Systemic Racism and Public Policy

The Max Bell School of Public Policy does not just teach and study public policy. It is also devoted to examining the social systems in which we live, how we have built our domestic and global institutions, and how all of this affects the livelihoods of populations everywhere. We recognize that racism causes tremendous harm to the many, in Canada and around the world, who are Black, Indigenous, and people of colour.

As a school committed to examining sound public policy, not just in theory, but as it exists in the real world, we also acknowledge the problem of systemic racism in public policies, and the hurt it has caused. Many public policies have not been developed to serve all people equally. Some policies discriminate explicitly; others do so covertly, but with consequences that are no less serious.

Our school’s mission is to bring together people from varied perspectives to explore and design innovative policy solutions, including solutions to the problem of racism. We need to understand the many details that contribute to racism in real-world policy development. We have a duty to train a new generation of policymakers who are anti-racist in their thinking as well as their actions.

Since our school’s launch in the fall of 2017, we have not given the issue of racism the emphasis it deserves. Our teaching staff have been insufficiently diverse; our curriculum has not addressed the pernicious effects of racism; and our workshops and special events have missed opportunities to promote discussions about the issue. We are an institution dedicated to dialogue, innovation, and the dissemination of vital policy ideas, and greater diversity is critical to achieving our mission.

Starting immediately, we are committed to doing better. Aligned with McGill University’s EDI Strategic Plan, these are the concrete steps the Max Bell School is taking:


  1. Working Group on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
    Beginning in September 2020, we will establish a working group—made up of MPP students, staff and faculty—devoted to examining how we can further promote equity, diversity and inclusion in all activities at the Max Bell School.
  2. Greater Diversity Among Faculty and Visiting Speakers.
    We commit to increasing the number of MPP teaching faculty and visiting speakers who are Black, Indigenous, and people of colour.
  3. Expanding the MPP Curriculum.
    Beginning this academic year, we will create a new Complexity Seminar on racism and public policy. Two new Case Study Courses, in which racism and discrimination play central roles, will also be added to the curriculum. In future years we hope to move further in this direction with new course offerings.
  4. Addressing Racism and Bias Within the School.
    Our MPP students deserve to feel equally safe and included in our classrooms. We will be providing resources, including mentorship and an anonymous feedback system, to ensure their concerns can be expressed, and addressed. We also commit to ongoing training of our students, staff, and faculty on recognizing and confronting racial biases.
  5. Our External Advisory Board and McGill Advisory Committee.
    Change needs to happen at all levels of the Max Bell School, including in those bodies from whom we seek advice. As such, we pledge to improve the diversity of our external advisory board and also our internal (to McGill) advisory committee.


These actions are only the first few steps of a longer journey. We must be resolute in maintaining our forward momentum, but must also ensure that each step is consciously integrated into the overall activities of our new school. As with public policy, doing this well will not be easy, but it is essential to try—and to succeed.

Systemic racism is partly a policy problem. Policymakers are problem solvers. Our commitment is to start this important work now, together.

July 8, 2020


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