Heads of Ryerson School of Journalism steps down amid calls to address racism

People arrive at Sheldon & Tracy Levy Student Learning Center at Ryerson University on Oct. 20, 2020. Zou Zheng/Xinhua via ZUMA Press

TORONTO — The heads of a prestigious journalism program at a Toronto university have stepped down amid calls for sweeping changes at the school to address systemic racism and discrimination.

Janice Neil, the chair of the Ryerson School of Journalism, and Lisa Taylor, associate chair and the school’s undergraduate program director, resigned on Sunday.

Both noted in their resignation letters that they had worked to address issues of systemic racism and discrimination at the school during their years as leaders.

On Monday morning, Ryerson journalism students issued a public letter accusing the school of failing to represent and support Black, Indigenous, people of colour and LGBTQ students in the program.

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The letter said the school has contributed to an unsafe learning environment rife with discrimination that has left students traumatized.

In an email to The Canadian Press on Monday evening, Neil said that under her leadership, the school had increased diversity of the teaching faculty, introduced new courses about reporting on race, Indigenous issues and the LGBTQ community, and offered mental health supports for students.

But Neil also acknowledged that many students think change has not come fast enough or is broad enough to make an impact.

“One of the things I’ve learned as a leader is to recognize when It’s time for a major reset and that time is now,” she wrote. “To get to the next level will require different leadership.”

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In her resignation letter, Lisa Taylor explained her reason for stepping down.

“Some students don’t believe that I’m in their corner, which means they may not turn to me if they’re in need, and having an undergraduate program director who is a trusted resource for only some students is truly inequitable,” she wrote.

A spokeswoman for Ryerson said the school “continues to acknowledge the work that needs to be done to address systemic racism” and will continue to take concrete steps to address the students’ concerns.

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