Fight racism on every front

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By the #BetterUnion team

The fight against racism starts with a commitment to collective action. Many of our members, along with students, faculty and staff, continue to face numerous forms of racism at York University: individual, cultural, structural and systemic. These forms of racism do not restrict themselves to just a few spaces, but occur everywhere on campus: in the classroom, in the lab, at the library, at social events, on our way to and from the university, and even in the union.

The #BetterUnion team is committed to fighting racism everywhere it exists, and in building a strong, united movement across campus with all those who share this goal. No one should have to face this struggle in isolation: we need collective action to change the university – and, in the process, to change ourselves.

Violence

For those of us who are members of colour, we know what it means to experience racism, and all the different ways it happens. Racism is a form of violence that harms our physical and mental health and creates unnecessary divisions among all of us. Racism also harms our well-being on campus and is a serious barrier to our education and full participation in the life of the university.

Among the racialized members of the #BetterUnion team, there are shared experiences of racism that include verbal, physical, mental and social forms of discrimination. Any racist act – whether an overtly racist statement or an unintended micro-aggression – contributes to the toxicity that drives members away from union spaces, especially racialized members. All of us need to find ways to challenge these acts, as we are collectively responsible for the environments in which we study, work and organize.

Collective action

These shared experiences have helped unite us with other members of colour to fight racism on every front, and to seek allies beyond our communities to support our struggles. This kind of collective action is crucial, not only because we need numbers to win, but also because working together helps us learn more about each other’s experiences and perspectives, and build trust and solidarity among all of us. It is in the process of struggling together, alongside one another, that we begin to develop a common vision for fighting racism, and that genuine communities based on solidarity and respect begin to emerge.

“It is in the process of struggling together, alongside one another, that we begin to develop a common vision for fighting racism, and that genuine communities based on solidarity and respect begin to emerge.”

It is also in this process that members come up with concrete proposals to fight racism everywhere it occurs. Based on our shared and unique experiences, and on the struggles in which we are currently involved, we have included some proposals below that we think could build a stronger movement against racism at York University and within our communities.

In the union

Our union is not immune from racism, despite the good work that many members do to fight it. All of us are subject to the same forces of oppression that pervade society as a whole, although we do not experience these forces in the same way – especially those of us who are persons of colour, Black or Indigenous.

There are already numerous resources within the union to fight racism, but we don’t always draw on them consistently or in a way that reaches the widest number of members possible. To support the fight against racism in our union, we propose:

  • Conducting required anti-oppression training for all elected members of our union within one month of their election – including the Executive Committee, the Bargaining Team, Stewards’ Council and all union committees: this kind of training should be embedded in all union orientation meetings and materials, and should be a permanent part of the union’s annual calendar of events;
  • Organizing at least once a semester a series of union-wide anti-oppression workshops: these could take place over a number of days or be organized into one weekend-long conference, and could address a range of topics;
  • Identifying gaps in representation of communities of colour in the union’s leadership and developing a strategy to ensure the full participation of all members at all levels of the union;
  • Developing and promoting widely union protocols to provide real and meaningful support to members who have experienced racism in the union.

In the classroom

We experience racism in the classroom in a variety of ways. As teachers, we encounter it from the Employer and we witness it among our students. As students, we encounter it from our teachers, from the syllabus and from other students. To support the fight against racism in our classrooms, we propose:

  • Developing equity statements for each academic program to be included in course syllabi, the same way that disclaimers on plagiarism and student codes of conduct are included;
  • Ensuring that mandatory anti-oppression training for faculty and staff take place, so that all members of the York community are equipped to deal with incidents of racism when they occur;
  • Ensuring that the Employer track, record and respond immediately to incidents of racism, so that members have a more accurate sense of the numerous and various ways that racism occurs on campus.

In the workplace

As education workers, we resist the formal distinction between the classroom (where some of us learn as students) and the workplace (where we all teach as teachers). The same equity training that we propose for our own teachers must also be available to us – in our capacity as teachers. As both students and teachers, we can play a constructive role in laying the groundwork to change our curriculum and to develop further an anti-racist pedagogy.

That means organizing on the ground with other education workers on campus and in our sector, the student movement and all the groups and organizations on campus that are leading anti-racism struggles. To support the fight against racism in our workplaces, we propose:

  • Creating an anti-racism committee or working group within the Cross-Campus Alliance, so that other trade unions and student unions on campus can better co-ordinate their anti-racism work and develop joint-campaigns to challenge racism in the workplace at York University;
  • Developing an anti-racism and equity check-list for stewards to bring to each hiring unit that would help members develop anti-racist / equity approaches for all forms of committee service in the department, especially in the development of curriculum and the creation of new courses;
  • Establishing as a union-wide goal the creation of an equity-based course at the undergraduate level that is mandatory for graduation.

In our collective agreement

We will be back at the bargaining table in just two years from now. Long before then, we must systematically identify the gaps on equity in our current collective agreement, and begin developing proposals in advance of the next round of bargaining. To support the fight against racism in our collective agreement, we propose:

  • Developing a strategy with the York University Faculty Association to launch equity audits in each faculty that could gather data on hiring processes, internal promotions, types of employment status, and course curricula: the outcomes of each audit could inform the kinds of proposals we develop for bargaining;
  • Co-ordinate these initiatives with the work of members who participate in the Advisory Committee on Race/Ethnic Relations, Discrimination and/or Harassment and the Anti-Racism Working Group;
  • Provide further resources to the Anti-Racism Working Group, so that members can identify gaps on equity in our current collective agreement, help develop proposals for our next round of bargaining, and incorporate equity as a guiding principle for promotion and conversion criteria.

Across campus

Finally, the union needs a mechanism that can co-ordinate all this work, not only within our own union, but also among all the other constituencies on campus that are engaged in anti-racism work or that would benefit from being a part of it. To support struggles against racism across campus, we propose:

  • Building on the last year of work of the Anti-Racism Working Group to lay the foundation for the launch in the fall semester of a campus-wide task force on racism at York University: such an initiative must include all other trade unions and student unions on campus, along with each of the local, grassroots and community-based organizations that are currently engaged in anti-racism work; one possible model for a task force is the Ryerson Task Force on Anti-Racism, but it must be developed in a way that addresses the specific needs and concerns of all constituencies and stakeholders within the York community, and on terms that give them full ownership of the project.

These are just a few of the proposals that have been developed by the #BetterUnion team, based on our own shared and unique experiences and perspectives. However, our goal is merely to propose these ideas as a means to initiate and contribute to the necessary dialogue among union members and allies that, in the final instance, will help all of us to produce collectively the best plan of action possible.

As we stated at the beginning of this article, we believe that collective action is the starting point for the struggle against racism. There are already many inspiring campaigns underway, both within the union and across campus, that we need to support and bring together as a united movement. As students and teachers, and as education workers and trade unionists, we are well poised to play a positive role in these struggles, and to help facilitate the wider participation of members, students and the wider York community.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, we look forward to uniting with all members of the union to build a stronger movement on campus and in our communities against racism and all forms of oppression.

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