Systemic racism within academic structures: barriers to entry and retention of Indigenous, Black and racialized students and researchers
Before systemic racism can be addressed, it must first be acknowledged. The culture around racism in Canada embraces a stance of colour-blindness, which simultaneously gaslights racialized people and excuses Canadians from addressing their colonial history. Indeed, the Canadian government has only recently found the political will to admit to the systematic oppression of Indigenous populations, and nearly half of Canadians surveyed believe that anti-Black racism is “no longer a problem” . Therefore, it is not surprising that students and faculty continue to witness Canadian post-secondary institutions release hastily constructed, platitudinous statements about diversity and inclusivity in response to the current civil rights movement, with little to no meaningful action or accountability, thereby maintaining systemic racism. As sites of research and progressive thought, institutions of higher learning and academia should be at the forefront of dismantling systems of racism; instead, they continue to sustain and perpetuate white privilege.
Even before entering academic and research institutions, historical policies of oppression have led to Indigenous, Black and People of Color (IBPOC) students experiencing intergenerational disparities in accumulated wealth, knowledge, and networks compared to their white counterparts . Indeed, Black and Indigenous students are noticeably performing worse in secondary education due to assessment bias from teachers, disproportionate suspensions and expulsions, a lack of diverse staff as role models, and little trust or feeling of belonging . These inequalities follow them into their university careers as students and subsequently as researchers, with universities advertising a false narrative of equal opportunity in the academic sphere. In reality, IBPOC students, faculty, and staff experience barriers analogous to those in secondary education. Additionally, racialized students endure overt discrimination and racism that are hastily minimized or outright dismissed, affecting their educational experience and negatively impacting their academic and personal success .
Henry and Tator (2009) state that racialized faculty and students are denied equity and access through “the everyday values and norms, discourses, and practices within a dominant white Anglocentric, Eurocentric and racist culture” . This is evidenced through the lack of racialized faculty representation at the post-secondary level in Canada. In their 2018 report, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) indicated that 21% of university teachers are racialized, of whom 2% are Black and 1.4% are Indigenous . Even then, racialized faculty are disproportionately hired on a part-time basis, further limiting their power, influence, and job security in academic institutions. As a result, racialized professors are less able to access the privileges of tenure—as their white colleagues do—and are therefore less able to advocate for their own safety and security . They name structural barriers, discriminatory practices, preference for sameness, as well as unacknowledged and unconscious biases as culprits that negatively impact the career trajectories and legitimate participation of racialized and Indigenous scholars—particularly womxn of colour—in academia .
Furthermore, racialized part-time professors seeking a career in academia are often overburdened due to the multitude of unpaid labour, a high demand for mentorship of IBPOC students, and “tokenistic” representation on committees. Consequently, racialized professors are limited in their ability to dedicate time to their research, publishing, and securing funding—all of which are critical components of the current matrices used to assess applicants for tenure track positions. As Henry et al. (2016) demonstrated, equity policies in Canadian institutions of higher education are failing to create the diverse faculty and student body reflective of the broader multicultural Canadian milieu . In their current form, academic institutions are inherently racist structures that silence IBPOC academic voices. They require fundamental dismantling and restructuring, lest these issues continue to be perpetuated for generations, thereby maintaining and solidifying white privilege in education and research.