In 2020, Black professors represented just 0.5 per cent of McGill’s entire teaching staff, adding up to only 10 professors in total. As of today, though the number is up to 28, little improvement has been made and the percentage remains a paltry 1.6 per cent. To end the underrepresentation of Black profs, the university must both prioritize the hiring of more Black professors and create an inclusive environment that ensures they will not leave McGill for a more supportive institution.
While McGill is taking steps in the right direction, they are not large enough to make waves in the makeup of the teaching population. McGill has outlined plans to hire 85 Black tenure-track professors by 2032, with an interim target of 40 professors by 2025. While this is certainly an improvement, this number is meagre in comparison to the 1,800-plus professors who teach at the university.
A lack of Black professors working with methodologies from Black studies leads to less diversity in thoughts and opinions presented to students, resulting in a Eurocentric education that fails to reflect the society it serves. The lack of diversity also deeply affects Black students who do not see themselves represented in the field within which they are being instructed. When Black students are already dramatically underrepresented, McGill has the top-down and bottom-up responsibility of making the institution more reflective of Montreal’s demographics. The cycle of bias caused by a lack of a well-rounded and diverse education can only be broken when students––and faculty embedded in the institution––are educated in ways that disrupt it. In hiring, this means not only looking beyond institutions that have excluded Black scholars, but bringing first-generation and lower-income Black professors, queer and trans Black scholars, Black women and feminist thinkers, and Black Caribbean and African professors to the forefront.
Beyond the startling underrepresentation, McGill cannot continue to subject Black professors to poor and racist work conditions. What benefit would it be to bring a Black scholar into an institution that enacts more violence onto them, that works to silence them into the minority? McGill looks the way it does precisely because it disregards non-Western knowledge systems and bears the name of a merchant who enslaved Black and Indigenous people. One of McGill’s former professors of art history, Charmaine Nelson, left McGill because it was not a safe space to exist and thrive as a Black woman, citing that a separate space for Black students and professors must exist to uplift community and solidarity.
When Black faculty, staff, and students have raised their voices time and time again, institutional changes have followed. The Dr. Kenneth Melville Black Faculty and Staff Caucus was founded to foster a supportive environment for both educators and students. McGill has also provided a Black staff toolkit, listing the resources available to Black faculty in an effort to further improve their previously fraught support system. McGill must move past a curriculum that largely upholds white supremacy and ensure that their working conditions foster actively anti-racist spaces in which white professors’ institutional power is checked so they do not bully, block, or banish their new colleagues.
McGill must move to centre cluster hirings and a quota system so that Black scholars do not enter its all-white spaces alone. It is crucial for all of us, across axes of difference, to push for better representation and retention of Black scholars, students, and brilliance. When a massive student body is not met with diversity within the classroom, we cannot trust our education to offer us tools to combat racism, settler colonialism, and white supremacy. McGill must become a more active ally for its Black community and that starts by making sure they have space to grow and flourish within and beyond its walls.