Jahnae Jones-Haywood is a fourth-year UTM student specializing in criminology, law and society, with a minor in ethics, law and society, who created a petition June 3, 2020, demanding an anti-racism course be implemented at the university. Currently, the petition is active on change.org, a petition website that allows individuals to create and share campaigns for change. As of October 3, Haywood’s petition has more than 17,600 signatures, not far from its 25,000 goal. The initiative calls for a change in the educational system that lacks a foundational anti-racist environment. 

When asked about what motivated her to start the petition, Haywood said she was inspired by a friend who started a similar initiative at the University of Guelph. Additionally, Haywood wanted to take action of her own and use her voice to contribute to the educational curriculum as a young adult and student in society. 

“At this point, I just feel like it’s necessary for anti-racism to be consistently in our lives. I think the easiest way to do that is to [implement] it into our educational system,” says Haywood. She also affirms that employing anti-racism practices should begin in elementary school but continue into post-secondary institutions. It is crucial for institutions, such as the University of Toronto, to normalize anti-racism and enforce it into students’ lives within the educational system. This cultural reset is also crucial for today and tomorrow’s leaders to enter a new working field and eliminate the societal gaps that discriminate against minorities. 

“Ideally, the entire education system would take on this task of integrating anti-racism discourse into our curriculums,” continues Haywood. With this goal in mind, Haywood yearns for students to understand what anti-racism and discrimination embody, and to discover the history of various racialized groups. Anti-racism discourses must be normalised earlier in youths’ education to stimulate meaningful conversations, open perspectives, and push the boundaries of current societal norms.  

Although Haywood’s petition has yet to lead to any direct change at U of T, it has sparked insightful conversations online. She has also been contacted by many supporting individuals and organizations, including UTM’s student union and students from other U of T campuses. However, U of T staff and administration have not contacted nor cooperated with Haywood, despite releasing statements addressing the presence of racism on campus and in our communities. 

Still, two faculty members in the sociology department at UTM, Professor Richer and Professor Cranford, have supported this petition and attempted to spread awareness in light of this issue. Haywood says those individuals provided plenty of support for her cause and encouraged her to reach out to them in the future. 

“It’s getting into the administration that is the difficult part because they are the ones who are not listening,” says Haywood. “Once you get to that higher part of the hierarchy, it’s radio silent.”

At times, petitions may result in adverse reactions or retaliation from individuals opposed to the cause. However, in this case, Haywood says this has yet to happen. On the contrary, she often receives questions and online inquiries instead. The majority of the questions she receives ask about the cost of the course, who will facilitate it, and how long the lectures would be, along with other logistical concerns.

In light of these concerns, Haywood states that this anti-racism course should be offered without charge and should be delivered in the form of a workshop that would only be taught for a few days, rather than an entire term. “It’s not a pass [or] fail situation, you’re here to learn and absorb information on how to be anti-racist in your daily life,” adds Haywood.

Furthermore, Haywood believes there should be specific criteria for individuals responsible for leading the course. Haywood anticipates a candidate with an educational background in anti-racism, racial history, or colonial history. 

“Because it’s an anti-racism course, it would have to be a racialized person. They would have to connect with those experiences and be able to help non-racialized people understand those experiences,” Haywood explains. This way, it would be more impactful for students to learn as their facilitator can contribute a more personal and meaningful way of teaching.

Haywood notes that if a person not familiar with racial experiences were to instruct the course, there would be a “disconnect between the lived experience and what it means to engage with racism as a racialized person.” She believes the main criteria for the role is someone who has real-life experience rather than a high education level.

Moreover, Haywood believes implementing this course would aid students across the three U of T campuses. These anti-racism lectures would provoke meaningful thought, ideas, and positive societal practices in all aspects of life. Haywood also states that this course can significantly benefit those who have never engaged in anti-racism experiences.

“Because of how vast U of T is, when you see where the alumni end up going and doing with their lives, [these lectures] would make an immense change [in the world].” Haywood does not doubt that this course would be very impactful in society. U of T facilitates influential alumni in various fields. As such, if they were to carry a strong ethical foundation of anti-racism, it would undoubtedly influence generations to come and facilitate a more inclusive environment. 

For the petition to reach a successful outcome, U of T must take a more significant step in speaking for this advocacy against racial issues. Haywood believes the institution must “talk with students [and] boards about what they can do moving forward.” U of T should make a greater effort to communicate to students the power they hold as an educational institution and follow through with their promises to the community. 

“We have demands. We have requests. [But] we’re just waiting for them to be heard.” Haywood stresses that U of T should engage with students, listen to their requests, and take action following those conversations.

Ultimately, Haywood hopes to continue advocating for anti-racism practices in her upcoming university years in the legal field. “These are the things that drive my career and drive me to do what I want to do for [racial] equities and rights.”

“In terms of my education and my own self-awareness, this was always very important to me, but I didn’t feel like I’ve even been in a position to put that out there,” Haywood says. “The petition gave me a voice to [share] what I’ve learned over the years and my positions.”

To sign the petition and make a difference, visit tinyurl.com/uoftantiracismpetition

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