A Collective Vision for Change

The Origin Story of the FHS Anti-Racism Task Force

December 7, 2020

The FHS Anti-Racism Task Force is designed to address racism and systems of oppression in the Faculty of Health Sciences. It meets monthly and is gathering momentum as we formalize the Terms of Reference and map out various activities designed to dismantle whiteness, centre anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, and build intellectual empathy as a collective. Given the interconnected nature of systemic and everyday oppression, the insights of additional communities will likely surface as our efforts unfold. We thought it would be useful to share the ‘Origin Story’ of the Taskforce and provide some insights about who we are, with an eye to generating more diverse representation across the Faculty and certain gendered groups.

The release of the President’s Anti-Racism Working Group (ARWG) Report in June 2020 and the global surge of the Black Lives Matter movement inspired the creation of the Task Force. Our students come from a multitude of socio-economic, cultural, and racial backgrounds, yet our faculty are predominantly white and few of us address these topics in meaningful ways in the classroom. We all have important roles to play in helping make Western a safer, proactive space, and our institution must respond. How can we promote Western as a dynamic place of innovation without following through on these critical issues?

Ensuring the equitable participation of faculty members, students and staff is central to our response. To that end, Treena Orchard, Associate Professor in the School of Health Studies, reached out to Black students and colleagues, including individuals who took part in the President’s ARWG. She also contacted Indigenous students and colleagues, which was done mindfully with the knowledge that people’s plates are full but that inclusion from the outset is key. A Faculty-wide call for participation in the Task Force was issued in July and a handful of people responded. Individual and group requests for additional members to join were made during the Fall, which enriched our numbers considerably.

Of the 20 members, roughly half belong to communities of colour and three quarters are women. Seventy per cent of Task Force members are from the School of Health Studies, with minimal participation from other Schools. Physical Therapy has formed an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiative with Janelle Unger as lead, which is exciting! Additional overlapping committees at the Faculty level include the Indigenous Curriculum Committee, which has more diverse representation across the Schools but of the twelve members only one is male.

Student experiences related to racism within our Faculty are key to our aims, actions, and outcomes as a Task Force. Their contributions are also vital to this document, including the next two sections that outline why we need greater representation and how we might help generate more widespread participation.

Why we need more folks from ‘Other’ professional and social locations to join us

Creating a space that allows individuals from differing sectors (professionally and social location wise) allows for our group to take on multiple lenses, providing us with insight we otherwise might not have had access to. This allows for increasingly useful opportunities for collaboration and a sense of collective responsibility for the work at hand. I also believe representation from more diverse groups/locations will significantly impact our group’s motivation and further promote the broader participation of individuals and groups we are trying to reach. It may also deflect or reduce feelings of burnout among individuals who have formed groups that have previously attempted similar work.

Faculty leaders should endeavour to achieve a more diversified structure by being more deliberate and addressing equality among white and people of colour on campus. Having your own, or people “like you”, in positions of authority is very empowering and motivating in the sense that it demonstrates that you too stand a chance to succeed.

As a renowned academic institute that attracts culturally diverse and global talents, it is incumbent upon professionals at Western University to genuinely uphold practices of equity, diversity and inclusion that enable individuals to learn and grow in safe spaces. Consequently, we are calling upon professionals from within our Faculty to join our Anti-Racism Task Force to improve the experiences of Black and Indigenous students, faculty and staff through the conscience effort of centring anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism at the forefront of systemic change.

How can we encourage broader participation?

We can encourage broader participation by initiating special interest groups within the anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism paradigm that allows professionals to provide expertise in an area that they feel most comfortable in. We can also encourage broader participation of professionals and faculty through email/campaign marketing where we disseminate the purpose and goals of the FHS Anti-Racism Task Force and highlight our calls to action. Similarly, we can take the initiative of personally reaching out to people who we believe have the potential to make significant contributions to our mission of dismantling whiteness, centering anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, and building intellectual empathy.