1. Access, Experience and Success

1.1 Student Access, Experience and Success

1.1.1 Addressing issues in the recruitment process to post-secondary education

There were several issues raised regarding the current recruitment process and how key populations are engaged (e.g., elementary/secondary students, caregivers and counsellors). Some participants expressed the view that poor community-building and inadequate outreach are factors that continue to negatively impact the enrolment and rates of representation of Black students across post-secondary institutions. Another critical issue raised was the overexposure of Black students for the reputational gain of the institution (e.g., Black students being asked to participate in recruitment efforts without compensation). Several people commented that post-secondary institutions are not seen as being connected to local Black communities, which they have a responsibility to serve. Finally, it was felt that if institutions seek to build meaningful relationships with communities, they need to look at diversity in hiring; they
should better reflect the importance of diverse excellence within higher education.

Proposed interventions in this area centred on developing and implementing practices and resources, through an anti-racist and anti-oppressive lens, to better inform prospective Black students and their support networks about standard practices and supports (academic expectations, financial aid opportunities, etc.), which affect or encourage scholarship within post-secondary institutions. It was noted that many Black students are the first in their families to attend a post-secondary institution. Providing additional supports to Black students and their support networks would ensure that students have access to the additional supports which will position them to navigate post-secondary processes successfully.

1.1.2 Enhancing transition supports and networks for Black students

Many points focused on the difficulties that Black students experience both in the transition from secondary school to post-secondary institutions and then within post-secondary institutions through to graduation. Microaggressions were raised as a major issue experienced by students. Some participants spoke of being called upon to represent, and respond on behalf of, all Black individuals and communities. Another issue raised was that Black students are often unaware of the various personal and academic supports created specifically for them. The factors mentioned above negatively impact Black students’ abilities to develop a sense of belonging and inclusion.

The dialogues focused on the need for support services created for Black students. Wrap-around supports, which include formal mentorship opportunities and sustainable social networks that foster successful academic and social transitions, are necessary interventions to generate success for Black students. These supports will help students navigate barriers and gain notable skills that will support them in achieving personal and academic success.

1.1.3 Supporting mentorship for, and by, Black students

In an effort to ensure that post-secondary institutions are contributing to improving the lives of Black students outside of academic spaces, participants spoke about the importance of mentorship programs in post-secondary education. Providing culturally sensitive resources and supports is central to helping Black students succeed in their academic and personal journeys and adjust to their new learning and working environments. Recognizing that Black students have several challenges that impact their social and emotional well-being, there is a need for Black cultural interpreters/cultural negotiators to support them as they navigate their learning, home and community environments.

With so few or no Black faculty and staff in some areas, students cannot see themselves represented at the institutions they attend. If few racialized staff are in leadership positions, Black students will have more difficulty setting career goals as future leaders. The development of support networks and approaches to mentorship should be grounded in Black Canadian history and hold an understanding of the legacy of racism in academic institutions. There were calls to create opportunities for Black students to connect with multiple streams of mentorship, including support for existing graduate student mentorship networks, career coaching, and the leveraging of connections to relevant professional industries. Faculty associations were urged to proactively champion these efforts. It was also mentioned that institutions can enhance and support outreach activities developed by their Black students, such as mentorship programs the students might be offering in the community. These kinds of engagement can be rewarded through co-curricular credit or monetary compensation.

1.1.4 Supporting post-graduate study and career development

The lack of appropriate support for Black students beyond graduation (regarding opportunities to advance in the workplace or to pursue further academic studies) was raised as a factor with a negative impact. In response, one idea suggested was the hiring of career advisors for Black students, to prepare them to navigate the persistent challenges of career and employment advancement. Some participants called on post-secondary institutions to leverage their existing relationships within corporate and community sectors to create professional opportunities for Black students throughout their post-secondary years (e.g., summer and co-op programs for students) and also to create appropriate opportunities for new graduates.

1.1.5 Providing financial assistance and support

Financial responsibilities were detailed as a concern for many Black students seeking post-secondary education. Many Black students work part time in addition to attending school. Some commented that this presents several challenges for students in the areas of well-being and financial stability. The discussion focused on the lack of financial assistance and awards (e.g., scholarships, bursaries and student loans) explicitly dedicated to Black students.

Some called on post-secondary institutions to provide additional financial support, as well as institutional supports such as developing financial literacy education programs and streamlining existing databases to ensure that Black students are aware of the opportunities. Some noted that Black students find the scholarship application process both complex and inaccessible. It was mentioned that expanding education about and access to financial systems would contribute to the overall well-being of Black students. Some participants called on institutions to use their government networks to encourage the creation of new scholarship funds across the country focused on Black students. Finally, it was recommended that undistributed financial assistance, both at the university and government level, should be redirected to Black students in higher education.

1.1.6 Creating additional supports for Black-centred groups and spaces

Black-centred student groups experience difficulties maintaining their existing financial resources and do not have the appropriate support for academic achievement, mentorship and community-building initiatives. Creating a formal structure to allow for sustained financial support and ongoing administrative support would significantly increase the presence and capacity of these groups in institutional spaces.

Black students spoke to the need for on-campus spaces which foster a sense of belonging, build community, and physically reflect what can build community and what matters to them. These spaces should be funded by post-secondary institutions and co-created with students – not created on their behalf. Some participants said spaces that reflect Eurocentric perspectives create gaps for Black students, who do not identify with those perspectives. Dedicated spaces for Black communities within post-secondary institutions could support reliable services for Black students and grant them an environment that would foster their overall well-being.

1.1.7 Developing culturally responsive mental health and wellness solutions

Improving the rate of student success involves supporting their mental health and wellness. Students expressed the view that their school experience is negatively impacted as they balance academics, extracurricular/co-curricular activities, employment and financial commitments. Complicating this situation is the fact that many Black students experience microaggressions, racism, marginalization and further points of daily harm. Finding support to deal with the damage is difficult and vexatious. Students said they have limited access to mental health services specifically tailored to aspects of their intersectional identities (e.g., race, gender, disability and spirituality) and this lack of access constitutes an ongoing barrier to their well-being. Holistic and intersectional approaches to care were offered as solutions. Another concern is related to current approaches used by institutions to handle students in crisis. A suggestion was made to support students by adopting mental health models that do not involve police services. Anti-oppressive frameworks should inform these mental health models so that they are effective in supporting Black students who are dealing with mental health issues.

1.1.8 Delivering mandatory Anti-Black racism training for students

Participants identified negative attitudes and behaviours towards Black students (e.g., microaggressions and oppressive behaviours), which contribute to anti-Black racism in both the academic context and broader campus experience. Students recommended that institutions create mandatory courses on anti-Black racism for students (similar to mandatory Indigenous Studies courses at some Canadian institutions) to be delivered at the beginning of each academic year (e.g., workshops, teachings, lectures). Alternatively, institutions can offer students the option to take a related elective every year as a requirement for graduation.


1.2 Faculty Access, Experience and Success

1.2.1 Addressing issues in recruitment, tenure and promotion practices

The discussions highlighted the fact that Black faculty are underrepresented in higher education. Employment postings were described as deeply exclusionary, and therefore not supportive of prospective Black applicants’ career trajectories and research interests. When speaking about job expectations and promotion requirements, it was mentioned that expectations are unclear. Black faculty members noted that they are sometimes made to feel that they were hired to fulfil diversity quotas and not based on their intellectual abilities and previous accomplishments.

Some participants said institutional values are often rooted in whiteness. These values inform inequitable faculty recruitment practices and promote biased promotion and tenure criteria. Black female faculty disclosed that they endure disproportionately heavy course and supervisory loads, which are overwhelming for reasons outlined below. They shared that their experiences and research are not appropriately acknowledged in promotion review processes. In addition, Black faculty have difficulty navigating the tenure and probationary review processes because of the narrow criteria used to determine what is “valid” research. Further complicating these issues is the reality that Black faculty often face anti-Black racism in the classroom and in teaching evaluations, which affect their assessments for promotion and tenure. Suggestions were made for institutions to leverage existing anti-racism initiatives, and to require training in the areas of diversity and inclusion that address anti-Black racism within institutions.

To address the underrepresentation of Black faculty, the discussions spoke to the implementation of equitable practices to improve the representation of Black faculty throughout post-secondary institutions. Methods included reviewing tenure processes to ensure that there is a focus on addressing anti-Black racism; creating accountability mechanisms for equity statements to be included on job postings, with additional reporting on the effectiveness of such statements; facilitating Black-centred orientation sessions for new hires, to create a sense of community; engaging individuals in robust discussions about how jobs are advertised; confronting the structural racism that hinders the career trajectory for Black faculty; and developing cluster hiring programs that would take steps to ensure that new hires are not isolated and tokenized.

1.2.2 Transforming workplace culture

When speaking about workplace culture, participants identified actions and behaviours that alienate them in their work and support anti-Black racism (e.g., microaggressions directed at Black employees during work meetings or informal exchanges). Responding to this point, some called for institutions to create inclusive environments where Black faculty and those from diverse backgrounds would feel valued, respected, materially supported and inspired to do their best work. Suggestions on how to achieve this included convening discussions with external facilitators on anti-Black racism in academic departments and on how to create a trusted space; forming ongoing anti-racism action meetings; and funding anti-racism reading libraries. Such actions would transform workplace culture and put Black individuals at the centre, contributing to an increased sense of belonging.

1.2.3 Re-assessing Black faculty roles in EDI initiatives

Black faculty members said they are often recruited for committees and initiatives that aim to address equity, diversity and inclusion in post-secondary institutions. They spoke to the challenges that come with representing post-secondary institutions as individuals. They also mentioned that new initiatives aiming to create a sense of inclusion do not necessarily address anti-Black racism or Black exclusion. Faculty said they felt tokenized when working on initiatives where the equity work was focused on gender equity, which historically benefits white women and does not invoke change for Black faculty. Also, concerns were raised that Black faculty often serve on institutional committees, but this work is not considered when they seek promotion and tenure.

Some noted that equity initiatives appear to be created to improve institutional reputation and not to create steps that will generate meaningful change. Recommendations included the implementation of new initiatives that would aim to improve conditions and outcomes for Black faculty members. Finally, it was proposed that institutions work together, and not in isolation, to share knowledge and best practices for sector-wide impact.

1.2.4 Recognizing the impact of informal mentoring responsibilities

There is significant pressure on Black faculty to undertake vast amounts of informal mentoring (of Black students, staff and other faculty) in the absence of meaningful support systems for Black excellence in the academy. These faculty members may be the first Black teachers that some of the Black students have encountered. This imposes a significant responsibility and additional labour that Black faculty must engage in when supporting Black students. Black faculty serve as an informal safety net within the academic community, but this service is rarely institutionally recognized through tenure and promotion.

Participants expressed the need for institutions to create robust mentorship opportunities across the academy for Black faculty, to support their career trajectory from pre-tenure to senior academic administration positions.


1.3 Staff Access, Experience and Success

1.3.1 Closing gaps in career development and advancement practices

Participants spoke about a lack of career advancement opportunities for Black staff, resulting in little to no representation in senior leadership roles. Due to systemic discrimination (the lack of advancement as well as unequal pay and hostile work environments), Black staff members are disengaged in their current roles.

Proposed interventions included the establishment of Black employee resource and affinity groups, to provide mentorship and professional development programs specifically for Black staff. These groups, which are essential in creating networking opportunities, require institutional support and adequate funding.

1.3.2 Going beyond minimum compliance to support Black staff

Some Black staff reported experiencing racism, often from colleagues and within various levels of the institution. Black employees are often asked to educate co-workers on their experiences of microaggressions in the workplace. This puts pressure on them to be a representative of all Black employees, when there is no singular experience of anti-Black racism.

To address these workplace issues for Black staff, it was proposed that institutions build sustainable community spaces and support services. For example, employee and family assistance programs and insurance providers should have Black-specific support services. These efforts would contribute to moving beyond minimum compliance in addressing anti-Black racism, and would focus on rooting out racist structures that create hostile working conditions. In addition, creating transparent and equitable policies on career advancement and staff engagement and retention would positively impact staff members’ experiences in meeting their career goals.

1.3.3 Improving the complaints process for reports about anti-Black racism

There was discussion about the complex nature of complaint and resolution processes when experiences of anti-Black racism are reported by Black staff. Participants spoke of a lack of transparency in how these complaints are dealt with, and said that the tools currently available to address them are inadequate. They highlighted a lack of trust in complaint resolution processes and expressed fear of reprisal and unwanted visibility when bringing forward their concerns. There was also concern that many investigators and adjudicators who are part of complaint resolution processes lack the appropriate knowledge of the issues currently affecting Black communities.

Some participants stated that a zero-tolerance approach should be taken when dealing with anti-Black racism. A suggestion was made that those who engage in racist behaviour should be disciplined and made to undergo recurring education and training. Additionally, there should be new accountability processes, with resources devoted to enforcing them. Finally, there must be evidence that mechanisms put in place are impactful in addressing anti-Black racism.

Other suggested interventions included a comprehensive review of institutional policies that address microaggressions in the workplace, in order to identify systemic forms of discrimination and inequities. Moreover, it was recommended that human resource departments include equity specialists with a particular focus on anti-racism and intersections (e.g., gender, class, disability). These specialists can support hiring, onboarding and professional development processes for new and existing staff members.

1.3.4 Creating support networks and mentorship opportunities for Black staff

Participants spoke of mentorship as a valuable mechanism for addressing anti-Black racism and structural violence against Black staff. Staff identified opportunities to connect with, and be supported by, Black and non-Black colleagues in senior-level positions as beneficial in enabling them to take advantage of supports that their white colleagues commonly have access to.

Recognizing and supporting intersectional identities when it comes to support networks, participants recommended creating programs and departments dedicated to Black mentorship (e.g., conducting research, building capacity, organizing relevant workshops and events), in addition to building a physical space on campuses. It was also noted that oversight of these programs should not be solely rooted in human resource departments, which can sometimes be sites of discrimination. As a means of increasing mutual learning, support and accountability, it was suggested that Canadian institutions should partner with one another to create appropriate mentorship and support network models.


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