Black lives matter. Clearly, however, the murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis, of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, of Breonna Tayler in Kentucky, the killing of Tony McDade in Florida and the tragic death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet here in Toronto, together with far too many other similar events, have served as stark reminders of the necessity of organizing behind a premise of dismantling anti-Black racism and state-sanctioned violence.
The patterns are clear, evidenced, for example, in the writing of scholars such as Robyn Maynard on the policing of Black lives. An Ontario Human Rights Commission study, “A Collective Impact” provided irrefutable evidence that between 2013 and 2017, a Black person in Toronto was nearly 20 times more likely than a white person to be involved in a fatal shooting by the Toronto Police Service. Moreover, anti-Black racism intersects with and informs other forms of systemic violence. In Canada, this includes violence against Indigenous peoples, highlighted most recently by the killing of Chantel Moore in New Brunswick.
With these stories (and decades of too many similar stories) serving as contemporary examples and evidence of pervasive and persistent anti-Black racism and anti-Indigenous racism, we, the academic leaders of the tri-campus graduate programs in Geography and Planning and the three undergraduate geography departments at the University of Toronto-St. George (STG), the University of Toronto-Mississauga (UTM), and the University of Toronto-Scarborough (UTSC) affirm our commitment to do more than just express our collective outrage and dismay.
Recent days and weeks have brought pain, grief, frustration, and anger but also hope, solidarity, and fierce love. We are inspired by all of those in the United States, in Canada, and around the world who have sent out and responded to the call to oppose anti-Black racism, white supremacy and violence, and to reject racial discrimination and oppression in all their nefarious manifestations. We add our voices to those who are committed to fighting for justice.
Words are important, but they alone cannot undo systemic, institutionalized and individual racism and racially motivated acts of violence. We pledge to embrace changes aimed at fostering justice, dignity and respect for Black students, for Black colleagues, for Black staff, and for all Indigenous and people of colour. In making this pledge, we also honour and acknowledge the intersections of anti-Black racism with issues of gender, dis/ability, sexuality and class. We are specifically committed to the following:
- Advocacy for enhanced University funding specifically for Black students, and for Indigenous and students of colour;
- Recruitment, hiring and retention of more Black faculty members and fostering greater diversity in our faculty more generally;
- Continued and enhanced efforts to recruit Black students, undergraduate and graduate;
- Continued and enhanced efforts to recruit students from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds;
- Efforts to strengthen our curricula at the undergraduate and graduate levels in the areas of Black geographies, anti-oppression (broadly) and anti-Black racism specifically, and the development of an enhanced understanding of the ongoing role of systemic racism, white supremacy and discrimination in the production of space, and of the production of forms of geographical knowledge aimed at overcoming systemic injustice; and
- The systemic development of an institutional culture of anti-oppression and respect through dialog, education, and training.
We are an intellectually and otherwise diverse community of faculty, staff, and students spread across our three campus departments and within our common graduate department. We may never all agree at each point on what is to be done, on what takes priority, and on how to proceed. Indeed, the mechanisms and institutional structures/processes will vary by department, program, campus, and division. Yet, we may embrace a common ethos of seeking in our teaching, in our research, and in our day-to-day professional lives to actively challenge and subvert the entrenched colonial legacies of anti-Black racism and of oppression, legacies that make possible ongoing acts of horrific violence and systemic, institutionalized and racist discrimination. We can embrace a commitment to more than words, and instead seek to enact and embody the kinds of real changes that are clearly now long overdue.
Ron Buliung, Professor and Chair, tri-campus Graduate Department of Geography and Planning
Richard DiFrancesco, Associate Professor and Chair, University of Toronto-St. George Department of Geography and Planning
Yuhong He, Associate Professor and Chair, University of Toronto-Mississauga Department of Geography
Paul Hess, Associate Professor and Associate Chair and Director, Graduate Programs in Planning (until June 30, 2020)
Thembela Kepe, Professor and Chair University of Toronto-Scarborough, Department of Human Geography
Scott Prudham, Professor and Associate Chair, Graduate Geography
Katharine Rankin, Professor and Associate Chair and Director, Graduate Programs in Planning (beginning July 1, 2020)