Reply to McGill’s Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism

Dear Principal Fortier, 

We read, with great interest, the Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism you presented on September 30th. We had responded to your initial announcement with hope, anticipation and – it is not too strong a word – sense of relief. McGill seemed poised both to match its reputation for excellence and to combine the seriousness of the occasion with gravity and thoroughness. By the end, however, we find the document disappointing and a bit puzzling.

It presents a contrast. A certain number of the terms and goals framed contain a ringing acknowledgement of its subjects’ importance. In some sections there is a breadth of vision. Unfortunately, this impression is not sustained as the scope of its action items are increasingly restricted. 

The Plan announces the embrace of what – it must be stated – are modest targets for hiring a greater number of Black faculty. The strength of this statement is in its establishment of concrete and immovable targets. We also laud the recognition of a need for what is described as community outreach and support for students. We fear, however, that there are inadequate administrative resources committed to this promise. There is also a notable failure to recognize the many past, failed commitments. 

The references to establishing goals based on “percentages of population” are disappointing: they clash discordantly with the rhetoric used elsewhere in this document. The Plan appears to recognize, on the one hand, a moral deficit of catastrophic proportions. On the other, it pointedly and persistently hedges expectations, even in its academic ambitions. For example, it mentions studying the possible expansion of the African Studies program, but completely ignores the existence of the Latin American and Carribean Studies Program – even as it discusses the possibilities for enlarging Carribean Studies. 

McGill employs over 10,000 people, but there is no suggestion to hire even as many 100 additional Black colleagues.There is no more than a nod given to the importance of Black support staff or other underrepresented minorities. The Plan’s proposal to address this – along the lines of hiring a dozen or so more Black managers – obviously falls far short of the federal and provincial governments’ and of McGill’s own goals for diversity and inclusion. Here, as well, the report uses the specious “metrics” of “percentage of population.” The Plan forthrightly presents the themes of history, disproportionate representation, systemic barriers and oppression spanning the history of our institution and the society it reflects. The corrective actions it proposes, however, fall far short of addressing them.  

We pass over the issue of the McGill statue (decisions on its status are still pending) and other forms of “glorification,” as the Plan impressively puts it, which remain in place (the regrettably named Le James Bookstore comes to mind), but do acknowledge the commitment to serious study of the systems and interconnected webs of enrichment based on slavery and exploitation. This effort to uncover the colonialist and slavery-embracing past of our institutions is extremely overdue and welcome: we sincerely hope the analysis will continue to the present day and will include contemporary examples. 

It is with sorrow that we conclude that this effort, which begins with such promise and impressive scope, falters in significant ways, for reasons that are difficult to decipher. We are convinced we can do better. We ask you to reconsider this plan. We think it could be redrafted with still more passion, more conviction, and the ambition to match our human and financial capital. There is still the possibility of mining the richness of our combined strength and the values our community aspires to embody. 


The MUNACA Union Council