Message from the President: Acadia to Establish a President’s Anti-Racism Task Force


Acadia University is located in Mi'kma'ki,

the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People

On a topic of personal importance to me and picking up on my earlier messages to you on June 2 and in the June 19 campus e-newsletter, I am announcing today that I am establishing a President’s Anti-Racism Task Force (PART). While the immediate urgency for this initiative has been driven by recent alarming events that have raised our consciousness about the need to address anti-racism now; the fact is that equity, diversity and inclusion form an important part of Acadia’s history and our educational mission today. In 1838, Acadia was founded as an act of equity to provide access and opportunities for individuals and groups within society which, at the time, were facing barriers to or being excluded from university education. Not only did Acadia provide education and employment to Baptists, this openness resulted in some of the earliest opportunities for women and those of African descent to attend and eventually graduate from Acadia. Today, our recently approved Strategic Plan identifies diversity, inclusivity, equity and respect as key strategic values at Acadia, and a number of goals address these values either directly or indirectly, including creating an inclusive and supportive community campus culture, caring for the safety, health and wellness of our community, and Msit No’kmaq - advancing Acadia’s contributions to truth, reconciliation and decolonization.

While the Task Force will cover all forms of racism, the scourge of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism is especially high on our minds. In the context of Canada and Nova Scotia in particular, racism against members of these two communities are especially endemic due to their historical and present day importance in our province. In stating this, we recognise the particular forms of racism faced by the Mi’kmaq as the Original peoples of this land, and African Nova Scotians due to the legacy of slavery and anti-Black racism that persists throughout our society. As Acadia has become a more diverse, inclusive and multi-national community over recent times, especially with the growth in numbers of our international students, it is inevitable that systemic racism has become more apparent and, therefore, it becomes more important than ever that we face it, define it, understand it, and take action to eliminate it. That is why the focus of this Task Force is not on racism per se, but rather it is about anti-racism and how Acadia can make real progress towards being a community that is proactively and inherently anti-racist. This is also why it is a Task Force and not a committee; the focus is on taking action.

While the full terms of reference for the Task Force will be provided in detail later, the main purposes will be to:

  • define the nature of systemic racism at Acadia;
  • identify the causes and the barriers that prevent us from eliminating systemic racism at Acadia;
  • identify ways to promote removing the causes and dismantling the barriers; and
  • address how Acadia’s educational and research mission can contribute more effectively to the broader societal advancement of anti-racism, inclusion, and diversity.

The Task Force will be asked to present recommendations for an action plan by which Acadia can become an anti-racist community and make lasting contributions to the elimination of racism in society at large. The purpose is to help all of us who make up the membership of the Acadia community, no matter what our personal background is or what role we play on campus, to do our part in understanding how we contribute to racism and how we can support, both individually and collectively, the elimination of systemic racism in our community. As with how we developed in our Indigenous strategy, this is not about guilt and retribution, nor is it about disparaging one set of cultures in order to promote others; rather it is about truth and reconciliation, mutual respect and honour, and choosing to walk the pathway towards a better society together rather than apart.

Using the model that was successful in the work of the President’s Advisory Council on Decolonisation, the PART will have internal and external co-chairs. In this way, we can ensure that the work of the Task Force will be done in partnership with external communities and not just be inward looking.  I am very pleased to announce that the internal co-chair will be Dr. Marjorie Lewis and the external co-chair will be Ms. Patricia McCulloch. Originally from Jamaica, Dr. Marjorie Lewis joined Acadia as our Chaplain in March 2020, and she brings a wealth of international experience in university administration, ministry, and working in racialized and marginalised communities to address the impacts of racism and discrimination. Patricia McCulloch works with the Black Educators Association (BEA) where she leads the Regional Educators Program for the Valley Region. Patricia is from the African Nova Scotian community of Three Mile Plains, NS and has spent her life working to support the African Nova Scotian community and has particularly close ties with the communities in the Valley Regional office in Kentville. Among the many responsibilities of the position, the Regional Educator supports African Nova Scotian (ANS) learners in achieving equitable education; researches, develops and provides educational opportunities that aid ANS learners to achieve their educational success; and monitors regional and provincial educational policies to ensure that they do not adversely impact ANS learners.  I am extremely grateful to Marjorie and Patricia for their willingness to take on this important work for Acadia.

The PART will be internally supported by Zabrina Whitman, the President’s Advisor on Indigenous Affairs, who will be the Vice-Chair of the Task Force, Paulo Santana, Acadia’s Black Student Navigator who also provides close liaison between Acadia and the Valley African Nova Scotian Development Association (VANSDA), and Polly Leonard, Acadia’s new Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer. Together. Zabrina, Paulo and Polly will support both internal and external community engagement in the work of the Task Force.

The full membership of the PART will be finalised over the coming weeks, but it will include Board, Senate, student, faculty, staff, administration, and external community members to ensure a broad and representative approach. Please stay turned for further announcements regarding the membership and work of the Task Force.

Making this announcement just ahead of Emancipation Day is not a coincidence. On August 1 we celebrate the abolition of slavery throughout the entire British Empire. While the slave trade was abolished in 1807, it was not until 1833 that the abolition bill was passed through the British parliament, and the act came into full force on August 1, 1834. Slavery has a long, sad history throughout human existence, and it continues today in many different forms. Furthermore, despite the 184 years since abolition in what was then British North America, the economic and social legacy of slavery continues today. In announcing the development of an Anti-Racism Task Force for Acadia, we can help accelerate our own contribution to ending that legacy and making sure that the current and future generations of students, regardless of their ethnic and cultural background, will create and live in a better world.

Best wishes,

Peter
Dr. Peter Ricketts
President and Vice-Chancellor


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