International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Conference

March 21, 2019

IDERD Conference

Remarks for President Gertler

Check against delivery.

Thank you, Kelly. Good morning, everyone.

I am very pleased to be here, and to join you in this vital and urgent conversation.

Let me begin by echoing Professor Hannah-Moffat’s words of appreciation. To our hosts and partners here at Hart House… our keynote speaker and panelists… and to the organizing committee for today’s conference… thank you for making this event possible and for bringing it to fruition.

Let me also mention the teams in our tri-campus Equity Offices and equity-related groups. The work you do, day in and day out – and often in the face of very challenging circumstances – represents an indispensable service to our community. Thank you.

Reading the news these days – most recently, the news of distressing and tragic events in Christchurch, NZ – it is clear that our circumstances are indeed challenging. Tribalism, nationalism, racism, sexism, xenophobia… all seem to be on the rise in many corners of the world. This is one of the reasons why the theme of this year’s Conference, [“Why Anti-Racism Work Still Matters within Learning Communities and Beyond”], is so timely and important. We know we still have much work to do in the fight against racism, prejudice and discrimination – and how important it is to reaffirm the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion.

In this light, I want to elaborate on something Professor Hannah-Moffat said a few minutes ago, when she alluded to the relationship between equity, diversity and excellence. As the University of Toronto’s Statement on Equity, Diversity, and Excellence makes clear:

“we strive to be an equitable and inclusive community, rich with diversity, protecting the human rights of all persons”.

This commitment is, first and foremost, a moral imperative.

But it is also an essential component in achieving our goal of excellence in research and education. We are extremely fortunate that U of T is one of the world’s most diverse and inclusive institutions of higher education. The literature on innovation suggests that this is a huge advantage. After all, novel ideas and breakthrough insights are most likely to arise in social environments in which a rich array of perspectives and experiences come into consistent contact with one another. This observation also reminds us why outstanding scholarship, teaching, and learning can thrive only in an inclusive and supportive environment – an environment in which all students, staff, and faculty enjoy the opportunity to participate fully and equally. Thus, equity, diversity, and inclusion are essential ingredients in advancing discovery, understanding, and the human condition.

An equitable and inclusive working and learning environment creates the conditions for our diverse faculty, staff and student body to maximize their creativity and their contributions, thereby supporting excellence in all dimensions of the institution. These same principles apply beyond our campuses, as well, of course. Extraordinary diversity is also one of the Toronto region’s great strengths. Such diversity is a powerful force for education and discovery, but it is also a powerful force for social, cultural, artistic, and political advancement. It is no accident that the most progressive and prosperous places on earth are typically also the most diverse, inclusive, and equitable. Of The Economist’s top ten most livable cities in the world, eight have foreign-born populations of at least 25% – and most of them are much higher than that. Toronto leads the way with more than 50% of its residents having been born outside of Canada.

This fact has major implications for the University of Toronto. It reminds us of our social obligation to ensure that this institution remains accessible to the widest range of students, no matter what their financial means or their social, ethnic or racial background. Our success in achieving this goal will make both the University and the city around us stronger. It also reminds us how important it is to reflect the diversity of the GTA in our own community of faculty and staff – and I acknowledge that there is still more work to be done here.

So, the struggle against racism is both a moral imperative and a recognition that excellence and prosperity can only be achieved together. This is another reason why anti-racism work still matters within learning communities and beyond.

On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we must recommit ourselves to supporting and empowering one another. We must provide opportunities for all members of our community to engage with each other, understand each other, respect our differences, learn – and thrive.

I am grateful and proud to be part of this conference. And I thank you for the opportunity to speak with you this morning.