Racism in the University, by Ipek Türeli

July 6, 2020

[Reading List]

Colleges and universities in North America, except the historically Black colleges, are institutions of whiteness. In the face of mounting pressure, some have been confronting their racist pasts and vowing to tackle their institutional racism in the present.

The recent protests against anti-Black racism, which began in the United States after the Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, led college and university leaders to make statements in solidarity. Many of these statements failed to identify the issues and the demands of the protestors.McGill University’s Principal Fortier and Provost Manfredi issued statements, respectively on June 30, 2020 and July 3, 2020. McGill announced that a “plan for addressing anti-black racism” will be revealed in September 2020 with five key areas: 1) student experience 2) research and knowledge 3) outreach 4) workforce 5) space. What is missing among these five areas is the acknowledgement of past and current racism in our institution. In response, the McGill Black Faculty Caucus has issued a public statement addressed to the university to take a number of very specific actions, namely, to address the university’s connection to slavery, to establish targets and timetables for the recruitment of Black faculty, students and staff, and institutionalizing equity and representation across the university and its administration.

Architecture remains a white, elite, male discipline and profession: Architecture has a whiteness problem.

Many schools of architecture in North America have also issued solidarity statements and their student bodies and alumni have demanded change and action from their administrations with open letters and calls for action. Our disciplinary associations, e.g. the US-based Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) and the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH), have made statements and organized roundtables and webinars tackling issues of race.Inspired by this momentum, our students and faculty at the School of Architecture have come together to establish this reading group to educate ourselves on the topic of race as it relates to our institutional, disciplinary and professional contexts, and to arrive at actionable steps. We are a diverse group of undergraduate, graduate students and faculty, but we lack Black representation in this reading group. Since we exist first and foremost in a research university, and physically in a campus setting, our first session focused on “Racism in the University.”

Readings to Actions

In this session, we discussed reading selections from Charmaine A. Nelson, Angela Davis, Sara Ahmed, and Kristin Leigh Moriah with an eye to arrive at actionable steps for our School.While they may portray themselves as equalizers, institutions of higher education, including McGill, have historically perpetuated inequality and helped maintain systemic racism. From Nelson and Moriah, we learn that the experiences of Black faculty and students in Canadian university campuses can be difficult and even violent; and that racial violence and systemic racism on campus are extensions of the dominant society outside the campus gates. Our School does not typically attract Black student and faculty applications. The readings pointed to the fact that not only should we proactively recruit them but also support and promote them once they are here. From Davis, we learn about the importance of international solidarity as domestic racism and violence against Blacks and military violence abroad are mutually reinforcing—a perspective that connects directly to the work and position of our global studios and exchange programs abroad and the work of the studios based in Canada—How do our courses address and/or perpetuate racism? Moving forward, can all syllabi address race? Or do we continue to be complacent with monocultural curricula? The ensuing discussion focused on the relationship of diversity on campus, or there of the lack of it, and its impact on the curriculum. When we lack diversity, we lose the richness of available perspectives; our curriculum is impoverished and ends up reproducing whiteness, excluding minorities and perpetuating racism. Following Ahmed, we discussed the lack of value ascribed to diversity work and how we can counter that. The ensuing decisions for immediate action included 1) documenting for posterity the intellectual labor of the group in the form of a blog, and 2) continuing the reading group as a course in the fall.



Jason England and Richard Purcell, “Higher Ed’s Tootless Response to the Killing of George Floyd,” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 8 July 2020. https://www.chronicle.com/article/Higher-Ed-s-Toothless/248946

ACSA: Rashida Ng, Lynne Dearborn, and Michael Monti, “Call to action to seek a more equitable future.” 3 June 2020. https://www.acsa-arch.org/2020/06/03/acsa-statement-addressing-racial-injustice/

SAH: Charles Davis, Maura Lucking, Sean McPherson, Lynne Horiuchi, Itohan Osayimwese, and Gail Dubrow, “A Statement of Solidarity for Racial Justice at SAH.” 4 June 2020. https://www.sah.org/about-sah/news/sah-news/news-detail/2020/06/04/a-statement-of-solidarity-for-racial-justice-at-sah

Charmaine A. Nelson, “Introduction,” in Ebony Roots, Northern Soil: Perspectives on Blackness in Canada, ed. Nelson (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), 1-20.

Angela Davis, “Angela Davis: An Interview on the Futures of Black Radicalism,” excerpt from Futures of Black Radicalism, eds. Gaye Theresa Johnson and Alex Lubin (Verso: 2017). https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/3421-angela-davis-an-interview-on-the-futures-of-black-radicalism

Angela Davis, “Angela Davis on Abolition, Calls to Defund Police, Toppled Racist Statues & Voting in 2020 Election,” interview by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now, June 12, 2020. https://www.democracynow.org/2020/6/12/angela_davis_on_abolition_calls_to

Sara Ahmed, “Introduction,” in On Being Included Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (Duke University Press, 2012), 1-17.

Kristin Leigh Moriah, “How anti-Black racism on Canadian university campuses robs us all,” The Conversation, July 2, 2020.https://theconversation.com/how-anti-black-racism-on-canadian-university-campuses-robs-us-all-140927




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