LONDON, ONT -- As students return to school at Western University, Black at Western Alumni spokesperson Kizito Serumaga hopes 13 action items outlined in a petition will be enacted upon by the university.

“The goal is to make the university aware that this (racism) is a real issue. Our role would be to spearhead that negotiation and discussion with the university administration as well as to create community safeguards for our Black students on campus,” says Serumaga.

The university says it has had productive discussions with representatives from the Black at Western group, and it is continuing conversations about how their suggested action items can align with and complement the recommendations from the university's anti-racism working group.

Black at Western's petition has more than 7,000 signatures as of Sunday.

Serumaga is also a former president of the Academic Coalition for Racial Equality at Western.

That group was key in the fight against the work of former psychology professor Phillipe Rushton, who was criticized for linking intelligence to race. Western has called Rushton's work "deeply flawed."

“Since we were the students on campus at the time, we knew what it meant, so we felt we had a strong voice in actually speaking towards the issue of how racism is going to be managed on campus,” says Serumaga.

Serumaga is worried that history will repeat itself and is asking the university to focus on clear, concrete and measurable actions to break the cycle of anti-Black racism.

A Western University spokesperson says anti-racism continues to be an important topic of conversation at Western.

“Western has been engaging with the Black at Western group, as well as many other members of our community, and we will continue to do so. It is critically important to hear about these experiences as we chart a better path for Western,” says Marcia Steyaert, with the university’s communications and public affairs department.

Western President Alan Shepard established the anti-racism working group in the fall of 2019 and submitted a set of recommendations this spring.

Western officials say they are committed to taking the following immediate steps:

  • establishing a senior role at the university to help lead EDI efforts. (On Aug. 6, 2020 Nicole Kaniki and Bertha Garcia were named special advisors on anti-racism);
  • establishing a council to advise the various constituents of the university on our ongoing anti-racism and EDI work;
  • including the collection and publication of relevant data, and metrics that measure progress;
  • strengthening our training programs across campus to combat racism. (Last week, the upper-year, undergraduate student volunteers received in-depth anti-racism training leading up to Orientation Week);
  • carrying out an awareness campaign to combat all kinds of racism, especially anti-Black racism and racism against Indigenous communities, and attending to the intersectionality of other kinds of oppression;
  • committing to additional funding for anti-racism, equity and inclusion initiatives. President Shepard has continued a dialogue with the Western community since the release of the working group’s report.