Taking action against anti-Black racism
I want to start this week’s blog by letting you know that I am spending a lot of time listening right now. Since the Faculty of Health Sciences posted a 4-part statement on Twitter condemning racism and violence against Black people and voicing our solidary with the Black community, I have heard from our community. I have received tweets and emails, and I have watched conversations unfold on social media.
Our community has voiced concerns. I have heard concern for our colleagues in FHS who are Black, and who may be feeling sadness, anger or despair right now. I have heard concern about our curricula, and whether it does enough to equip our students to challenge the systems that perpetuate anti-Black racism. I have heard concern about representation of racialized groups amongst our faculty members. I have heard concern for our staff, who also need to be supported in becoming allies. And I have heard concern that staying silent will not move us forward.
Our students have also been active on this. I have seen many of our students taking to social media to raise their voices. Just last night the Aesculapian Society published a letter denouncing anti-Black racism and laying out concrete actions that they will take as student leaders.
The current protests in defiance of anti-Black racism underscore the need for a commitment from institutions like the Faculty of Health Sciences to not simply stand in solidarity with the Black community, but to actively work to dismantle systemic racism. This is particularly important in a health and healthcare context. Our primary job, as a Faculty, is to train the next generation of healthcare professionals. And as such, we must prepare our learners to be leaders and advocates who are equipped to challenge racism in all of its forms, who understand that even today the colour of one’s skin can dramatically impact one’s health outcomes and who are motivated to work for change.
In the Faculty of Health Sciences, we take this responsibility seriously. And we have made some progress. 18 months ago, I struck a Commission on Black Medical Students to address the ban on Black medical students at Queen’s in 1918. The commission is chaired by our Director of Diversity, Dr. Mala Joneja, and its members include a diverse range of stakeholders that include staff, students and faculty members from across the university. The commission’s work has led to several initiatives beyond our public apology last April. Some have been actioned and some are on the way. They all aim to support our Black students and to bolster equity and inclusion within the School of Medicine. You can read more about what has been accomplished so far, and what is in progress here. As a dean, this has been the most meaningful work that I have participated in during my 10 years at Queen’s. It was an incredible honour when three representatives from the commission, Dr. Joneja, Mr. Edward Thomas and myself, were awarded the university’s Human Rights Initiatives Award in recognition of this work.
I know that there is more to be done. Here in the Faculty of Health Sciences, we have only just begun, but I can tell you that our three schools – Medicine, Nursing and Rehabilitation Therapy – are committed eliminating structural and institutional racism, and instead, building anti-racist structures within our institution.
As we continue to engage in discussion and move forward with action, I would encourage you to continue to bring your ideas forward. Please continue to support one another, please continue to speak out against racism and please continue hold us accountable to our work in building a Faculty that prioritizes inclusivity, dignity and respect.
As a Faculty, we stand in solidarity with Black students, trainees, faculty members, staff, alumni, partners and the entire Black community to promote a Faculty, university and world that is equitable. A world where Black voices are heard and Black lives matter.