Nicole Kaniki and Bertha Garcia named special advisors on anti-racism
By Jeff Renaud
Appointed special advisors to President Alan Shepard on anti-racism in August, Dr. Nicole Kaniki and Dr. Bertha Garcia will help Western lay the foundation for a sustained strategy to combat racism on campus.
These interim appointments are among a series of next steps Western announced on June 22 in response to the report and recommendations of the President’s Anti-Racism Working Group (ARWG).
Kaniki and Garcia, both of whom were members of the ARWG, will hold the roles while Western formally establishes a new senior administrative position dedicated to anti-racism initiatives – a permanent role President Shepard aims to have in place later this year, and one that requires governance approval.
“Nicole and Bertha have earned high regard in their roles at Western, and I know they will bring terrific energy and enthusiasm to the work we have ahead of us,” said President Shepard.
Together, Kaniki and Garcia will advise President Shepard on a structure for an equity council (one of the ARWG’s 23 recommendations), drafting terms of reference for the council and helping to launch it.
Kaniki, MSc’11, PhD’16, is the equity, diversity and inclusion specialist at BrainsCAN, Western’s $66-million neuroscience research initiative supported by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund. Under her guidance the EDI program at BrainsCAN has become a leader at Western and in neuroscience across Canada. She is the architect of a training program focused on EDI in research, which has seen participation from researchers across the university.
Kaniki believes society is experiencing a defining moment as the world faces the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and sees a renewed strength in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“As a Black individual working on diversity, this is an exciting time because never before have we had people listen and ally with us in bringing our voices to the table,” said Kaniki. “That is the most exciting part for me and our communities. It is unfortunate that it took such deplorable human tragedy to force a global shift but I am confident that times are changing, especially for equity, diversity and inclusion at Western.”
A long-time champion of women in medicine and a celebrated educator, Garcia is a professor in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. She is also currently serving as acting vice-dean and director of dentistry.
After receiving a medical degree in her native Peru, Garcia came to Canada to pursue postgraduate education and experienced many challenges as a woman, an immigrant and a medical trainee.
“As a member of the Anti-Racism Working Group, I was moved by the many voices we heard from our students, faculty and staff and now have a much deeper understanding of the current and past challenges they encountered,” said Garcia. “I am optimistic that under Alan’s leadership we will be able to develop and implement key changes to begin to lessen the burden currently being carried by members of the Western community.”
Since sharing the University’s response to the ARWG report, President Shepard has continued a dialogue with the Western community. Student and alumni groups have offered additional feedback, and one group has submitted 13 action items to address anti-black racism specifically.
“We welcome these continuing conversations,” said Shepard, noting that all of the 13 newly suggested action items align with the ARWG’s 23 recommendations. “This kind of dialogue will enrich our thinking and help hold Western accountable for taking significant and concrete steps forward.”
The university also plans to include representatives from the alumni community on the equity council, to provide ongoing guidance and advice on equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives.
As President Shepard looks to the future for Western, he reflected again on the harm caused in the past, in particular the work of former Western researcher Philippe Rushton.
“As my colleagues in our psychology department recently acknowledged, ‘Rushton’s legacy shows that the impact of flawed science lingers on’ and continues to be used by white supremacists despite ‘deeply flawed assumptions and methodologies’. Once again, I want to apologize for the profound harm this has caused, and continues to cause, in our community and beyond,” said Shepard.
“We have a fundamental responsibility to create a better and more just world. I am grateful that Western has an engaged community ready to help us make the university stronger. These conversations are more important now than ever before.”