In Solidarity - Letter to the Interim Dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health Regarding the Anti-Black Racism of Marcos Sanches
To: Adalsteinn Brown, Interim Dean of Dalla Lana School of Public Health

Re: Marcos Sanches’ Anti-Black Racist Comments

It has come to our attention that this past weekend, an adjunct lecturer at Dalla Lana School of Public Health (DLSPH), Marcos Sanches, was recorded calling Dr. Rinaldo Walcott, Director of the University of Toronto’s Women and Gender Studies Institute, a racial slur on a public forum. Specifically Mr. Sanches called Dr. Walcott an “ape” in response to a tweet discussing usage of the term white. Mr. Sanches then defended his rhetoric, and claimed that his ignorance was simply being misunderstood as he was coming from a “purely scientific perspective”. Mr. Sanches’ biological arguments aside, there is a clear and well documented history on the usage of ape as a slur against people of African descent. We are writing to express our disapproval of these remarks, which are unacceptable from any member of this university, but especially from a DLSPH faculty member. His anti-Black racism should not go unaddressed.

We implore you to take action to address racism at DLSPH, by not just reprimanding Mr. Sanches behind closed doors, but by transforming the school into a space that takes anti-oppression and anti-racism seriously. Despite health inequities appearing prominently in the portfolios of many of our students, staff, and faculty, DLSPH's unwillingness to address its’ owns structural oppression persists. There is a noticeable lack of Black faculty members within DLSPH and this underrepresentation undermines the school’s public stance on diversity. As Interim Dean, you are well positioned to ensure that preventive measures to promote racial equity at DLSPH are implemented swiftly.

As students, alumni, faculty, and staff, it is deeply concerning to us to have faculty members who think, feel, and act in oppressive ways, counted among the ranks of this institution. The attitudes expressed by Mr. Sanches can have tangible negative effects on the health and wellbeing of students and coworkers he interacts with. Mr. Sanches’ claimed ignorance on race issues and willingness to say harmful things in a public space are in direct opposition to the values of DLSPH, which include equity and social responsibility. His actions also lead us to question what other harmful things he has said or done in an academic setting. Having someone who is racist as an educator of the next generation of public health professionals is frightening: how can we trust that he will not marginalize the students of colour in his class? How can we trust that he will not further instill and justify these views for the white students in his class? Racism from an employee that goes unaddressed is both a symptom of, and contributing factor toward systemic racism, which should be of deep concern for DLSPH. This type of action in the public sphere, against a highly prominent and renowned Black scholar, director, and activist, is reflective of the entire school, its student body, and alumnus, and is a stain on the reputation of DLSPH.

Next steps for this issue need to be taken with transparency and authenticity to ensure an appropriate response to the situation. First and foremost, DLSPH must hold Marcos Sanches accountable for his actions. His pleas of ignorance on issues of race are insufficient, particularly given he continues to state harmful opinions; for example he believes the racial category ‘white’ is offensive. Ignorance about issues of power and oppression by people with power (such as those in teaching positions), has serious negative consequences. It is Mr. Sanches' responsibility to understand how racism operates, and to relearn patterned behaviours of oppression. As an employer, DLSPH has a responsibility to hold Marcos Sanches accountable to addressing his ignorance: he must seek out continuous education and training on anti-oppression and anti-racism; he must make a meaningful apology that centres issues of race, power, and privilege; and he must reflect on his actions, and change his behaviour in the future. This process must include and be accountable to Black students at DLSPH, and we request a formal report on Mr. Sanches’ progress on the above demands in six months time.

Beyond this individual, DLSPH must also be accountable to its students, which can be achieved through the following demands:

1) Develop an open process to transparently respond to and address anti-Black racism expressed by faculty, staff, and students. This process must include Black, Indigenous, and racialized students at DLSPH, and must be consistently accountable directly to Black students at DLSPH.

2) New resources must be put immediately into ongoing staff and faculty anti-oppression/anti-racism training that occurs on an annual basis for core faculty, and biannually for status faculty. This training should be done by external parties to DLSPH.

3) New staff need to be hired on a full-time basis to fulfill any recommendations set forth by the Diversity and Equity committee. We are aware that DLSPH is currently seeking a part-time hire as a Diversity and Equity Officer, but it is clear that moves towards equitable change in DLSPH must occur at a faster pace. This work must be conducted on a full-time basis.

4) As DLSPH continues to hire new tenure-track faculty, all hiring committee members must undergo anti-racism training specific to institutional discrimination in hiring.

5) Equity should be a core competency for all new faculty and staff positions, and integrated into existing interview questions.

6) Equity and anti-racism must be integrated into all existing curriculum at DLSPH.

7) Introduce additional courses focusing explicitly on the relationship between racism and health in DLSPH. For example, methods in social epidemiology, or sociology of race and health.

8) Revisit the recommendations made in the 1999 Report on Ethno-Racial Diversity written by DLSPH and implement them in coordination with the full-time Diversity and Equity Officer.

We expect an open response to this letter in the next week with concrete plans for the upcoming academic year. We see this as a pressing matter not just affecting Black students in public health, but the entire University of Toronto student, faculty, and staff body.

Regards,

Black Public Health Students' Collective (Any questions, contact blackphsc@gmail.com)

cc:
Dr. Nancy Baxter, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs
Dr. Wendy Lou, Division Head of Biostatistics
Dr. Carol Strike, Division Head of SBHS
Dr. David Fisman, Division Head of Epidemiology
Dr. Ross Upshur, Division Head of Clinical Public Health
Dr. James Scott, Division Head of Occupational Health


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