The McGill Senate Ad Hoc Working Group on Systemic Discrimination released a report on Nov. 16 describing discriminatory practices towards female, minority, and indigenous faculty members. After surveying 374 tenure-track and tenured professors, the working group found evidence of systemic discrimination at McGill.
Issues raised include frustration towards the McGill administration, feelings of isolation, and institutional limitations differing by gender and ethnicity. Respondents reported witnessing discrimination on the basis of gender a total of 107 times, ethnicity 38 times, and for ‘other’ reasons 81 times. Respondents of all backgrounds were aware of discriminatory issues, although women and minorities especially so. The report urged McGill to develop infrastructure to foster a diverse faculty, specifically by reforming recruitment practices, protecting individuals who report discrimination, creating the position of Senior Officer for Equity and Inclusion, and sponsoring both mentorship and awareness programs.
Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures, and Equity) Angela Campbell praised the report for drawing useful considerations, including the importance of intersectional approaches.
“The /Report of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Systemic Discrimination/ provides the McGill community with important insights about the systemic barriers encountered by some faculty members who are constituents of underrepresented social groups,” Campbell said. “McGill is committed to the ongoing project of advancing equity and inclusivity on campus.”
Anthropology sessional lecturer Karen McAllister has faced discrimination at McGill and considers it to be an issue that is a particularly challenging issue.
“[Discrimination can be] something that people don’t realize they’re doing and so they don’t
think about it,” McAllister said. “This is the dangerous part of it [.…] It’s also really hard to say that it’s because of gender versus something else.”
McAllister recounted a student being overtly disrespectful towards her during her first year teaching at McGill. She feels that it is the responsibility of female and minority professors to serve as role models for students.
“I said [to the student], ‘Look, I’ve been told that in this university, young, female professors are given a hard time by the students. This ends here, we’re not going to do this in this class,’” McAllister said. “It’s something that students later on remembered because I’ve had some of those same students in their third or fourth year and they came [to me] and said, ‘That was really memorable, we were so pleased you stood up.’”
Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) University Affairs Erin Sobat said that minorities often face difficulties when trying to organize or speak out. The report echoed this, as out of the 21.9 per cent of respondents who did not declare their ethnicity, several explained that they feared that they could be easily identified if they revealed demographic information, a symptom of the relative dearth of minority students at McGill.
“One of the significant issues with under-representation and discrimination is that there are very few [minority students] to form a community and support one another at McGill,” Sobat said. “As a result, it is the already marginalized members of our academic staff who end up taking on the greatest emotional burden of mentoring and supporting these students.”
Sobat suggests that the university should focus on recruiting underrepresented groups to McGill to alleviate some of these issues. In addition, he has pushed for the McGill Senate to consider diversifying its enrolment plan to acknowledge a wider variety of backgrounds, as it currently divides potential students into the three categories of Quebec, out-of-province, and international students.
“Students should demand that we do more to recruit and retain diverse faculty members as well as students at McGill,” Sobat said. “At SSMU [University Affairs] we have been advocating for a comprehensive student diversity enrolment plan, which would go beyond the current strategic enrolment management approach.”