Educational Powerhouse? Racism and Inaction at OISE – #BLM Guest Post

We continue to solicit #BLM Guest Posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. Pls get in touch with Karen at gettenure@gmail.com with an idea, pitch, or draft.

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Léa Nsouli, Ateeqa Arain, Steph Pflugfelder and Angela Liu are graduate students in the Leadership, Higher and Adult Education department at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. They are passionate educators who strive to create inclusive, diverse and anti-racist spaces both inside and outside the classroom. 

The murder of George Floyd and countless other Black individuals in the United States and Canada has devastated all of us. We have witnessed a historic surge of protests taking place across all fifty states in the US, here in Canada and in multiple other countries around the globe. We are now in a position to do more with our pain and anger. As graduate students at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), we want to speak out about the deafening silence emanating from one of the most prestigious educational institutions in North America.

The present movement centres around a key theme: education. The protests, marches, social media blitzes and resource distribution aim to raise awareness of the realities that Black people face every single day. For decades knowledge of these realities has been ignored and suppressed by more dominant and privileged voices in our society. This movement is to educate us, and as a result seek justice in an unjust world. To quote revolutionary civil rights leader Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the word.” 

With that in mind, let us see what one of the world’s leading educational institutions is doing during these revolutionary and inspiring times.

Not nearly enough. 

Following the unrest and growing protests around the world, OISE took a week to send out a recycled statement to say that anti-Black racism has no place at our school. A considerate gesture, but with no clear indication of how OISE, as a unified community, can be proactive on the matter. Such a delayed response suggests that the institution has not emphasized anti-Black racism in any meaningful way to go beyond platitudes and towards direct and immediate action.

Amongst the four departments at OISE, two sent out statements more than a week later, while others have remained silent. During this critical moment, these departments that are preparing future leaders in the fields of education and mental health must do better. A movement like this that is met with solidarity and action from the educational community can maintain momentum and we must take advantage of our uniquely privileged position to foster real change. Our professors focus their energy on funding and scholarships to support their research, and they know exactly what needs to be done after having studied injustices for years. OISE must apply their research, be proactive, and begin to take transformative action.

Our intention is not to undermine the work that is currently being done by different departments at OISE, but rather to urge the institution to leverage the academic community at its disposal. To create a united community that would join in on the activism, given that they have all the tools and resources at their fingertips. Most importantly, we would like for OISE as an institute to challenge its own systemic racism, speak openly about it, and be transparent and vocal about the actions being taken to combat it. We no longer have time for empty promises in place of action, and we demand the OISE leadership take bold action, starting now. 

Moving forward, OISE should:

  Create safe spaces and procedures to encourage students to speak up about racism that they have experienced or witnessed on an individual and/or institutional level, with the assurance that they will not face any negative consequences

. Lead in creating and sharing well-sourced information regarding Black histories, including the rich contributions Black communities have made to the world and the atrocities and injustices they have faced for community access beyond OISE

  Help build and promote a repository of community-led organizations in response to #BlackLivesMatter, as a large part of the Toronto community to leverage our communities and create allyship.

Express explicitly the ways it has begun the process of change, along with establishing accountability measures to reach significant milestones

  Be transparent and vocal in stating actions being taken at OISE to support Persons of Colour and to fight systemic racism.

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.

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