Weekly Update: June 19, 2020

Dear members of the UBC community.

Earlier this week, we held our first ever Virtual Graduation Ceremony. I was proud to participate in the event and to celebrate, along with their families and friends, the accomplishments of the members of the class of 2020.

I hope you had the chance to watch one or both of the ceremonies and to hear the inspiring words of speakers such as Prime Minister Trudeau, Rick Mercer, and — especially — students Njoki Mburu, Julia Burnham, Romil Jain and Barb Dawson. They, and their fellow classmates, give me hope for the future.

If you didn’t have a chance to watch, or if you’d like to see it again, just go to virtualgraduation.ubc.ca.

And, I promise, we will celebrate the Class of 2020 graduation in person, when it’s safe to do so.

Recent events, including the incident involving a UBC graduate student, have brought to light the pervasiveness of systemic racism, and in particular anti-Black racism. When any population on campus does not feel included, respected, and engaged, it impacts their experience and their capacity to change the world.

In the past few weeks, I have heard from many members of the UBC community. I have listened to students of colour who have shared personal stories and concerns of their experiences both inside and outside the classroom. They reminded me to address: diversity in the classroom, diversity in health care providers on campus, speakers who seek only to offend and divide rather than educate, resources for culture-specific programs and services, and space for cultural groups.

We need to make it crystal clear that racism and bias have no place in our community and that we have zero tolerance for it.

I have called for an investigation under Policy SC7: Discrimination of the incident with the graduate student.

I have also asked for an external review of Campus Security including incidents, policies (and their application), practises and training to ensure that racialized members of our community are treated equally to all other members of our community. This will include a consideration of the role and tenor of other organizations that also provide campus security, including the RCMP.

As a priority, I am meeting with members of the Black Caucus to listen and to learn from their experiences of racism on our campuses.  Only after I have listened will we begin to move to action as recommended by the Black Caucus. Over time, I will expand my listening sessions to include Indigenous and Asian groups as well as other marginalized communities.

Following these consultations, I will establish an advisory committee on systemic racism. Working together, we will develop the terms of reference and composition of the committee.

You can read more about the committee and UBC’s response to systemic racism on my website at president.ubc.ca.

At UBC, diversity is our strength. We can all play a role against hatred, oppression, violence and injustice and find a way to support and elevate those who have been traditionally, systemically, and historically marginalized.

For my #songsofcomfort selection this week, I am pleased to present a piece by one of those who graduated on Wednesday, UBC Okanagan student Stephen Okanlawon. Stephen (also known as Slimtyme) plays Level Up, originally by Burna Boy.

Thank you and stay safe.

Santa J. Ono
President and Vice-Chancellor