An Open Response to Anti-Black racism at Ryerson University School of Social Work;
To: President Dr. Mohamed Lachemi, Dr. Denise O’Neil-Green, Dean Dr. Lisa Barnoff, Darrell Bowden
Dr. Dawn Onishenko; Faculty, instructors and staff in the School of Social Work,
On October 31st at 7:00pm we sent an email to Ryerson Faculty, instructors, staff, the Dean Dr. Lisa Barnoff, Dr. Denise O’neil-Green, Darrell Bowden and Dr. Mohamed Lachemi the President of Ryerson University. This was a 2.5 page single spaced letter outlining our personal and the systemic experiences of anti-Black racism within our School of Social Work, the Faculty of Community Services and Ryerson University more broadly. Four days later, on November 3rd we received a response from Dr. Dawn Onishenko, the Associate Director of the School of Social Work, on behalf of all the Faculty. This response consisted of 2 sentences, please see below:
Good afternoon senders and recipients of the Open Letter sent October 31, 2016. The School of Social Work would like to offer the following statement in advance of what will be a multiphased approach to the letter.
-We hear your concerns about Anti-Black Racism in the school and want to assure you we take them seriously. We ask for your patience as we continue to work to respond to the people, communities, and constituencies involved.-
Sent on behalf of the School of Social Work
Associate Director. School of Social Work
416-979-5000 ext 4792
350 Victoria Street
Toronto, ON M5B 2K3
Follow the School on Twitter @RyeSocialWork
Dr. Onishenko, please do not be disrespectful, and engage in erasing us from our own communication, name who we are. This is yet another example of anti-Blackness.
We are students, community members, the Black Liberation Collective at Ryerson, supported by the Ryerson School of Social Work Student Union, United Black Students at Ryerson, The Ryerson Feminist Collective. The Black Liberation Collective is a multi-chapter local, provincial, national and international Black student group, which seeks the liberation of Black students and Black Peoples.
The School of Social Work, The Faculty of Community Services and Ryerson University should be ashamed of this two sentence response to what was an outcry from your students and the
community about anti-Black racism within your institution. How many professors and scholars with PhDs, who profess to be anti-oppressive and anti-racist did it take to create a 2 sentence response that was empty, disrespectful and anti-Black? Shame on all of you! We invited you to engage in a genuine conversation about our experience of witnessing anti-Black racism, misogyny and misogynoir, perpetuated by the Director, Dr.Henry Parada on October 27th 2016. We made explicitly clear in our first letter that while Dr. Henry Parada’s behaviour, which remains inexcusable, served as an entry point into this discussion, that our interest did not lie solely on the exchange that occurred that day, but rather the ongoing persistent and pervasive anti-Black racism in the School of Social Work, the Faculty of Community Services and Ryerson University. The fact that your two sentence response came four days after we first sent our open letter, indicates that going forward we should expect that you lack the insight, knowledge and capacity to address this issue while we continue to face anti-Black racism in your classrooms, hallways and your public lectures. And while our community also manages this impact it has received a loud and clear message and warning to not engage nor return to your School and Ryerson University more broadly. The complete lack of engagement we experienced so far tells us that there is an investment in anti-Black racism, and misogynoir at a structural level that is currently protecting Dr. Henry Parada, and that the School, the Faculty of Community Services and Ryerson University are equally invested in the protection of Dr. Henry Parada, maintaining white supremacy and misogyny at any and all costs.
On Wednesday, November 2nd, referencing the work of Dr. Christina Sharpe, In the Wake, Dionne Brand spoke to the experience of anti-Black racism as being synonymous to the weather; a daily experience. Well we can see that there is a hurricane in our forecast, with the leadership of this institution refusing to see the cautions of the meteorologists (us), it is clear that the choice of the leadership of this institution is that this hurricane takes full flight. So wished, so willed. We place your delayed, useless response and lack of dialogue with us, within the very same system of oppression that allowed for Dr. Henry Parada’s troubling, problematic and violent behaviour. Your clearly defined and identifiable strategies of whiteness in your two sentence response cannot, and will not contain us.
You cannot claim to be a leader in critical social work education as it relates to anti-racism/anti-Black racism with your lack of support to Black scholarship, students and communities. According to your School of Social Work Faculty page, there are only four full-time Black faculty, of those four Black faculty only one is tenured, two are pre-tenure and one is on contract.Why are the most precariously employed people in your Faculty all Black? Further to this, as illustrated on your website, eight Faculty allege to have research or scholarship grounded in anti-racism and anti-Black racism. Do the professors in the School of Social Work only understand matters of anti-Black racism when it does not pertain to the School? Certainly, if no one else within the School found it prudent to take seriously our concerns, the eight who benefit from our communities would at minimum carry forth or understand this issue as problematic. What this tells us, and is of serious concern to us as students and community members, is that what you are publishing is not what you are practicing.
Now, we begin the following paragraph acknowledging that it is not only Black people who live in the Caribbean but like everywhere else in the world, Black people are among the most marginalized in the Caribbean, so we share the following information; there is one professor who has received $3 037 918 in funding for research, $2 747 800 of which was spent on research in the Caribbean. This same person received $86 205 from Ryerson for their research, $39 000 of which was specific to projects in the Caribbean. However, not a single piece names anti-racist practice as an approach to their research or acknowledges anti-Black racism within the title of their work. Nor does this professor’s online profile or personal website name anti-racist practice within their approach, or name the use of a critical approach to anti-Black racism. This person is Director Dr. Henry Parada. How? How is this possible? Benefiting from Black bodies while refusing to be accountable to Black bodies; if we cannot expect you to operate from a moral compass, we demand that you operate at the very minimum, from the School of Social Work’s vision, mission and mandate.
We also want to point out there is absolutely no funding given by the School of Social Work specifically for Black students, which means there is no tangible recognition of the experiences of anti-Black racism and how that inhibits learning, as well as a recognition of the work we do to confront anti-Black racism in its many forms. But then, Ryerson University allocates research funding to Dr. Henry Parada to go and do research on communities that we are a part of. Is this ironic or is this the continued upholding and maintenance of anti-Black racism?
On Wednesday November 2nd Sandy Hudson. co-Founder of Black Lives Matter-Toronto, spoke about reconceptualizing safety for the Black community based on our constant experience of anti-Black racism in every space we exist. We extended this reconceptualization to our experiences with the School of Social Work, and Ryerson University in general and were met with a two sentence response.
Thursday, November 3rd Ryerson hosted a panel of Black, Indigenous, and Asian women educators who spoke to the experience of racism as detrimental to folks’ emotional, spiritual, physical and mental health. We just want to indicate that the four days of silence we experienced had us sitting in anger, anxiety, self-doubt, and fear. Experiencing this along with being students in a program that doesn’t value our lives, concerns, and academic achievements has been overwhelming. Ultimately, we are reminded to stay aware of the fact that our safety is not valued within the School of Social Work and that the mandate does not apply to our experiences.
However we will continue to resist and challenge, we have no other options, this climate of anti-Black racism in our School cannot continue. We do value Black life, experiences, safety and scholarship and so with our kind invitation declined by you, we have no choice but to escalate.
Concerned students and community members, the Black Liberation Collective at Ryerson, the Ryerson Social Work Student Union, United Black Students at Ryerson, the Ryerson Feminist Collective, previous BSW/MSW Graduates
Cc: President Dr. Mohamed Lachemi, Dr. Denise O’Neil-Green, Dean Dr. Lisa Barnoff, Darrell Bowden, all staff, faculty and instructors at Ryerson School of Social work, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, The National Post, Toronto Sun, Share Magazine, NOW Magazine