, and access support and training. A memo on these topics will be reissued each academic year to inform new faculty, librarians, and staff, and to remind existing community members of these policies.

“As stated in U of T’s Statement of Institutional Purpose, the University is dedicated to fostering an academic community in which the learning and scholarship of every member may flourish, with vigilant protection for individual human rights, and a resolute commitment to the principles of equal opportunity, equity, and justice. And as highlighted by the Antisemitism Working Group, members of our academic community must be free to hold and express differing—and sometimes contentious—opinions. We will continue working hard to protect these institutional rights and values as we deliver on the Report’s recommendations.”

— Cheryl Regehr, Vice-President & Provost

Respecting religious observances

The Office of the Vice-Provost, Students, the Multi-Faith Centre, and the Office of the Vice-President, PSEC collaborate on an annual list of religious observance dates, available online and automatically inserted into employee Outlook calendars. This includes Jewish religious observance dates, as familiarity with these is an important part of promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion.

For instructors and academic departments, these dates are intended to assist those planning academic activities to anticipate when students might seek accommodations for religious observances. The University’s expectations on this matter are articulated in the Policy on Scheduling of Classes and Examinations and Other Accommodations for Religious Observances.

“Together, we are building a stronger University of Toronto—one where all members of our community can feel affirmed and supported. I am grateful to the Antisemitism Working Group, as well as staff, faculty, librarians, and students across the tri-campus, for their ongoing efforts to combat antisemitism, advance equity, and create more inclusive spaces for all.”

— Heather Boon, Acting Vice-President, People Strategy, Equity & Culture

To enhance employee understanding and familiarity with the holidays and observances on this list, PSEC prepares a number of Inclusive Employer Guides. In 2022, PSEC updated these guides to include more detailed information on intentional planning and accommodations, providing the following guidance to managers and employees: “The University of Toronto recognizes its obligation to prevent discriminatory impacts on members of its community that arise from the failure to accommodate based on religion or creed. It is the responsibility of both the Manager and the individual seeking accommodation to work cooperatively and respectfully to explore and implement appropriate accommodation options.”

The University’s Governing Council and Alumni Affairs Office also worked with the Institutional Equity Office to avoid scheduling their 2022 and 2023 meetings and events on major religious and cultural holidays, including Jewish holidays.

Teams across the tri-campus are working to increase the availability of kosher foods. On the Scarborough campus, the Offices of Student Experience & Wellbeing and Equity, Diversity & Inclusion formed a consultation initiative with Jewish Student Life, meeting monthly to facilitate communication, support, and information-sharing. These groups met with the Food Services team to discuss the need for kosher food options on campus, as well as appropriate handling, storage, and sourcing of these items. As a result, new kosher food options are now available on campus, with work ongoing to improve cost and labelling.

On the Mississauga campus, the EDI Office is working with Hospitality and Ancillary Services to ensure Jewish members of the community can access a wide variety of kosher food options.

On the St. George campus, kosher food is available at Chestnut, New College and Campus One residence locations, as well as Robarts Grab ‘n’ Go, MSB Grab ‘n’ Go, and Goodmans LLP Café. Hillel U of T offers kosher dinners through Allen’s Table at the Wolfond Centre. In addition, University College, St. George Catering and Chestnut Catering provide kosher meals upon request. The Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design is also working with its caterers to ensure that kosher options are available at meetings and events.

Looking ahead

As we reflect on progress made in responding to the Antisemitism Working Group’s recommendations, we do so with the understanding that there is much work yet to be done, and that this work requires continual, collective action.

Recognizing that equity work is an ongoing journey of learning and reflection, the University is also working to improve how progress is measured and reported.

In response to the Anti-Black Racism Task Force Report in 2021, the Office of the President, Office of the Provost, and Office of the Vice-President, PSEC partnered to create an interactive dashboard to record progress on commitments made to recommendations in that report. In early 2022, the dashboard was expanded to include our institutional commitments to addressing antisemitism. The dashboard enables community members to track our progress and gain insight into the work being undertaken. As we expand the dashboard to include reports by additional tri-campus working groups, we recognize its limitations in communicating progress on commitments that will never be “completed.” As a result, work is underway to reimagine the ways that the University reports on progress and demonstrates accountability to its stakeholders on these important issues, with updates to come later in 2023.

“We are listening to our campus communities about their lived experiences and knowledge, and we are taking concrete action to bring about sustainable and impactful change. As we continue our efforts to eliminate racism, hate, and discrimination within our learning and working environments, I am grateful for the guidance of the Antisemitism Working Group.”

— Allison Burgess, Acting Executive Director, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

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