A Message from Assistant Dean Stacey Ritz on Racism and Anti-Racism in BHSc
Hello to everyone in the BHSc Community and beyond:
I know we have our BHSc Q&A scheduled for students on Friday, but in light of current events I felt I needed to reach out to all of you before then. We need to talk about racism.
First, I want to express my care and concern for all of you, especially for our Black students and other racialized folks in our community – although the anger is widely shared, I can only imagine that the current crisis is particularly painful, searing, and personal for those of you for whom experiences of racism are a daily lived reality. The grief, outrage and protest in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, among a staggering list of many others, are entirely justified. I want you to know that the BHSc (Hons) Program is here to support you, and to invite you to reach out to us if we can be helpful to you. In addition to the usual kinds of connections and supports that the BHSc Office offers to all of our students, this crisis demands specific supports for those who experience racism:
- In their statement from yesterday, McMaster’s Race, Racism, and Racialization Working Group (a subcommittee of the President’s Advisory Committee on Building an Inclusive Community – PACBIC) noted that they are working to resume their support group for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) from its summer hiatus in a virtual form, and are also holding an event on June 18.
- The Equity and Inclusion Office at Mac is also available to anyone in our community for support and advice related to discrimination of any kind.
Second, I know that words are not enough. You want to know what we have done and are doing to be actively combatting racism in our program, our faculty, and our university, and to address long-standing legacies of anti-Black and racist violence and injustice that is embedded in most social structures and institutions including health care, health science, medicine, and education. Work has indeed been done by many people at McMaster, and I could make you a list of initiatives, programs, projects, committees, policies, etc, some more impactful than others — but that’s not the point. No matter what is on that list, you would be absolutely right in saying it’s not enough – the world shows us every day that it’s not enough, and this week in particular the world is screaming in our faces that it’s not enough.
It would be disingenuous of me to try and claim that we will ‘do all the things’, and do them now – there is ongoing work in many areas of the university, and there is a lot of work still to be started, knotty problems to confront along the way, and it all needs to be done with care and reflexivity and humility, which takes time. However, I can tell you some of the concrete actions I can commit to undertaking in the immediate future on behalf of the BHSc (Hons) Program:
(1) we will ensure that as we further develop the anti-oppression components of the Praxis Pathways Curriculum, we will involve more BIPOC in its development and implementation and pay particular attention to naming racism and anti-Black racism;
(2) in the last few days I have reached out to colleagues on campus about the possibility of collaborating to create a course on racism and health, and I will continue to pursue that with the aim of having it on the course calendar as soon as we can;
and (3) each of us in the BHSc Office has personally committed to updating our anti-racism and anti-oppression training and renewing it on a regular basis, so that we continually improve our capacity to offer meaningful and appropriate support for Black and racialized students.
These 3 things are not the beginning nor the end. There are many other pieces of work to do: some of you have also raised concerns about equity in admissions and hiring, about wanting to see greater diversity in our faculty and our leadership across the university, questions about security and safety on campus and how the university responds to concerns, among other things. Most of these will require collaboration and coordination with many parties outside of BHSc itself; I will strive to do my part and use my position to push these agendas forward, and I invite all of you to act in your own spheres of influence to make change for racial justice and justice more broadly. Please feel free to connect with me with your concerns, questions, ideas, critiques, and feedback – I am here to listen.
Speaking for myself, I want to recognize that it’s important for folks with white privilege (and other forms of privilege) to step up and do the hard work of dismantling systems of oppression that benefit us. When it comes to racism and anti-Blackness, that includes asking ourselves some hard questions and confronting our own contributions to sustaining that oppression, and not expecting racialized folks to bear the burden of educating and comforting us while we do it. At the same time, I know that it’s also important for people with power and privilege to know when to step back, listen instead of talking, and allow others to take the lead. I will readily admit that I sometimes struggle with finding the right balance between these – I’ve made mistakes in the past and I will probably make more, but I hope that when I get it wrong I will be accountable to it and learn from it.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” More recently, Barack Obama pointed out that there is something implicit in there that needs to be made explicit: the arc doesn’t bend on its own, “it bends because we bend it” – it bends because we bend it. I want every single one of us in BHSc to understand that we all bear a portion of the responsibility for doing some of that ‘bending’ to strive to eliminate racism in this community. For many of us that requires confronting racism and anti-Blackness in ourselves as well; people have been compiling lists of useful resources for that, a few of which I’ll link to below. This is uncomfortable work. Hard work. But crucially important. Lives literally depend on it.
Sending you all much care,