Statement on Racism by the Department of English and Drama

August 31, 2020

Recent protests shed new light on anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism in Canada and the University of Toronto. But racism has a history, and the need for collective action in response to it is not new. We acknowledge and honour the anti-racist labour of those who have fought for greater equity in our communities, and seek to build on their work. Our commitments and paths forward are inspired by the Calls to Action issued by the University of Toronto in 2017 in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

The burdens of action, grief, and anger about racial injustice have historically fallen—and continue to fall—disproportionately upon Black, Indigenous, and racialized students, faculty, staff, and community members. The Department of English and Drama (E&D) recognizes that the responsibility to address the injustice of racism is shared by all of us. We acknowledge the need to fulfill our stated commitments to work for racial justice and extend them further by providing concrete support, examining the underpinnings of inequality in our department and our discipline, and making meaningful changes, starting now.

This process is long and serious, and there can be no once-and-for-all solution. We are particularly aware of how, as an English and Drama department, our own curriculum continues to uphold an aesthetics of whiteness and a culture of white supremacy. We sincerely believe this is not the only possibility for an English and Drama department. The following is a description of what we have already begun to do, a pledge to undo the racial inequities that structure our own department as well as our community, and a solicitation of your thoughts and advice about what we could do further.

For decades the faculty of our department has been entirely white. We have begun the ongoing work of addressing this history by hiring three new BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) tenure-stream faculty and a postdoctoral fellow whose work and activism focus on anti-Black and white supremacist strains of thought in the field of medieval studies. In ways that our previously all-white faculty simply could not, these world-class scholars will enhance the education we provide and serve as models and supportive mentors to our BIPOC students.

We have run anti-racism and anti-oppression workshops with outside facilitators to support students.

We have revised our curriculum in English to begin to address its historic connections to white supremacy and to teach more of the work of BIPOC writers and artists. We recognize that it is our pedagogical duty to practice anti-racist teaching, address issues of race, and teach the works of BIPOC writers, artists, and scholars across our curriculum. And we commit to further curricular reforms (to be implemented in the 2021-22 academic year) and to revised program requirements (to be implemented in the 2022-23 academic year) centering the work of non-white writers and literary traditions.

We are now forming an Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression Taskforce for our Theatre and Drama Studies program with the remit to create an Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression Action Plan. This Action Plan will advise on immediate steps, followed by a suite of new actions in the coming year and beyond.

We are working closely with the UTM Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Office, which provides confidential human rights complaint resolution assistance, and the Health & Counselling Centre, where counsellors are available to E&D students for confidential counselling about any matters pertaining to racism or oppression at UTM.

We pledge to overhaul our Creative Writing curriculum to be more inclusive, to support visiting faculty and writers of colour, and to begin departmental discussion immediately with regard to inclusive, diversity-centred hiring priorities in Creative Writing.

We will provide material support to faculty members who disproportionately shoulder the burden of mentoring students of colour.

Beginning in 2021, E&D’s evaluation process will set new benchmarks and standards for recognizing the achievements of BIPOC faculty. Within the University context, the department further pledges to lead by dismantling the racist underpinnings of institutional evaluation and compensation, by continuing to model such changes in our own department, and by making ourselves available to consult with other departments who would like to make similar changes.

Beginning in 2021, every course offered by E&D will include a statement of non-discrimination in classroom policies and grading procedures.

Our entire E&D faculty and student-facing staff will receive education on the school-to-prison pipeline and the disproportionate disciplining of students, faculty, and staff of colour at our own University and in our communities.

And we are listening. If you are a member of the E&D community, please tell us your experiences and your ideas. We have established an anonymous portal for comments and concerns if you prefer not to disclose your name. You can access this portal HERE.

We will not stand by and let others continue to take on the burden of this work alone. We affirm our commitment to set a new standard of anti-racist work in the Humanities at U of T.

Black Lives Matter.

The Faculty of the Department of English and Drama

The Department of English and Drama supports the meaningful acknowledgement of the land on which the University of Toronto operates.