Nov. 22, 2021

Study examines anti-Black racism on UCalgary campus

Participants report poor representation, lack of mentorship and instances of anti-Black racism, says research lead Patrina Duhaney
UCalgary students
University of Calgary Archive

A recent study by Faculty of Social Work professor Patrina Duhaney and colleagues takes an unflinching look at anti-Black racism and Black representation on the University of Calgary campus. Dr. Duhaney, PhD, says one of her primary motivations for the research came from a desire to move past the anecdotal to get a benchmark understanding of Black people’s experiences of racism at the University of Calgary.

The study, “Experiences of Anti-Black Racism at the University of Calgary,” gathered data from 200 survey responses and 36 one-on-one interviews with Black students, alumni, faculty, sessional instructors and staff.

Results showed consistent themes of poor representation, lack of mentorship and, most troublingly, high rates of anti-Black racism experienced on campus.

When asked if they feel welcomed on campus, 53 per cent of staff respondents agreed that the campus is a welcoming place, while 33 per cent disagreed. Moreover, most staff disagreed that they were valued on campus and were also more likely to say that they “do not feel supported at UCalgary.”

Portrait of Dr. Patrina Duhaney

Patrina Duhaney is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Social Work.

Tristan Cater

Even more troubling is that 67 per cent of (non-faculty) staff reported witnessing incidents of anti-Black racism. An equal number of staff respondents said they also directly experienced anti-Black racism.

The picture from student respondents seems to reflect a slightly better experience. Sixty four per cent of students agreed that UCalgary was a welcoming environment. Having said that, the students’ experience also echoed the lack of Black professors on campus. Only 34 per cent believe they have good mentors while 68 per cent pointed to the poor representation of Black professors at the university.

By way of example, Duhaney points to the experience of one respondent who said that during their 10 years of study on campus (pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees) they had been taught by only five racialized professors. This theme was echoed by staff respondents who didn’t believe that Black staff members are appropriately represented across the university.

Perhaps not surprising, the small number of Black professors on campus was reflected by a comparatively small number of faculty respondents. The small possible sample size is also compounded by several other factors.

“Some people might be reluctant to speak up because they just think that the dominant discourse will remain and nothing will change,” says Duhaney. “They’re also such a small group … they might not really know to what extent they will be protected, and so they may have some fear around job security.”

As Duhaney points out, participants’ reluctance likely also reflects the real risk they take of being retraumatized by sharing their experiences.

Nevertheless, those that did take part in the study offered valuable feedback and made several recommendations for addressing anti-Black racism at the University of Calgary. These include: 1) increase representation and improve retention of Black people on all levels (students, staff, faculty, administration) and across disciplines; 2) acknowledge the economic barriers that exist for marginalized students and create funding opportunities to address these socioeconomic discrepancies; 3) implement policies to address anti-Black racism; 4) provide anti-racism training; 5) provide relevant supports for Black people who experience racial trauma; 6) conduct further research.

Pointing to a paucity of research in the area, Duhaney hopes the study will spur discussion — and more importantly action — as the institution works to address anti-Black racism head-on.

Scarborough Charter

UCalgary recently pledged to further its commitment to creating a more equitable, diverse, inclusive and accessible campus by joining 40 universities, colleges and partner institutions nationwide in signing the Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion on Nov. 18.

Among the foundational commitments made by President Ed McCauley were collecting, analyzing and disseminating disaggregated data on faculty, staff and closing the gap on Black underrepresentation at all levels.

“The University of Calgary seems to be moving in the right direction by signing the Scarborough National Charter. However, it remains evident that many universities have done very little to move beyond statements of support to eradicate anti-Black racism,” says Duhaney.

“The charter provides opportunities for universities to collectively work towards meaningful and sustainable action to addressing anti-Black racism. I do hope that more universities commit to principles outlined in the Charter that aim to foster Black inclusion, excellence, mutuality and accountability.”

Learn more about the Scarborough Charter.

The Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion has launched UCalgary’s first ever student equity census and employment equity census: Find the equity census here. Find the employment census here.

See the Faculty of Social Work Anti-Black Racism Task Force's Action Plan.