Every year since 1996, Canada has celebrated Black History Month in February, to highlight the history and honour the contributions of the country’s Black community. This is also an important time to acknowledge past struggles and challenges, oppression and racism, as we re-commit to listening and to learning about the legacy and lived experiences of Black Canadians, and to recognize and reflect upon the contributions of Black faculty, staff, students and alumni at USask. Our university is committed to creating spaces to share these stories and to uplift Black voices through conversation.
Universities such as ours benefit from the diverse perspectives on our campuses and are the perfect places to have the discussions necessary for leading change in the communities we serve. We are determined to be the best place we can be for all students, staff and faculty, guided by our University Plan 2025 and our mission statement to promote diversity and to create meaningful change. These commitments are also the foundation for USask’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Policy which states, “All members of the university community share the responsibility for creating a supportive and inclusive environment.”
In 2021, I appointed Dr. Verna St. Denis as the Special Advisor to the President on Anti-Racism, with the university going on to initiate anti-racism education for all senior leaders and expanding learning opportunities for others across campus.
Just over a year ago, USask joined more than 40 partner institutions from across the country in signing the Scarborough Charter, a commitment to building a campus culture that fights Black racism and supports and promotes Black inclusion in Canadian universities and colleges. As a signatory, USask participated in the first inter-institutional forum (2022) and we are developing a local Scarborough Charter Advisory Group.
Our campus community comprises faculty, staff and students from more than 130 countries, including Black students from Nigeria who are the third-largest group of international students at the university. USask is also benefiting from the rapid growth in Canada’s Black population, now making up 4.1 per cent of the country according to the 2021 Census, with the Prairies featuring Canada’s fastest growing Black population.
As we celebrate and commemorate Black History Month in February, I invite you to learn more about our country’s Black history, including the remarkable Harriet Tubman, the leader of the Underground Railroad that helped so many escape slavery in the southern United States by coming to Canada. You can also learn about our province’s Black history, including Dr. Alfred Shadd (MD), who came to Saskatchewan in 1896 and was the first Black doctor on the Prairies. Our history also includes the story of the Mayes and LaFayette families, who established the province’s first Black settlements.
A list of upcoming Black History Month events on campus and feature stories on the contributions of Black students, staff, faculty, and alumni at the University of Saskatchewan are available at news.usask.ca and spotlight.usask.ca. For example, the University Library provides a guide to a variety of Black History Month resources, while the Provost’s Book Club will be offering a variety of readings and guided discussions in the month of February.
You can also learn about the recently launched Black Faculty and Staff Caucus at USask, while Black student groups and activities can be found on the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union website.
While our campuses, our province and our country still have much work left to do in order to better support the Black community, as an educational pillar of our society, the University of Saskatchewan is committed to leading by example. In order to move forward in the future, we must learn from the past, and address the challenges of today. Let each of us re-commit to learning more about the contributions and experiences of Black Canadians, and pledge to do our part in order to build and shape a more just, inclusive, and diverse society for all.
President and Vice-Chancellor
University of Saskatchewan