By Sheikh Abid Rahman
Learning How to be an Ally
My name is Sheikh Abid Rahman, and I am currently in my second year of Aerospace Engineering. I identify as male of South-Asian descent, and I consider myself a beginner in terms of learning about Anti-Black racism. I did not learn about Anti-Black racism throughout my schooling (k-12), and it isn’t something I am exposed to in my undergraduate program. For the most part, I have learned about Anti-Black racism through documentaries, articles on Google, podcasts, and social media.
What is Anti-Black Racism?
Anti-Black Racism is characterized as policies and practices that represent and perpetuate values, beliefs, behaviours, bigotry, stereotyping and/or discrimination that are aimed towards people of African descent and that are embedded in their unique experience and history of slavery and colonialism in Canada (Ryerson University, Anti-Black Racism Campus Climate Review Report, 2020).
How does Anti-Black Racism show up on our campus?
On university campuses, like in wider society, Anti-Black racism materializes as systemic forms of exclusion. Ryerson is no exception, as revealed by the “Anti-Black Racism Campus Climate Review Report” (July 2020) released by the Office of the Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion. The report outlines the barriers Black students, staff, and faculty face due to systemic Anti-Black Racism at Ryerson and provides recommendations on how to dismantle them. The entire Ryerson community is called upon to take action and genuinely establish diversity and inclusion as fundamental principles across the university. Ultimately, the report shows that more work needs to be done at Ryerson so that Black students, faculty, and staff feel equal, secure, and welcome on campus.
All Ryerson community members can start by reading the “Anti-Black Racism Campus Climate Review Report” towards making change. But, don’t stop there.
Addressing Anti-Black Racism in Engineering and Architecture
In addition to the report, it’s also important to understand the ways Anti-Black Racism shows up in our own disciplines. Focusing on architecture and engineering, I asked Black-identified individuals and non-Black allies to share their perspectives on how Anti-Black Racism impacts learning and practice.
Student Perspective: Wintta Ghebreiyesus, PhD Candidate, Aerospace Engineering.
Wintta, who is a proud member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Ryerson Chapter, expressed that one of the most prominent consequences of Anti-Black Racism in our faculty is the lack of representation of Black staff and faculty across all programs in engineering and architecture. She also points out that this scarcity of resources and representation becomes an enormous barrier for Black students and places them at a major disadvantage in the institution.
Faculty Perspective: Dr. Russell Richman, Associate Professor, Graduate Studies
From Dr. Russell’s perspective, Anti-Black Racism materializes in the form of a lack of Black professors in the engineering and architecture schools. He further states, “We have to do better at making engineering and architecture a realistic career when Black children are early in their education journeys.”
Staff Perspective: Lynsey Kissane, Executive Director, Strategy and Communication, Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science
“As a white female identified employee of Ryerson since 2012, who has benefited personally and professionally from multiple promotions and the influence afforded to me through my position, I am complicit in Ryerson’s actions and in-actions on Anti-Black Racism. Having worked in white dominated non-profits, an engineering consulting firm and higher education institutions throughout my career, I have worked to fight various forms of racism and know first hand that institutional change and culture change is challenging and slow. Too slow! So slow that the systemic nature of racism within institutions is incredibly clear to me. The unwillingness of predominantly white and university educated leaders (and donors) to:
- admit past wrongdoing or in-action
- be culpable for the systemic nature of racism within their institutions, and
- share power in order to create a more equitable and inclusive reality, is very clear to me. The James Baldwin quote “how much time do you want for your progress” often comes to mind. It infuriates me when organizations fail to demonstrate the urgency espoused in press releases and published reports.
So, how to dismantle racism in architecture and engineering education and practice? To answer this, I’d like to share this article and interview with you. It was written by Neil Price, who I view as a leading authority on the future of education. I’ve learned so much from him. He has shared some ideas of where we might start to dismantle anti-black racism in higher education, specifically within the current pandemic context we’re all living in. I agree with his proposal to:
- Prioritize Black care: Everyone in the Ryerson community should be mindful to check in with our fellow Black students, staff and faculty to ensure their well-being is of primary importance. Resources to support mental health for Black community members is essential. More to the point we “might imagine ways of embedding a similar ethics of care in all that we do. We might consider and examine how our everyday work of teaching and learning may be complicated by such a commitment.”
- The necessity of protest: In small and large ways, whether calling out microaggressions or refusing to be part of inequitable institutional decisions or processes is essential.
- Black solidarity: Ensuring that Black students, staff and faculty are supported to come together and build community, to organize and to access and marshall the resources identified by them as necessary so that they may flourish as individuals and as a community.” – Lynsey Kissane
Industry perspective (Engineering): Lola Idowu, Industrial Engineering ‘18, Senior Business Analyst, Scotiabank
Lola Idowu mentioned that Anti-Black Racism is present in our hallways and boardrooms because selective groups of people were allowed such education and positions when the establishments first started with little or no Black representation. According to Lola, the process of resolving Anti-Black racism starts with understanding and tackling the unconscious bias that lives in the heart of the corporate world and the education system. Furthermore, Lola noted that once these biases are eradicated, we will be able to strive towards a better future in our work against Anti-Black Racism.
How to be an Ally
Individuals and communities of privilege have the responsibility to fight against and abolish Anti-Black Racism, discrimination, and injustice. The Ryerson community must take action, including all of the recommendations stated in the report, across all disciplines, departments, and programs. The report is just a start and we have a long way to go in order to ensure Black students, staff, and faculty have a full sense of belonging at Ryerson.
Here is a list of what you can do:
- Listen to Black Communities
- Attend events/programs related to racial issues
- Engage in conversations
- Pay attention to the trauma that the Black communities have been through and are going through.
- Ask yourself how you are contributing to or challenging Anti-Black Racism
- Educate yourself
- Acknowledge Anti-Black Racism
- Learn more about racism through books, articles, podcasts, documentaries, etc.
- Learn about Black Canadian history
- Talk about race with your friends and family
- Gain understanding of concepts such as cultural appropriation
- Inculcate the idea that it is not just a word. Comprehend the history of the word along with the trauma and violence it holds.
- Speak out against racism
- If you see something, say something
- Hold your peers, colleagues, superiors accountable
- Look out for microaggression from others and even yourself
In conclusion, just like with any other problem, we first have to acknowledge Anti-Black Racism exists, identify our own complicity in it, and understand its consequences. Rather than not talking about it because it’s uncomfortable, we must address and talk about Anti-Black Racism, raise awareness, and take action.
To learn more about Anti-Black Racism, you can attend the upcoming panel discussion the Peer Network Program is hosting:
Thursday, March 11 from 6 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Facilitators: Nika Momeni, Wahab Ata and Wintta Ghebreiyesus
- Abrham Bisrat, Industrial Engineering. Abrham is the President of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Ryerson University Chapter.
- Annabella Mike-Ebeye, Electrical Engineering ‘18 is a Systems Integrator with IKOS Consulting and is currently working with Alstom/Bombardier.
- Lola Idowu, Industrial Engineering ‘18 is a Senior Business Analyst at Scotiabank.
- Dr. Russell Richman, Associate Professor, Graduate Studies will be providing his perspective as an ally.