Charting anti-racism action at KPU

How KPU is improving equity policies after signing the Scarborough Charter to combat anti-Black racism

Dr. Alan Davis signs the Scarborough Charter. (@KPUMedia)

Dr. Alan Davis signs the Scarborough Charter. (@KPUMedia)

When mass protests began in the summer of 2020 following the death of George Floyd, it was the first time many had heard of anti-racism.

The ideal, first displayed in the early 1500s in Europe, has gained a great deal of traction in recent years due to the rising popularity of the Black Lives Matter movement. The conversations that resulted soon reached not only KPU, but Canadian academia as a whole, and in November 2021, they culminated in KPU signing the Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black Racism – becoming one of 40 Canadian institutions to do so. 

“This process started in summer of 2020, and the first National Dialogues were held in October 2020,” says Asma Sayed, chair of the KPU Anti-Racism Task Force and the Canada Research Chair in South Asian Literacy and Cultural Studies. 

“After the National Dialogues, this charter was created.”

The Charter, created by experts from institutions across Canada, outlines four main principles that “should apply to any initiative to redress anti-Black racism and foster Black inclusion in our universities and colleges, and across the sector.” 

These principles include the removal of structural barriers to equity, inclusion, and social justice, recognizing that equitable inclusion is critical to excellence, engaging with the Black community locally and beyond, and answering to any outcomes that result. The Charter then outlines how these principles can be implemented in governance, in research, in teaching and learning, and in community engagement.

“By signing the Charter, KPU has committed to a process by which we will continue to improve our commitment to anti-racism and inclusive excellence,” Sayed says. “So, this Charter is a guide for universities and colleges across Canada to meaningfully address anti-Black racism […] to identify anti-Black racism and to move forward to take action.” 

“We’re now part of a consortium with universities across Canada that have signed this,” says Romy Kozak, Director of Diversity for the President’s Diversity and Equity Committee (PDEC), who adds that the Charter recognizes “the context of Black presence in Canadian history and society.” 

“It has very broad aspirations, but also gets very precise,” says Kozak. “They’re meant to be sustainable goals that are university-wide. They’re not superficial actions that we’re doing for the sake of doing them. They’re asked to be done to make lasting, systemic, transformational change.”

Kozak says that by signing the Charter, KPU has committed to increasing support for Black students, staff, and faculty. 

“The positive goal overall is to ensure that Black people have every opportunity and every support possible to ensure their full contribution to Canadian society [and] empower that contribution. It’s also recognizing that to do that properly, we have some reflection on the wrongs that have been done so far, and that need to be undone,” she says.

KPU signing the Charter is one of many actions taken across British Columbia to address systemic racism. In November of 2019, the Resilience BC anti-racism network was created after a series of community dialogs led by former parliamentary secretary for sports and multiculturalism Ravi Kahlon.

In June 2020, Indigenous lawyer Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond began collecting data on the systemic racism experienced by Indigenous peoples in B.C. Around that same time, BC Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender began collecting their own data on the extent of systemic racism throughout the province. 

Their respective reports, released in September of that year, painted a sobering picture of both issues and cast the nature of racism in the province in a clearer light. It was this data that led to the appointment of Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Rachna Singh as the parliamentary secretary for anti-racism.

For Kozak, KPU signing the Charter signifies “an intentional and important awareness by our most senior leadership” of the need for concerted action on the issue.

“It’s really good that we’re digging into what it really means when we say that everyone needs to feel that they belong,” says Kozak. 

“We can’t just say that superficially and expect that that’s, therefore, the way it is. We need to actually dig into redressing and correcting elements of the structure that are not inclusive, and are not equitable.”

The Charter is also tied to points laid out in human rights legislation in Canada.

“[The Charter] does mention some of the aspirations that are put forward in the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the provincial human rights codes,” says Kozak. 

“But this, for me, is going beyond that, because it’s about more proactively creating an environment that is supportive and welcoming.”

According to Sayed, the Task Force has already been working on “a number of actions” contributing towards anti-racism at KPU. 

“The institution did a diversity meter survey last year through [the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion],” she says. “We have some data which has shown us where the gaps are at the institution, and so, we are taking that into consideration in moving towards changing our hiring practices.”

Sayed also mentions KPU signing the 50/30 Challenge last year, which focuses on gender parity and the representation of “equity deserving groups” in senior management. This is in addition to an action plan that Sayed says is being developed by the institution. 

“Some of the information that we get through these initiatives will help us understand what KPU needs to do better, where the gaps are,” she says.

Sayed says the Task Force is launching a survey and initiating focus groups through February and March to identify some of these gaps. 

“We will be looking at what our employees and what our students think needs to be done at KPU, what we are doing well, and what we could do better,” she says.

All this effort will culminate in a report the task force hopes to make once it starts winding down its work, along with a series of recommendations they plan to make to the university. “We are currently in the process of consulting various stakeholders for the recommendations that we will make,” she says. 

“So we are hopeful that this report and these recommendations will further help us in meeting our commitments through the Scarborough Charter and through other initiatives.”    

According to Kozak, KPU living up to the commitments of the Charter needs “more than a few disparate actions.” 

However, with that in mind, Kozak says that KPU is working on a few different “comprehensive plans and initiatives” to improve diversity and anti-racism and create systemic transformation.

“A lot of the concrete actions we take to fulfill the Scarborough Charter’s expectations will come out of […] the work of the task force,” says Kozak. 

“[Sayed] and Jennifer Hardwick are working the most closely on many of these initiatives coming out of there.” 

This includes not only the report, but an anti-racism policy that Kozak and the Task Force are working on, which she hopes will “internalize and map” the principles of the Charter into the institutional context of KPU.

Kozak says that it is important that the principles of the Charter are implemented “with respect to, and in deference to” creating better relationships with Indigenous communities. 

“These various processes need to work together,” she adds. “One does not subsume the other. It’s about us working together and listening to what we all need, hearing each other and then moving forward together.”

“To some degree, I don’t think we have a huge representation of Black people,” she says.

“So I’m hoping that, with a meaningful realization of the goals of the Scarborough Charter, would position KPU as an even more welcoming place for Black employees and students at all levels. Including at the senior administrative levels.”

Sayed said she hopes these efforts bring about “a more just and equitable institution” where students and employees of all backgrounds feel included and valued. She also hopes that KPU can feel confident that they’re working towards building an equitable future “for those at KPU and for those beyond.”

“Educational institutions, they impact society as well,” she says. “Hopefully, we can bring institutional and social change through some of these initiatives.”

“I would hope that the Black members of the KPU community would feel supported and at home here at KPU,” says Kozak. “That they have an opportunity to flourish and realize their own excellence and be valued, and that KPU would be able to realize the richness of their contribution. I think that KPU will be a better place for that.”