GeoPlan 2021 Message from Graduate Chair Ron Buliung

June 30, 2021 by Professor Ron Buliung

As Graduate Chair, I am incredibly grateful to our amazing graduate students, staff and faculty colleagues, for their commitment to one another and their programs of study during an incredibly difficult year. Thanks also to our loved ones for their support throughout this challenging time. I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge the work of our graduate Associate Chairs, Professors Sharlene Mollett, Scott Prudham, and Katharine Rankin (Planning Director), and staff who support our graduate programs; namely Jessica Finlayson, Yvonne Kenny, Maria Wowk, Parveen Malli.  Professor Mollett will be moving into a new role in 2021-22 at UTSC as the Chair of the Department of Global Development Studies, congratulations!

For many of us, the pandemic and the forms of pre-existing inequality it has served to foreground and intensify has produced a context for considerable reflection and action during this past year centred on anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism. For example, the introduction of courses that attend to the ways geography and planning are implicated within legacies of colonialism offers a pathway toward advancing education priorities published in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. Our curricular work also speaks to a desire to take up an anti-racist, anti-oppression standpoint more broadly within our teaching. Recent examples include, Anti-colonial Planning (Professor Heather Dorries, UTSG), Queer Geographies (Professor Natalie Oswin, UTSC), Black Geographies of the Atlantic (Professor Rachel Goffe, UTSC). In keeping with our commitment to anti-oppression, and anti-ableism, in the winter term of this coming academic year, I will teach our programs’ first ever graduate course for Geographers and Planners focused on disability, “Disability and the City”. This course is particularly timely given how far behind we are in the Province of Ontario in terms of meeting our obligations under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). During the past year, we have also introduced new internal awards to recognize and support the work of Black and Indigenous graduate students in our tri-campus Geography and Planning programs. Faculty and students in our Professional Master of Science in Planning program also undertook an internal review, centred on anti-Black racism (see story by Planning Director Professor Katharine Rankin, later in this issue).

We have also welcomed new graduate faculty to the delivery of courses aligned with our Spatial Information Systems program. Professor Jue Wang (UTM) taught Advanced GIS Data Processing and Advanced Quantitative Methods was taught by Professor Christopher Higgins, UTSC. I am also very pleased to be able to draw attention to our participation in the UofT-Manchester University International Doctoral Cluster (IDC) initiative. Led by Professors Matti Siemiatycki (UofT Geography and Planning) and Kevin Ward (Geography, Manchester University), and with generous support from SGS, the Faculty of Arts & Science and the Office of the Vice President International, our graduate faculty were active in setting up the IDC and in the recruiting of its first class of graduate students. The IDC offers a unique opportunity for participating students focused on infrastructure studies to work with faculty members, conduct comparative research, and be part of a cohort of graduate students at both universities. Alongside academic research, the IDC program will include a strong element of engagement, impact and outreach with public, private, and non-profit organizations in the infrastructure sector.

Looking ahead to next year, as is typically the case, we will have several brilliant graduate students joining us. Among them is, Carly MacEacheron, winner of a C. David Naylor Fellowship, one of the most prestigious graduate entrance awards at the University of Toronto. Our graduate department has also co-invested, alongside the Faculty of Arts and Science, in several Recruitment of Excellence awards for Black, Indigenous and Trans doctoral applicants, to acknowledge the leadership and labour of marginalized scholars. We look forward to welcoming our new student members and are eager to support their contributions to the fields of geography and planning. This year has been incredibly demanding, and at times, unevenly painful, yet through the energy, dedication, and creativity of our faculty, students and staff, our graduate programs have moved in new, necessary, timely, and exciting directions. I look forward to meeting you in person, more often, during the 2021-22 academic year.