Action Plan for Black ResearchersFootnote 1 (2024–2029)
Phase I

Introduction

Dismantling systemic anti-Black racism is an intergenerational endeavour. As SSHRC participates in this work, it recognizes its responsibility to ensure that Black researchers have fair access to the research support that it administers. It also remains committed to working with stakeholders to advance the equitable participation of Black researchers in the research ecosystem. In 2020, SSHRC developed a work plan to address anti-Black racism in research. This led to the establishment of an external advisory committee of Black researchers. The SSHRC Advisory Committee to Address Anti-Black Racism in Research and Research Training (“the Advisory Committee”) met from 2021 to 2022. The present action plan is based on the findings and recommendations of the Advisory Committee’s Final Report (2023), benefiting from 33 additional interactive engagement sessions held in the fall of 2023, with over 230 participants, consisting principally of Black faculty from universities and Black graduate students.

Background

This work was initiated in response to an unprecedented public discussion on anti-Black racism that followed the murder of George Floyd and the increased prominence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. SSHRC’s efforts can also be situated within the wider context of a whole-of-government commitment to improve the lives of Black Canadians.

At the invitation of the Government of Canada, the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent visited Canada in 2016, meeting with officials and community groups. Its report noted the following:

Despite Canada’s reputation for promoting multiculturalism and diversity and the positive measures taken to address racial discrimination, the Working Group is deeply concerned about the human rights situation of African Canadians. Canada’s history of enslavement, racial segregation and marginalization has had a deleterious impact on people of African descent, which must be addressed in partnership with communities. Across the country, many people of African descent continue to live in poverty and poor health, have low educational attainment and are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. It is important to underline that the experience of African Canadians is unique because of the particular history of anti-Black racism in Canada, which is traceable to slavery and its legacy, through specific laws and practices enforcing segregation in education, residential accommodation, employment and other economic opportunities. History informs anti-Black racism and racial stereotypes that are so deeply entrenched in institutions, policies and practices, that its institutional and systemic forms are either functionally normalized or rendered invisible, especially to the dominant group.Footnote 2

In 2018, one year after receiving this report, the Government of Canada officially recognized the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). Since that time, Canadian public policies have addressed the Decade’s themes of justice, recognition and development, as they are experienced in the lives of Black Canadians. The Speech from the Throne for the current Parliament (2021) affirmed its commitment to address systemic racism and to continue to invest in the empowerment of Black and racialized Canadians. In the field of higher education, the 2022 federal budget invested $40.9 million over five years and $9.7 million ongoing to support scholarships and fellowships for Black research trainees at the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels. This programming is now being administered by the three federal granting agencies and represents SSHRC’s only direct funding of undergraduate trainees.

Underrepresentation of Black researchers

Black Canadians come from a wide diversity of backgrounds yet have faced a common reality of racial discrimination. Contemporary forms of anti-Black racism are rooted in a long history of European imperialism in Africa and the enslavement of Africans and their descendants in settler colonies across the Americas. For over 400 years, people of African descent have contributed to the growth of New France, British North America, and Canada. While slavery in Canada ended legally in the early 19th century, its effects continue to be felt in policies, practices and norms reproduced through social institutions.

In particular, a history of school segregation and university exclusion in Canada has left a legacy of the underrepresentation of Black people in postsecondary institutions, particularly universities.Footnote 3 This is evident in the percentage of researchers who identify as Black among total SSHRC grant applicants and recipients. Across various funding opportunities, approximately 3% of SSHRC grant holders are Black.Footnote 4 According to the 2021 census, Black Canadians make up 4.3% (1.5 million) of the Canadian population, with variations based on region (8.1% in Montreal, 7.9% in Toronto, 5% each in Ontario and Quebec) and age (5.8% of the population aged 15 to 24 nationally).Footnote 5 The Black Canadian population is growing faster than the total population, rising 21.5% from 2016 to 2021.Footnote 6 On this basis, the rate at which Black Canadians apply to and are awarded SSHRC funding opportunities is lower than any other census group that is aggregated under the broad employment equity category of racialized (“visible minority”) Canadians.

Action Plan for Black Researchers (2024–2029)

SSHRC supports excellence in research and understands that this mission can only be achieved by meeting the two objectives of the Tri-Agency EDI Action Plan, namely that all researchers (1) have fair access to funding opportunities, and (2) are able to fully participate in the research enterprise. In working towards these twin objectives, SSHRC has learned, both from the report of the Advisory Committee and through our ongoing engagement with stakeholders, that, in practice, many organizational equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) policies have yet to adequately address the specific needs of Black people. Generalized approaches that focus on the four designated equity groups, or approaches that address racism in general, obscure the particular nature of anti-Black racism and its manifestations. In implementing the Tri-Agency EDI Action Plan, SSHRC has identified the need for a dedicated action plan for Black researchers, given the barriers that are the result of systemic anti-Black racism.

SSHRC’s approach to EDI is structured around five pillars. This is also seen in the Report of the Advisory Committee. The first two pillars, (1) Fair access and (2) Equitable participation, constitute the twin objectives of the Tri-Agency EDI Action Plan. Complementing these, SSHRC currently communicates to the research community the importance of (3) EDI considerations in research design and practice and (4) The role of social sciences and humanities research to advance EDI in society. The action plan for Black researchers adapts this framework to identify four objectives to support Black researchers.

  1. Fair access for Black researchers to SSHRC research support—SSHRC will identify ways to increase application and award rates of Black researchers. This includes a comprehensive program review to remove discriminatory barriers rooted in anti-Black racism.
  2. Equitable participation of Black researchers in the research ecosystem—SSHRC will identify ways to advance the full participation of Black researchers, working with Black researchers, with postsecondary institutions, and with other key actors and networks across the ecosystem.
  3. Intersectional approaches to research and research assessment—SSHRC will articulate guiding principles for intersectional approaches to research design and practice that substantively integrate considerations of anti-Black racism and its impacts. These principles will inform SSHRC policies and programs, including its suite of tools for merit review.
  4. Priority social sciences and humanities research—SSHRC will find ways to support (a) the interdisciplinary field of Black Studies, which has been historically underfunded, and (b) studies that inform public policy goals related to the elimination of anti-Black racism.

SSHRC is aware of the important role it plays in the research ecosystem and, as an organization, it strives to be an inclusive and equitable workplace for all, including its Black employees.

SSHRC launches this plan in the closing year of the International Decade for People of African Descent cognizant of the need to adopt what the Advisory Committee called “long-term goals” to achieve “long-term change.”

In Phase I—the first year of the plan—SSHRC will undertake a holistic review of policies and programs, processes, and practices, using an intersectional impact analysis to remove structural barriers facing individual researchers. At the same time, it will identify opportunities to influence, impact and incentivize change in the wider research ecosystem. It will also develop specific indicators, measurement and reporting tools, and a schedule to report results.

This action plan is the result of a process of learning that has spanned several years. SSHRC’s understanding of the needs of Black researchers will continue to evolve in an ongoing dialogue with stakeholders. The action plan remains an evergreen document and SSHRC is grateful to those who have engaged in this work, and thanks in advance its future collaborators.

Objective 1
Black researchers have fair access to SSHRC research support

Key challenges

  • Low application rates among those who self-identify as Black; underrepresenting the eligible population and the Canadian population.
  • Stakeholders find the merit review process insufficiently transparent in terms of criteria, methods, selection rationales.
  • Stakeholder experiences of prejudicial remarks in written feedback.
  • Lack of trust in a fair process; reluctance to re-apply based on negative past experiences.

Strategic outcomes

  • SSHRC’s merit review process is recognized as fair and transparent.
  • Application rates and award rates of Black researchers increase to representative levels.
Intermediate outcomes Lines of action
1.1 Application processes are fair and accessible Review of SSHRC’s application processes, to identify and remove structural barriers; tools and resources to support applicants
1.2 Merit review processes are fair and transparent Review of merit review processes, including committee membership composition; training and guidelines for reviewers; applicant feedback practices, aiming to increase transparency of criteria and decision-making.
1.3 Goals and application/award rates are monitored and reported Establishment of fair access goals and associated indicators; annual reporting based on analysis of data from Canadian population, available research population, and SSHRC application/award rates, disaggregated by racialization and other variables.
1.4 Appropriate special measures Develop program policy instruments to support the design of special measures that can deliver results on fair access goals, especially considering measures that have the potential to incentivize positive systemic change.

Objective 2
Equitable participation of Black researchers in the research ecosystem

Key challenges

  • The percentage of graduate students, faculty and postsecondary administrators who are Black remains underrepresentative.Footnote 7
  • Black faculty often face disproportionate administrative requests (e.g., EDI committees, mentoring of Black students and colleagues).
  • Exclusion and isolation create barriers to career progression.
  • There are inadequate institutional support mechanisms to protect those harmed by anti-Black racism.
  • Black-led networks within and between institutions are still emergent.
  • Low awareness of existing funding opportunities may be impacting application rates.

Strategic outcomes

  • SSHRC leverages its programming and policy leadership to advance excellence in research that is inclusive of Black researchers.
  • Black researchers fully participate in the research ecosystem.
Intermediate outcomes Lines of action
2.1 Funding opportunities incentivize change Review of programs and consideration of special measures (Objective 1) should be undertaken considering the potential benefits to the wider research ecosystem, such as Black-led capacity-building initiatives, mentorships, etc.
2.2 SSHRC plays a research policy leadership role addressing anti-Black racism SSHRC can consolidate an online, evergreen toolkit with existing EDI policies and update it with new materials on the equitable inclusion of Black researchers. SSHRC can use its convening influence to promote interinstitutional learning on effective antidiscrimination policies and mechanisms to increase safety for Black people who are subject to harm from anti-Black racism.
2.3 SSRCH collaborates with Black-led networks to support researchers Co-host workshops with existing networks and associations to increase awareness of SSHRC funding opportunities, application processes, and merit review, etc.
2.4 SSHRC collaborates with others to advance equitable participation of Black researchers a) The Scarborough Charter—SSHRC promotes the Scarborough Charter and values its collaboration with the interagency coordinating committee.
b) Black researchers—through ongoing updates and dialogue, SSHRC will aim to strengthen relations with stakeholders who have contributed greatly to this work.
c) SSHRC Leaders—this network can be an effective means to share information with institutions and spotlight successes related to these objectives.
d) Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, ACFAS—at Congress, ACFAS, and other humanities and social sciences focused events, SSHRC will promote this action plan and provide updates on its progress.
e) Research administrators—SSHRC can engage the Canadian Association of Research Administrators in this action plan.
f) Granting agencies—SSHRC can promote the goals of this Action Plan within a tri-agency setting and with other federal and provincial partners in the Canadian research ecosystem.
g) Federal partners—SSHRC will continue to align with whole of government priorities that support Black Canadians and their communities.

Objective 3
Intersectional approaches to research design and practice

Key challenges

  • The research evaluation environment is complex; reviewers face numerous considerations.
  • Anti-Black racism in research cannot be addressed in an additive or piecemeal fashion.
  • Most GBA Plus / EDI tools predate the recognition of the systemic nature of anti-Black racism.
  • Researchers often associate “EDI” with organizational (i.e., human resources) policies.
  • Stakeholders prefer to analyze research design and practice via intersectional approaches that include an anti-Black racism lens; yet such approaches frequently face “a culture of pushback.”
  • There is a need for guidelines for ethical research undertaken together with Black communities.

Strategic outcomes

  • SSHRC’s merit review is guided by principles that promote intersectional analyses of research design and practice and that substantively integrate considerations of anti-Black racism.
  • SSHRC’s suite of research policy documents and merit review tools are revised to respect those principles.
Intermediate outcomes Lines of action
3.1 SSHRC advances intersectional approaches to research design and practice SSHRC will develop principles to guide intersectional approaches that specifically address anti-Black racism; update existing policies and guidelines accordingly; and ensure that SSHRC program teams and members of review committees can apply intersectional approaches to research review.
3.2 Ethical research with Black communities is informed by the legacies of anti-Black racism The development of guidelines for ethical conduct for research with Black communities, which would be complementary to existing tri-agency frameworks and statements, should address intergenerational consequences that are specific to anti-Black racism.

Objective 4
Priority support for social sciences and humanities research

Key challenges

  • To address the harms inflicted and the costs incurred by anti-Black racism, society requires the knowledge generated by research undertaken in the social sciences and humanities.
  • Black researchers remain underrepresented in the Canadian research community.
  • Research on the experiences of Black people has been marginalized and historically underfunded.
  • Few peer review committee members have expertise in the interdisciplinary field of Black studies; few are familiar with Afro-centric academic literatures and approaches.

Strategic outcomes

  • SSHRC supports research that has been historically underfunded due to racism against Black people, notably the interdisciplinary field of Black studies.
  • SSHRC-supported research benefits Canadian society by informing public policy that tackles anti-Black racism.
Intermediate outcomes Lines of action
4.1 SSHRC supports the interdisciplinary field of Black studies As it reviews merit review processes, SSHRC will explore ways to support Black studies, such as guidelines for merit review, and/or the feasibility of a dedicated interdisciplinary peer review committee for Black studies.
4.2 SSHRC supports priority-driven research on anti-Black racism Explore ways to create and mobilize knowledge to support evidence-based public policy to tackle societal issues rooted in anti-Black racism.
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