University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

The Diversity Connection

U of T’s diversity makes it a great place to learn intercultural competence

As a public research university, the University of Toronto is privileged to be situated in the Greater Toronto Area. Our location in this vibrant multicultural metropolis is a major source of strength, allowing us to draw upon a local student population that comes from just about every nation on Earth. It is a strong attraction for faculty from all over the world who want to live, teach and do research in an environment rich in diversity of cultures, languages and ideas.

The single most important skill to acquire in the 21st century is “intercultural competence,” according to a recent address by Dr. Juan Ramón de la Fuente, the rector of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. There is no better place to gain this competence than at the University of Toronto. The annual survey we undertake to monitor accessibility to the University of Toronto asks undergraduate students to describe their ethnocultural background. Fifty per cent identify themselves as visible minorities.

To remain accessible to students of various incomes, we have in place a financial-aid policy that guarantees that no student who is admitted to the University of Toronto will be unable to enter or complete his or her program due to lack of financial means. We provide $30 million in need-based student aid to undergraduate students each year and an additional $8 million in scholarships. We are exploring ways to improve student aid so that our students are not left with unmanageable debt loads upon graduation.

We also continue to engage in outreach programs to communities that are not well represented at the University of Toronto. For example, the president’s office has recently undertaken to work closely with the Pathways to Education program associated with the Regent Park Community Health Centre. Our collaboration is designed to help make the University of Toronto an accessible goal for economically disadvantaged young people living in the Regent Park area of the city, some of whom are at risk of dropping out of high school.

While the diversity of our faculty has been slower to change, we are seeing clear signs of improvement. Of our current faculty, about one in 10 is a visible minority; however, on average, one in four of our new hires over the past three years has been a visible minority, and we expect this proportion to increase over time. In preparation for a turnover of about 40 per cent of our faculty in this decade, we havebeen putting in place supports for our departments to become more innovative and broad-based in their faculty searches. We do not endorse “affirmative action” plans that involve quotas, because the excellent scholars who are visible minorities rightly want to know that they have been hired entirely on the basis of their work, as we well know they deserve to be. We believe that by drawing on the largest possible pool of candidates, by being as inclusive as possible and by proactively recruiting potential faculty members from visible minority cohorts, we will guarantee diversity and excellence.

The University of Toronto is a microcosm of the world itself. In such a multicultural environment, misunderstandings can easily arise. The many tensions that exist around the world can be reflected on campus. I am especially proud of our measured responses to the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. As the world faces ever-growing dangers, I am confident that our diversity will help us continue to build a community of tolerance, understanding and respect. As an institution that aspires to be among the best public research universities in the world, we will fulfil our role as a leading university by letting diversity be our strength.

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