Ultra Vires


Five Equity-Facing Groups Pen Open Letter to the Deans’ Office

Students call for the Faculty to improve equity training, hire more racialized faculty, and modify curriculum to recognize legacy of colonialism

On August 10, five equity groups at the law school — Asia Law Society (ALS), Black Law Students Association (BLSA), Indigenous Law Students Association (ILSA), Out in Law (OIL), and South Asian Law Students Association (SALSA) — sent an open letter to the Deans’ Office to address gaps in the school’s current approach to equity, diversity, and inclusion.

The letter centers on the Faculty’s position of power as one of Canada’s preeminent legal institutions and its obligation to “ensure students are well-equipped to recognize and dismantle systemic racism within the legal sphere.” The letter emphasizes how systemic racism manifests, including the pervasiveness of colonial theory in the curriculum, the interconnectedness of “firm fit” with white supremacy, patriarchy, and classism, and the historic underrepresentation of marginalized communities within the student body, faculty, and staff of the law school.

The letter concludes with detailed calls to action separated into short-, medium-, and long-term recommendations. Highlights of the calls to action include improved student equity training to better recognize the lived experiences of students from traditionally unrecognized backgrounds, increased hiring of racialized faculty members, and a modified curriculum that reflects the legacy of colonialism in the law. 

“The idea of a letter arose after a conversation between equity-facing groups and marginalized students in June and responds to the renewed attention to racism across Canada,” says Asha Gordon (2L), Co-President of BLSA. “We looked at the different initiatives that equity-facing groups are working on and how we could use our positionality as law students and as future lawyers to create change.”

The groups chose the format of an open letter to emphasize everybody at the Faculty’s collective responsibility to address systemic racism. “It was a good choice because it captures that it is an ongoing conversation with everyone and that it is everybody’s job to put in the work,” says Karlie Nordstrom (2L), Co-President of ILSA.

The letter went through multiple iterations and drafts on a shared Google Doc. “Working together with the other equity-facing groups really emphasized allyship,” says Dhriti Chakravarty (2L), Co-President of SALSA, “I feel like the groups will be working together a lot more and I am really excited to see that.”

“It was particularly encouraging to have these discussions with other equity groups in that we shared many of the same concerns, which wasn’t so apparent to me beforehand,” says Daniel Yang (3L), Co-President of OIL. 

“What stood out to me was the level of collaboration between the equity-facing groups and I look forward to more opportunities to work together,” says Rebecca Xie (2L), Co-President of ALS. 

While there has not been a public response by the Faculty to the open letter, representatives from ALS, BLSA, ILSA, OIL, and SALSA met with Dean Edward Iacobucci, Associate Dean Christopher Essert, and Assistant Dean Alexis Archbold in early September to discuss the calls to action in the open letter. The representatives also met with Assistant Dean Archbold, Assistant Dean Sara Faherty, and Student Mental Health and Wellness Program Manager Terry Gardiner on a separate occasion in September to discuss the equity and professionalism training for first-year students. 

As of the date of publication, the letter has 156 signatures from various student organizations, including Ultra Vires, current students, and alumni of the Faculty. “The engagement has been a great starting point and I hope it remains consistent because racism and its effects on marginalized communities is an ongoing issue,” says Gordon. 

*Editor’s Note: Annecy Pang is Co-President of the Asia Law Society. Ultra Vires, as well as members of its editorial board, is a signatory to the open letter

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