New and deeper conversations arose out of the Black Lives Matter movement at University of Toronto Schools, creating a “flashpoint” that is lighting the way forward on anti-racism and equity, says Nasreen Khan, the UTS Equity and Inclusion Program Director.
“It really brought home for many students and staff that we could be doing better, and we need to be doing better on these issues,” says Ms. Khan, who is also a Visual Arts instructor at the school. “What we're seeing is that there is a real commitment by the entire UTS Community to see that work gets taken up.”
Since September 8, when UTS released the UTS Action Steps Re: Anti-racism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to guide our school forward, the action is becoming a reality. The far-reaching work intertwines with everything the school does: from admissions to outreach, curriculum to hiring practices, policy to training. The actions were initially outlined in June through discussion with our community of alumni, students, parents and staff about how we could best institute real change at UTS. Over the summer, the steps were refined with data from the 2019 Equity Survey of students and staff. A work in progress, they will continue to evolve as new strategies develop to address racism, anti-Black racism and other forms of oppression.
Making Anti-racism a policy to live by
First and foremost, UTS is ingraining anti-racism into the school by making it policy.
“The overarching intention is addressing and changing school climate and culture in order to ensure that everyone is welcome and feels that they belong here,” says Ms. Khan, adding that the lawyers at Borden Ladner Gervais said the UTS Anti-racism Policy is the first time they’ve ever embarked on this kind of work for a school. It really is unique, says Ms. Khan, in that most schools and boards don’t have a specific policy for anti-racism bullying and harassment.
Nasreen Khan, the UTS Equity and
Inclusion Program Director.
The draft policy is currently under review by the new Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, also established this summer as part of the Action Plan, where staff and students work together to drive progress in this area. The number of students on this committee is expanding to give students a voice for foundation, middle and senior year students. Students, led by S5 (Grade 11) Anasofia have also come together to create a Social Justice Coalition of eight student groups who work in this area, which includes the Black Equity Committee, whose work on the Black Lives Matter movement sparked the conversations that began this process.
Instilling equity in the classroom
This fall, teachers at UTS embarked on what Head of Academics Marc Brims calls an “equity journey” to bring equity into the classroom, not just in what we teach but how we teach it.
“Our teachers are thinking intentionally about how to approach the teaching and learning process through an equitable lens with our new curriculum model, which places equity at its foundation,” he says.
For Ms. Khan’s Visual Arts classes, she is asking herself questions like: “Whose voices are privileged in the course content and in the classroom? How can we collectively make space to hear from those who are marginalized by our systems? What stories of resistance are being left out?””
These vital questions go beyond subject matter to how teachers run their classrooms, ensuring they make the atmosphere in the classroom equitable by addressing individual learning needs and being aware of their own personal biases that might be coming into play.
To guide this work, staff received anti-racism and equity training from Dr. Alana Butler of Queen's University and Dr. Andrew Campbell, a renowned educator at the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, who is continuing to provide one-on-one support to the UTS teaching staff on how to further equity in their classrooms.
UTS is also striving to hire more Black and other visible minority teachers, by reaching out to Black educator associations in the GTA. Also, new hiring practices will screen for equity and inclusion as a core value at UTS.
Anti-racism training for everyone
Anti-racism training isn’t just for staff; opportunities for students and parents to have anti-racism training are underway. In late October, 16 M4 to S6 (Grade 10 to 12) students will start a two-day training session to become peer anti-racism educators, helping them acquire the skills and confidence to address racism in their own personal and social spheres and support the conversations we need to have at UTS. They will then lead sessions for the F1 (Grade 7), F2 (Grade 8) and M3 (Grade 9) students from November to February.
Join us for In Conversation with Lawrence Hill on November 11
Parents are also being offered opportunities to broaden their understanding of racism, with a session by award-winning Canadian author Lawrence Hill C.M. '75 on social justice and his experience as a Black Canadian and UTS student, presented virtually by the UTS Parents' Association (UTSPA) on November 11 at 6:30 p.m. Learn more about In Conversation with Lawrence Hill.
Creating a Community of Support
Aspiring UTS students need to see themselves reflected in our community to feel welcome, which starts in the admissions process and carries all the way through to graduation and beyond.
UTS alumni have established a Community of Support to match Black and Indigenous students who apply to UTS with a Black, Indigenous or person of colour (BIPOC) volunteer member of our alumni or parent of alumni community, who can answer their questions, help address their concerns and provide support throughout the process.
"The goal is for students and prospective students to see themselves reflected in our community,” says Makeda Daley, Director, Outreach Programs and Community Engagement. “We want them to feel welcome, safe and supported at UTS."
Makeda Daley, the UTS Director of Outreach Programs and Community Engagement
If they become a UTS student, the relationship would evolve into a mentorship, giving the student ongoing support and guidance throughout their time at UTS, and beyond.
All of the Action Steps come together to add up to real, concrete change for the UTS community. “The fear when you have these flashpoints that happen that there's all these moments where people are reflective and are saying yes, I commit to doing this,” says Ms. Khan. “Here the actions are getting put into place and it’s incredible to see as we're all keeping each other accountable in the work of fostering greater equity, diversity and inclusion at UTS.”
Lead photo: On September 3, alumni, staff and students attended the Black Equity Committee, Admissions, Outreach and Alumni meeting. Pictured here clockwise are: alum Jessica Ware '95, UTS Teacher and Debate Coach Sagalina Doré, Black Equity Committee Executive S6 (Grade 12) Daeja, and UTS Principal Rosemary Evans with Makeda Daley, Director of Outreach Programs and Community Engagement.