Back to top

02.19.21 – Doing better together: An update from Interim Dean Robert Wright

Dear students, faculty, and staff – 

A lot has happened at the Daniels Faculty since September, and I am thrilled to welcome two new leaders.  

First, if you have not had a chance to read the announcement, please join me in welcoming Juan Du to the Daniels Faculty. Professor Du, an internationally renowned architectural scholar whose work focuses on urban development and marginalized groups, will join us as dean effective July 1, 2021. Professor Du’s socially conscious outlook, and her demonstrated skill at research and administration, make her the ideal person to lead our school into the future. Read the announcement

As we start 2021, we also welcome Elder Whabagoon –– our inaugural First Peoples Leadership Advisor to the Dean. Elder Whabagoon will advise the Faculty on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and evaluate our curriculum and programs through an Indigenous lens. As a Faculty, we have much to learn from the First Peoples and I'm honoured that Elder Whabagoon has agreed to guide us through that process. This new appointment is an important step in walking this path. Read the announcement.  

I can also share that we will complete the interview process for the Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in March. This critical new role will sit jointly between the Daniels Faculty and U of T’s Division of Human Resources and Equity. Please stay tuned for the announcement later this term.  

This update comes to you in February as we celebrate Black History Month across Canada. I encourage you to look through the calendar of upcoming programs from U of T’s Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office and read the update from the Daniels Faculty’s work-study students linked below, which includes a list of student clubs and initiatives. 

Although we have made progress, we have a lot more work ahead of us. Making essential changes in dealing with systemic racism will require a continuous and sustained effort. I thank everyone who has been helping to push us forward as a community. I will continue to provide updates on behalf of the Faculty and the Diversity and Equity Committee as we work toward a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture at the Daniels Faculty. 

Diversity and Equity Committee Meetings 

The committee will meet four times during the winter term: February 12; February 25; March 12; and March 26. The second meeting on February 25 will be a conversation with Elder Whabagoon. If you wish to join a committee meeting as a guest, please contact Harold Tan, harold.tan@daniels.utoronto.ca. (All meeting minutes are published online). 

Work-Study Research and Communications Progress 

The Diversity and Equity Committee created eight work-study positions during the fall term to provide paid opportunities for in-depth student participation in researching issues related to racism, and to help develop strategies to address those issues. A special thank you to our first cohort of work-study research and communications assistants for their hard work and insights. From course outline evaluations and communications audits, to an updated resource list and an equity-focused social media survey, take a closer look at the progress they’ve made over the past few months: read the newsletter here.

Trainings and Events 

In October 2020, the committee hired anti-Black racism consultants David Lewis-Peart and Nailah Tyrell. As the first step in their audit of the Daniels Faculty, Mr. Lewis-Peart and Ms. Tyrell are conducting a survey of faculty, staff members, and students. They will follow up with interviews and focus group conversations this winter in preparation for anti-Black racism training later in the term.  

In response to requests for further training, the committee organized an unconscious bias training workshop led by the Toronto Initiative for Diversity & Excellence (TIDE) on October 28, 2020. Indigenous cultural competency trainer John Croutch led the workshop “Reconciliation: Walking the Path of Indigenous Allyship,” on January 27, 2021. Both trainings were open to all faculty and staff members, student union representatives, and the committee’s work-study assistants. 

I hope that you were able to join us for the Daniels Faculty’s instalment in the Pan-Canada Lecture series on January 26. “In Conversation with BAIDA” (Black Architects and Interior Designers Association) invited six members to share their work within the organization, and their individual experiences leading up to and within the fields of architecture and interior design. If you were not able to make it live, you can watch the event recording on YouTube. Thank you to the BAIDA panelists and the student organizers from AVSSU and GALDSU for their thoughtful leadership. A second collaboration with BAIDA is being planned for fall 2021 to allow for a discussion of evolving questions around anti-Black racism work in the design professions. 

Jane Wolff, the Diversity and Equity Committee Chair, met with Karima Hashmani, U of T’s Executive Director, Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office, for her guidance on appropriate metrics and indices for assessing the diversity of our faculty complement. And as part of continuing efforts to make diversity, equity, and anti-racism integral subjects in our curricula, the committee met with MLA, MUD, MArch, and BAAS program directors to assess changes made in fall 2020. A follow-up meeting will be scheduled to debrief the winter 2021 term as well. Based on these debriefs, the committee will create a best practices document to assist in planning for the 2021/2022 academic year. 

As we mark the first months of 2021 off our calendars, I continue to be impressed, but not surprised, by the resilience of our community. I want to remind all of you that your physical and mental well-being remains our highest priority. You can find support and services at mentalhealth.utoronto.ca, and please ask for help should you need it. 

With gratitude, 

Robert Wright 
Interim Dean