U of T launches working group to tackle anti-Asian racism on campus

The University of Toronto has launched an Anti-Asian Racism Working Group to address anti-Asian racism on campus and take steps to make U of T more inclusive and welcoming to members of Asian communities.

As part of its mandate, the working group – co-chaired by Carol Chin, principal of Woodsworth College, and Vikram Chadalawada, assistant director, student information, Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration and Information Technology Services – will consult U of T community members about their experiences with anti-Asian racism and review U of T’s existing policies, procedures, programming and practices.

It will then recommend actionable steps to respond to anti-Asian racism on the university’s three campuses and help build a respectful, accountable, equitable and inclusive community.

“One of the aims of the working group is to gather information on the range of experiences of racism of people belonging to different parts of the Asian community,” said Chin, an associate professor in the department of history in the Faculty of Arts & Science. “This is, of course, a very broad category and people will have different backgrounds, including being born and raised in Canada, born and raised in Asia and everything in between.

“We’re interested in hearing from as many people as would be willing to contribute their voices, and it’s about coalescing that into a coherent report and recommendations.”

The Anti-Asian Racism Working Group also plans to develop a tri-campus inventory of existing resources, initiatives and projects that address anti-Asian racism and advance inclusion for Asian community members, as well as review previous recommendations regarding anti-racism and inclusion practices made by U of T community members and other research-intensive universities.

A final report with the group’s recommendations will be delivered to U of T President Meric Gertler, Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr and Vice-President, People Strategy, Equity and Culture Kelly Hannah-Moffat by the end of the year.

“As an institution and as a community, we have been concerned by recent incidents of anti-Asian racism here at U of T, in our city-region, and indeed across North America,” the three senior leaders said in a message to the U of T community. “It is our collective responsibility to develop strategies to dismantle barriers and enhance inclusivity for Asian members of the U of T community.”

Chin said the working group will draw on the experiences of previous anti-racism initiatives at the university to inform its processes and approach. She notes, for instance, that she regularly speaks with Roger Bulgin, co-chair of the Anti-Black Racism Task Force and chief administrative officer at Woodsworth, whose office is located next door. “I’m constantly poking my head in and saying, ‘Roger, when you did this or that, what did you learn?’” said Chin. “So, we will definitely be drawing on others’ experiences in terms of how to go about the process, what worked and what didn’t.”

Chadalawada, who is chair of the University Affairs Board in U of T’s Governing Council, said the working group aims to support the response to anti-Asian racism in every aspect of university life and interactions.

“This is not just for the Asian community,” he said. “It’s also for everyone who interacts with members of the Asian community at U of T – so, it applies to all of us.

“It’s also not just about students or staff or faculty, but also about extending awareness, supports and accountability to every interaction that takes place within the university – whether you’re a full-time member of the university community or a vendor, contractor or part-time or temporary worker who’s deployed into the university environment.

“We want to enhance the awareness of everyone who participates in university life, and we hope this approach opens doors to deeper, respectful, more meaningful conversations. I truly hope that, with the help of this working group, we are able to foster an inclusive mindset that is acknowledged broadly within the university community.”

The launch of the working group comes amid a sharp rise in instances of anti-Asian discrimination in Canada in recent years.

Jodie Glean, executive director, equity, diversity and inclusion at U of T, said that while anti-Asian racism is not a new phenomenon in this country, the COVID-19 pandemic has further stoked prejudice and bigotry.

“Systemic anti-Asian racism has unfortunately been a lived reality for diverse Asian communities for many years – historically and in the present day,” Glean said. “Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated already existing inequities and inequalities, and the reality of xenophobia has continuously manifested itself in physical and verbal forms of violence against Asian community members.

“Therefore, there is a pressing need to be intentional in the ways we address anti-Asian racism and build initiatives for inclusion and belonging. The University of Toronto is looking forward to engaging the community on this important matter and carving out an informed approach to addressing anti-Asian racism across our tri-campus.”

Glean encouraged members of the U of T community to direct any questions about the Anti-Asian Racism Working Group to psec.equity@utoronto.ca.

She added that a call for members for the working group will be shared with the U of T community in the coming weeks.

By Rahul Kalvapalle | Originally published by U of T News