Racial Equity and Environmental Justice - Update


Dear Members of the School Community,

We are writing to update you on the School’s commitments to implement change.

Last week, we formed a Racial Equity and Environmental Justice Task Force. The Task Force is made up of volunteers drawn from the school’s full-time faculty, to address systemic racism within the school and in the school’s relation to the university, profession and wider society. As this is a significant effort to transform the school and we have heard sustained activism from students around issues of environmental justice, and decolonization, this task force is mandated to act intersectionally to address a range of equity and sustainability issues, while centering these efforts in the project of racial equity.  The Task Force works in close consultation with all the faculty and staff members. Its core membership is currently as follows: Adrian Blackwell (chair), Anne Bordeleau, Elizabeth English, Jane Hutton, Val Rynnimeri, and Emily Stafford.

We have also established an Advisory Board to the Task Force. The Advisory Board will be called upon to provide input and feedback at key moments in our process to set out commitments, implement changes, and determine ways to track and report on those changes. The confirmed membership of the Advisory Board is currently as follows: Joyce Barlow, Omar Ferwati, Jaliya Fonseka, Michelle Fenton, Safira Lakhani, Elsa Lam, Evan Schilling, Eladia Smoke and William Woodsworth.

The mandate of the Racial Equity and Environmental Justice Task Force is to make the school an equitable place, seeking to (1) eliminate disproportionality and disparities, (2) focus on outcomes that change the systemic and structural context; (3) disrupt the powerful unexamined ideas that fuel systemic inequity through training and (4) create new systems and ways of being that enable equitable outcomes (these four points are drawn from Kike Ojo-Thompson of the Kojo Institute). We will be working in the five areas announced last week: school culture, curriculum, staffing and admissions, outreach, and accountability.

We had hoped to send you this list of commitments today, but we have decided it is important to take the time to receive feedback from our advisory board and reach consensus of both faculty and staff before issuing a draft to the wider school for consultation and review. In the meantime, we would like to share three quick updates.

First, it has been brought to our attention that students are currently not aware of the mechanism they can use to report on instances of micro-aggressions and other forms of racism, sexism, discrimination against LGBTQ2S+, or disability that occur within the School of Architecture. The committee is working on the development of better pathways to report these instances, but in the meantime, please note that the current process is as follows:

A) if you feel comfortable bringing this up directly with the Faculty or person who has said or done something offensive, we invite you, or a friend, to speak directly with this person.

B) If you do not wish to bring this up with this person directly, you are invited to reach out to either the undergraduate (Donna Woolcott or Maya Przybylski) or graduate office (Nicole Guenther, Lola Sheppard, or Jane Hutton). If you contact any of these people in confidence, they are bound to preserve your anonymity and will be able to follow up on the report. Alternatively, you may always reach out to director Anne Bordeleau directly, and she will protect your identity and follow up on the report.

C) Finally, you may also choose to report centrally to the Equity Office. The Equity Office can be reached by emailing equity@uwaterloo.ca. Their support includes:

  • Escalating concerns to the appropriate leadership for action (with the student’s consent);
  • Listening and advocacy;
  • Referring folks to resources on and off campus;
  • Listening and talking through options.

You can connect with someone at the Equity Office over the phone, Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, or through Medeo which is a secure online platform used by healthcare professionals because of its heightened security features. Even if a student does not want to file a formal complaint or address a specific case of racism, hearing their perspectives helps inform the systemic change necessary. The Equity Office will also track disclosures that come to them and secure that information.

Second, we now have a direct link from our website to the Anti-Racism Resources that the University of Waterloo’s Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion office has been gathering and updating.

Finally, over the past week, we have gathered faculty pledges that will amount to more than $50,000 over the next five years towards pursuing the goal of racial equity at the School of Architecture. We are in the process of determining the most appropriate use of this fund.

We thank everyone for their thoughts on this process, and this includes feedback from individual students and alumni, the former and new membership of Treaty Lands, Global Stories, SWAG, WASA, class representatives, and the Sustainability Collective.

University of Waterloo School of Architecture Racial Equity and Environmental Justice Task Force 
Adrian Blackwell (chair), Anne Bordeleau, Elizabeth English, Jane Hutton, Val Rynnimeri, Emily Stafford.