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

Janice Neil

The head of a prestigious journalism program at a Toronto university has 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, said in a tweet on Sunday that she is stepping down, but provided no reasons for her decision.

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.

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

Neil did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but a  school spokeswoman said Ryerson “continues to acknowledge the work that needs to be done to address systemic racism.”

In response to a petition created by four graduating students, this fall Ryerson will offer a new course, “Reporting on Race: The Black community in the media.”

Recent alumnae Rosemary Akpan, Sara Jabakhanji, Tiffany Mongu, and Breanna Xavier-Carter created the petition on June 9,, demanding a Black-Canadian reporting course be implemented at Ryerson. The petition quickly garnered hundreds of signatures and currently sits at close to 4,000 signees.

The petition cited a 2010 study from Ryerson, which outlined the vast underrepresentation of visible minorities in the Canadian media industry.

The study highlights how visible minorities make up less than five per cent of media leaders and decisionmakers. It also recognizes that the media often portrays stereotypical narratives of underrepresented groups, which can “demean and marginalize” Black community members.

The petition also  called for more academic recognition for Black students in the journalism school, specifically, awards and scholarships.