Black Student Experience
How do we ensure that Innis College’s long-standing commitment to a supportive learning community is relevant, equitable, and meaningful to Black students at our college?
Below are 24 calls to action on the Black student experience (BSE) at Innis — and the College’s responses — which begin to address this question. We invite you to read and reflect on them.
Come back soon: as we listen and learn more, both the calls to action and the responses will evolve to incorporate new insights and commitments. This is our work in progress.
Fourth-year student Kassia Neckles sits on the Black Student Experience Working Group and is a 2021 recipient of the Lesra Martin Student Changemaker Award.
We’re listening, learning, and doing the work:
In June of 2020, Principal Charlie Keil released a statement in solidarity with the College’s Black and Indigenous communities. It addressed the question of how we could do better to further our commitment to a supportive—and equitable—learning and student life experience for Black and Indigenous students.
In a separate initiative, we are currently developing more supports, resources, and opportunities specifically for Indigenous students.
After a process of listening and educating ourselves that will continue to be a part of College life and governance, we created a working group dedicated to examining the experiences of Black students at the College.
Led by people of colour with an understanding of the issues, and predominantly composed of Black students, the group has examined existing policies, processes, and practices, both at the College and broader U of T levels. The group focused on the experiences of Black students, and sought input from the Innis community, while striving to minimize the toll on those most affected.
The result of this is the Report to the Principal, Innis College, from the Working Group on the Black Student Experience.
It includes a series of themed recommendations, 24 calls to action that will evolve to meet the changing experiences of Black students at Innis.
Innis awarded financial support to every student in need — including the 8% who identified as Black — in the 2020/21 academic year, with an average of $3,150 provided per student, an increase of $750 over the previous year.
Innis strengthened the identification of equity-deserving students through U of T’s October 2020 introduction of a central online grant application that invites students to self-identify as Black, Indigenous, or “First Generation to pursue post-secondary education.”
This application can also identify students who started an application but did not complete it, allowing the College to reach out and offer assistance. In the 2020/21 academic year, 11% of the students contacted identified as Black, and received bursary assistance.
Innis created the Lesra Martin Student Changemaker Award in 2020: $1,000 award for one or two students who effect change for Black lives through innovative scholarship or co-curricular activity. This award attracted seven applicants in its first year.
In partnership with the Cinema Studies Institute (CSI), Innis created the Arthur Hiller Award for Admission to the Cinema Studies Institute in 2022: $1,000-$5,000 award for Black and Indigenous students entering an undergraduate cinema studies program. This award attracted 30 applicants in its first year; three recipients were recognized.
Innis is working with prospective donors on scholarships that complement the Lesra Martin and Arthur Hiller Awards.
Innis’s Advancement Office is fundraising for an admission scholarship that does not require application, comparable to the Innis Admission Scholarship for Indigenous Peoples.
Innis Advancement and CSI are partnering to develop an upper-year scholarship that continues the Hiller Award recognition and involves a mentorship program between previous and new recipients.
Innis clarified online messaging around Innis College bursaries to convey that, as of September 2020, international students in the Faculty of Arts & Science are eligible to apply. This increased the number of international students receiving an Innis College bursary in 2020/21 to 14, compared to four recipients in 2019/20.
Innis worked with the director of financial aid and awards to improve keyword search and filter functionality on Award Explorer by better indexing Black student-targeted awards.
Innis worked with the Faculty of Arts & Sciences’ new recruitment officer in the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Office (September 2021), to share Black student-supporting resources and help attract future Black students to Innis College.
Innis amplified messaging around the Lesra Martin Student Changemaker Award, including collaboration with U of T News and U of T Celebrates, as well as spotlights in an Innis leadership awards promotion (2021) and Black History Month-focused principal’s message (2022).
Innis launched the Inclusion Supports webpage (February 2022), which, among other self-identifiers for diverse student communities, features a “Black student” filter with a list of resources, supports, and opportunities — including financial aid and mental health — for Black students at Innis.
Innis launched a monthly student-life newsletter (February 2022) with committed space to spotlight Black student-focused opportunities and supports. The first edition was a success, with 47% of students (1,000 individuals) opening the email.
Innis launched a twice-annual opt-in student life newsletter in Fall 2022 that specifically shares opportunities relevant to the Black student experience on campus. The first edition (Nov. 23, 2022) was sent to 30 students, with 50% opening the email. 31 student received the second edition (Feb. 6, 2023).
Communications and Promotions
See CTA 4 regarding launch of Innis College’s Inclusion Supports webpage.
Innis introduced implicit bias training and the Implicit Association Test for members of the Recruitment, Admissions, and Awards Committee of Innis College Council, the adjudicating body for Innis’s leadership awards (April–May 2021). Award applicants are notified of this training at the time of application.
Innis developed a comprehensive Outlook calendar marking days of significance that reflect the College’s diversity, including Black History Month, for circulation among Innis staff and student leaders (October 2021). The calendar also registers upcoming Innis-based events tied to days of significance, which facilitates promotional support and college-wide collaboration.
Innis established a staff-student working group to collaboratively develop the College’s Black History Month programming and communications (December 2021–present).
Beginning in 2022, Innis drew focused attention to Black History Month with dedicated emails from the principal, describing college-based initiatives that focus on the Black student experience and reiterating commitment to combatting anti-Black racism (Feb. 1 and Feb. 23, 2022; Feb. 1, 2023). The emails were opened by 49%, 47%, and 47% of recipients, respectively.
Innis offered three dedicated Black History Month events and programs (Feb. 2023) to Innis students, alumni, and community members, including a film screening, book club, and wellness Q&A. Five events were offered in 2022; two were offered in 2021.
Innis launched the Black Scholars List (February 2021) through the Innis College Library to highlight Black scholars in the fields of cinema studies, urban studies, and writing and rhetoric. This list helps students discover Black scholars, illustrates academic pathways for Black students, and invites community contribution.
Innis initiated a social media campaign, #CelebratingBlackScholars, on the Innis Library Instagram account to regularly spotlight Black scholars. There have been 96 posts since the February 2021 launch.
Innis launched a Black History Month social media campaign (February 2021) to spotlight U of T Libraries collections that feature Black experiences and voices. Innis College Library made weekly social media posts.
Innis added a “Black student” filter to the fastforward search page (December 2021), enabling students to quickly identity and read profiles of Black alumni. Gained permission to retroactively tag seven Black alumni. Recruited new submissions from another 10 Black alumni.
Innis is recruiting additional Black alumni submissions through direct outreach and via the Black Alumni Mentorship Program.
Innis ensured that the diversity of the Innis community — including Black students, alumni, and friends — is well-reflected in Innis Alumni & Friends magazine.
Innis sent a dedicated email to all students (Nov. 2020), including a video from the registrar, describing the process and importance of completing the Equity Census. The email was opened by 56% of recipients. 104 students clicked the Equity Census link. 97 people have watched the video to date.
Beginning August 2022, Innis launched a social media and email campaign to promote the Equity Census (Aug. 29, 2022), highlighting the importance of its identity-based questions. Promotion continued in the inaugural Black Student Experience newsletter (Nov. 23, 2022).
Innis’s registrar worked with the assistant director, at the vice provost – students’ office, to learn more about improvements to the 2021–22 Equity Census, following a June 2021 report by the Equity Census Advisory Roundtable. This report recommended enhancing data collection to provide more meaningful insights linked to identities, including Black student identity.
Innis sent a dedicated email to all students (February 2022) to encourage completion of the Canadian Campus Wellbeing Survey, which gathers university-wide data on student mental health, wellness, and safety, and identities, including Black student identity.
See CTA 7 regarding a new fastforward search filter and CTA 19 regarding the launch of a Black alumni mentorship program.
See CTA 8 regarding promotion of the Equity Census.
Networking and Mentoring
In its Response to the Report of the University of Toronto Anti-Black Racism Task Force, the University accepted and embraced all 56 of the task force’s recommendations, and is currently in the process of implementing them.
See CTA 13 for the University’s response.
Innis collaborated with assistant deans in offices of student life at New, University, and Woodsworth College to launch the first Black Student Orientation from September 6 to 13, 2022. An invitation was sent to all Innis students (August 30, 2022) in tandem with social media promotion.
This working group, which formed in December 2021, continues to explore collaborative opportunities for inter-collegiate Black student-focused programming.
See CTA 15 regarding inter-college collaboration on Black student orientation.
Innis is collaborating with other World University Services Canada (WUSC) Local Committees across the University to better connect Student Refugee Program (SRP) students, many of whom are Black, and to cross-promote opportunities. Winter 2022 programs for SRP students include skills-development sessions and an opportunity to lead workshops for high-school students.
Innis expanded the intake forms for its Office of Student Life’s peer mentorship program (Summer 2022). Participants can request being matched based on multiple interest- and identity-based factors, including Black student identity.
In a related effort, Innis will continue to encourage high-school students from under-represented communities to consider post-secondary education. Since 2019, the Innis Office of Student Life has participated in the SEE U of T program.
See CTA 15 regarding Black student-focused programming during September orientation. Note that “commuter orientation” is currently a day-long pre-orientation event, held by Innis in August.
See CTA 5 regarding the earmarking of Black student-focused content in the Office of Student Life newsletter. That initiative is relevant to the commuter-student population because Innis’s emailed newsletters are the primary vehicle for communicating with non-Innis Residence students. The total newsletter list is comprised of 74% commuter students; of the 960 students who opened the first newsletter, 83% were commuters, representing an above-expected rate of readership by commuter students.
Innis launched a Black Alumni Mentorship Program, within Innis’s existing alumni mentorship program, whereby interested Black students can be individually paired with Black alumni for career and life-skills advising. In its first year (2021/22), the program facilitated four matches (eight participants). An additional three Black alumni registered and are available to be matched.
To streamline mentor recruitment, in the second year of the program (2022/23) Innis expanded the registration form, enabling Black alumni to opt directly into the Black student aspect of the program.
Read about the firsthand experiences of one alumni-student pairing, Tapfuma and Larry, in the 2021/22 edition of Innis College’s magazine.
See CTA 16 regarding outreach to Black clubs, including the Black Students’ Association.
Innis expanded cinema studies and writing and rhetoric print collections in the Innis College Library that feature Black experiences, Black creators and scholars, and anti-Black racism pedagogy. These additions support course instructors in developing course content/syllabi.
The March 2021 Report of the University of Toronto Anti-Black Racism Task Force included several recommendations regarding curricula. The President publicly “accepted and embraced” all 56 recommendations.
Innis offered “Anti-Oppression and Leadership,” with BK Chan, an anti-racism and anti-oppression session for Innis student leaders, as part of the Innis orientation leader-training program (September 4, 2021).
Innis offered “Demystifying the Buzzwords,” with BK Chan, an anti-racism and anti-oppression session for newly admitted students as part of Innis orientation (September 8, 2021).
Innis promoted the Anti-Racism & Cultural Diversity Office’s (ARCDO) harassment and discrimination complaint protocol on Innis’s Inclusion Supports webpage (launched February 2022), under the “I am a Black student” filter.
The March 2021 Report of the University of Toronto Anti-Black Racism Task Force included recommendations regarding complaints and investigation process. The President publicly “accepted and embraced” all 56 recommendations.
See CTA 23 for the University’s responses.
Join the Black Student Experience Working Group
Explore the full report on the BSE at Innis
Learn more about the process leading up to the creation of the BSE Report, and the criteria for the 24 calls to action. Here you’ll find a snapshot of the Black student experience at Innis, as well as an overview of U of T’s response.