Response to Open Letters

Jun 9, 2021

Dear colleagues,

In recent weeks, our community has been shaken by the tragic events occurring in Israel and Palestine. The loss of life and suffering we have witnessed is heartbreaking. We will continue to support and listen to all learners, faculty, and staff in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine affected by this violence. We must also address reports of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of racial and religious discrimination that have increased because of these conflicts. We take such matters seriously.

At the same time, some have questioned the commitment of the Temerty Faculty of Medicine to freedom of speech and academic freedom. This has led to an environment in which some have felt unsafe either to speak or because of what has been said. This has been deeply troubling to me and, I am sure, to a great many of you as well.

In response, I and other members of the Temerty Medicine leadership team continue to listen to and engage with those who have expressed concerns. We have identified existing resources for support, including our learner mistreatment pathways for MD and Post-MD learners. Our Office of Inclusion and Diversity has shared a statement on religious and racial intolerance, as well as a thoughtful commentary from faculty members from diverse perspectives about the current situation. We are creating new curriculum and forums for dialogue and peer support. A more detailed summary of these and other current and proposed steps for Temerty Medicine are enclosed.

I recognize that some may feel our efforts have been insufficient. Still, we have tried to be responsive and respectful to the needs of every individual, group, or organization that has stepped forward asking for assistance or offering to provide input. I have received several open letters calling for action that represent a broad spectrum of perspectives. In the spirit of transparency, I want to respond to those letters and many of their requests.

We have received calls for some academic appointees to be removed from their roles within the Faculty due to allegations of anti-Semitism relating to social media posts made in their personal capacity. We do not intend to remove any appointees based on these events. This is a recognition that faculty members are entitled to exercise their right to academic freedom and freedom of speech, including expressing their personal perspectives on social media, subject only to limits set out in applicable U of T policy and human rights laws. These rights are especially important given Temerty Medicine’s increasing work and promotion of leadership in the realms of equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice.

The dual commitment to academic freedom and equity, diversity, and inclusion underlies everything we do. Medical education aims to train professionals to provide care to patients, regardless of their group membership or views about political issues. Health professionals must work with other team members again in an atmosphere of respect. They must be able to put aside any disagreements about issues other than the patient to whom they are providing care. These commitments inform everything that we do at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine.

We have heard specific concerns that, despite a growing number of other sessions related to equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice in our undergraduate medical school curriculum, we had not included sufficient information on religious discrimination. We are always open to reviewing our curriculum to address gaps or shortcomings, and we have already begun to do more work in this area. This year we introduced a new Religious Discrimination in Health Care session for first-year MD students. Students and faculty members from different faiths were involved in the planning of the session, which included a panel discussion with five presenters from faith backgrounds, including Sikhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism. The problem of religious discrimination and its potential consequences also forms the background to a mandatory lecture for second-year MD students entitled Physicians, Human Rights, and Civil Liberties: Lessons from the Holocaust.

There have been multiple calls for Temerty Medicine to accept competing definitions of anti-Semitism. We are not able to do so at this time as the University already has a formal Anti-Semitism Working Group that is addressing this issue. The University has similarly created a formal Anti-Islamophobia Community Working Group that will be providing recommendations related to that form of religious discrimination. We, as a Faculty, are committed to doing more work to ensure all members of our community better understand the complex issue of religious intolerance that affects many of our learners, our faculty and staff, and our patients. For example, we will be appointing a Senior Advisor on Anti-Semitism and a Senior Advisor on Islamophobia within the Office of Inclusion and Diversity to provide additional insights and support for the faculty, staff, and learners of Temerty Medicine. I am pleased to report that Dr. Ayelet Kuper has agreed to serve as the Senior Advisor on Anti-Semitism and we will soon announce the Senior Advisor on Islamophobia. We remain open to taking other steps based on our ongoing conversations and the feedback we receive.

I know that some will view these responses as equivocating or insufficient. However, as an institution of higher education, we must provide space for difficult ­– and sometimes controversial – debates, particularly in the context of a Faculty that values health-related advocacy. If we respect academic freedom and freedom of speech, we must be willing to hear things with which we disagree, just as we must feel safe to voice our own respectful and informed objections.

I recognize that we must also guard against those who will use such debates as an opportunity to spread hate. Any acts of religious or racial discrimination in which people are persecuted or disrespected because of their faith or race are unacceptable. We must ensure Temerty Medicine fosters an environment in which everyone feels valued, respected, and able to express their perspectives ­without fear, but within the bounds of anti-discrimination and human rights legislation and policies. As stated above, we continue to work to ensure this environment is safeguarded, and to that end, I’d invite you to please review our enclosed list of initiatives and provide us with your advice and feedback to the Office of Inclusion and Diversity.

Striking the right balance is difficult and nuanced. I ­and the Temerty Medicine leadership team are committed to ensuring that dialogue in our Faculty can flourish alongside mutual respect. Despite the inevitable passion attached to issues such as these, I encourage you to remain respectful, thoughtful, and empathetic as you engage in difficult conversations.

Respectfully,

Trevor Young     

Dean, Temerty Faculty of Medicine

Vice Provost, Relations with Health Care Institutions

 

Faculty Initiatives Relating to Religious Intolerance and Supports

The Temerty Faculty of Medicine cares about each learner, faculty, and staff member within our community, as well as the people we serve. The Faculty works to build and sustain a community that respects a diversity of voices and experiences, including through dialogue on important and challenging issues. The following are some of the initiatives that are underway or proposed relating to religious intolerance and supports in Temerty Medicine.  

Curriculum

In addition to the previously described mandatory Religious Discrimination in Health Care session for first-year MD students and the mandatory Physicians, Human Rights, and Civil Liberties: Lessons from the Holocaust lecture for second-year MD students, work will be undertaken to further develop a conflict resolution curriculum within the MD Program. In addition, post-graduate medical training programs will be provided with new tools and resources to support equity, diversity, and inclusion, including tools to address religious intolerance.

Support Services and Pathways

The MD and Post-MD Programs have undertaken an extensive review of pathways for learners to report mistreatment, including on the basis of religious intolerance, to ensure there are easy, accessible, and actionable options available to all learners. To support this effort, the Faculty appointed its first Director of Learner Experience, Dr. Reena Pattani. The Faculty will also be identifying other faculty leaders who can provide counsel and support to learners, faculty, and staff from many different backgrounds. The Office of Inclusion and Diversity would also like to establish smaller advisory groups in specific areas to provide input into their strategy and programming, including a multi-faith advisory group.

Mentorship

Recognizing the critical role that mentorship plays in supporting and developing our current and future leaders, the Faculty is exploring opportunities to expand existing mentorship programs, such as the Diversity Mentorship Program. In addition, we are carefully considering creating new mentorship streams for faculty members, including for those who undertake new leadership roles. In recent weeks mentorship and support from faculty with a range of lived experiences have been offered to medical learners in Temerty Medicine. Working with the Centre for Faculty Development, we have also been developing new training programs for faculty on topics such as microaggressions and anti-oppressive healthcare.

Education and Strategic Communications

The Faculty has undertaken several advocacy and information campaigns to promote a culture of inclusion and mutual respect. This has included the We All Belong Campaign, the Microaggressions and Allyship Campaign, and the promotion of Allyship and Inclusion. As part of the Office of Inclusion and Diversity’s ongoing Diversity Dialogue series, the Faculty will seek to include additional events in the future on issues related to religious discrimination as well as to rights-based approaches to health equity. As a first step, the Faculty will soon be hosting a listening session for MD and PGME learners (facilitated by Drs. Lisa Richardson, Ayelet Kuper, and Umberin Najeeb) to help identify topics for future focus and to co-create solutions.

System Change

Temerty Medicine has been working with our partners through the Toronto Academic Health Sciences Network to advance learner wellness in clinical environments and combat incidents of discrimination. A task force on these topics is currently being led by Dr. Lisa Robinson, Vice Dean of Strategy and Operations, and Dr. Catherine Zahn, CEO of CAMH. We are implementing unconscious bias training in all faculty searches within Temerty Medicine. We are also in the process of appointing Senior Advisors to guide faculty efforts related to anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Among other responsibilities, they will ensure that the Temerty Medicine leadership team, including the Deans and all leaders with responsibilities related to equity and inclusion, receive training about common forms of religious discrimination in Toronto and Canada.