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Senate and Board Remarks on June 3 and 4, 2020

by Arig al Shaibah, AVP Equity and Inclusion

These are extremely disturbing on top of difficult times, and particularly distressing for Black community members, as we have all witnessed the horrific death of George Floyd, which has triggered what I think/hope is the beginning of a transformative mainstream movement to end anti-Black racism and violence in the US and in Canada, building on the years of strong and courageous voices from grassroots advocates for change.

President’s Advisory Committee on Building an Inclusive Community (PACBIC’s) purpose is primarily to create a supportive space for marginalized campus community members, to elevate emerging issues of equity and inclusion for University attention, and to provide a forum for dialogue to promote human rights and social justice.

On Monday, PACBIC released a statement to elevate the issue of anti-Black racism for our collective reflection and response. This was a statement endorsed by the President and upper administration and amplified through the university’s social channels, alongside the university’s own message of condemnation of anti-Black racism and strong support for Black community members at McMaster.

The African and Caribbean Faculty Association of McMaster released its statement yesterday urging the University (which I interpret as governing bodies, administrators, decision-makers and influencers) to “take the lead…and unequivocal position on…questions of human rights and social justice that affect members of our community.”

At the same time, members of the Indigenous community at McMaster offered a powerful gesture of solidarity and support in which they said, “We know that for centuries settler colonialism has proceeded and continues to be accelerated by the devaluation of Black and Indigenous lives”.

PACBIC will continue to support this work, not only with timely statements to raise our collective consciousness, but with the much more difficult work of engaging in intra and intergroup dialogue across groups of students, faculty, staff and administrators that will require compassion, courage and coalition to be agents for healing and change.

The PACBIC, is an Advisory Committee to the President, and it has existed for over 15 years. It is one of the embodiments of McMaster’s commitment to issues of equity, inclusion and social justice. The University has since frequently reinforced this commitment, including the development of McMaster’s Statement on Building an Inclusive Community with a Shared Purpose, which is often referenced when describing our institutional values and aspirational ethos.

To me, PACBIC’s existence and longevity is evidence of two things, supported by my experiences and observations over the last two years:

  • That the university has had a long-standing commitment to broadly addressing issues of inclusion and equity, with many committed community members working on this goal; and
  • That we still have much more to do as a community, with governance bodies and senior leadership, to attend to systemic inequities, and particularly understand and uproot the structural and cultural barriers that act to perpetuate racism in its many forms across our campus.

This is a profoundly sad but also pivotal moment for McMaster, and I look forward to working with the PACBIC members, university leaders and community members on the difficult but necessary work ahead.