June 4, 2020
Open letter to the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary:
We are writing to you in response to recent events that have and are unfolding in Minneapolis and beyond. The news of ongoing protests of repeated instances of racial oppression and violence, most recently, George Floyd’s treatment and death at the hands of the police, is extremely upsetting. This event is a drop in an ocean of systemic racism and oppression that is historic, ongoing, and ubiquitous. We acknowledge that the institutions and locations where racial inequity is practiced is not limited to the U.S. As Canadians, and as researchers, educators, administrators, and students, we acknowledge that we exist within/contribute to/benefit from different forms of institutional oppression.
Within our departmental community, we acknowledge the range of responses and emotions being brought forth or re-experienced in light of these events, including anger, uncertainty, sadness, and helplessness. We also acknowledge that ambivalence and apathy are valid responses to an overwhelming amount of news, information, and calls-to-action, all of which are occurring against the backdrop of a global pandemic.
“Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor never the tormented.” — Elie Wiesel
In a world where racism is embedded in every facet of life, seeing while ignoring simply supports systematic inequalities. Remaining neutral means denying racism. That is tantamount to saying that inequalities exist due to problems directly related to racial groups and not due to racial policies.
As the Psychology Department EDI committee, we are committed to continue to learn and act in order to fight systematic oppression in our community. The work to address racism, race-based violence and discrimination requires ongoing conversation and awareness-building. It also requires translating new awareness and good intentions into meaningful action. We acknowledge that we need to challenge systems and policies that are built on oppression and commit to being anti-racist as opposed to non-racist. The following provides information and resources for our department about how to begin or continue the process of anti-racism.
“The ultimate White privilege is the luxury of acknowledging your privilege, but doing nothing about it.” — Derald Wing Sue, from Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence
We acknowledge that confronting our own racism is uncomfortable and we commit to doing this difficult work. As members of the EDI committee, we reaffirm our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice, and to confronting discriminatory and oppressive policies and practices. We call on departmental members to accelerate and intensify efforts to build a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive department. Over the coming weeks and months we will1:
- Acknowledge and grapple with our own racism and biases.
- Continue to educate ourselves and the department through reading, workshops and policy changes.
- Engage in difficult discussions and educate others (family, friends, coworkers).
- Provide educational information to those looking to learn more.
- Advocate for meaningful attention to the university EDI plan for the recruitment, retention and support of diverse students, staff and faculty. Set quantitative goals for diversity, inclusion and belonging, including specific targets for BIPOC leader representation, internal mobility and employee engagement.
- Advocate for the support and mentorship of underrepresented students.
- Personally, we will donate to charities that will support anti-racist efforts and set goals to volunteer with organizations that work with underrepresented groups and offer outreach to our community.
- Devise an emergency response plan when incidences of racialized or other group-based violence happen.
- E.g., things like:
- Put out general messages of support/solidarity but also reach out directly to students and colleagues who are members of the group with support.
- Ensure that this is not positioned as a BIPOC problem or one that is removed from the Dept./institution.
- Protect students/colleagues time and ability to heal when things like this happen. Be flexible with deadlines, offer extensions, offer resources to help.
- With Black employee consent, express solidarity in team settings and actively facilitate discussion so Black employees do not carry the ensuing emotional labour.
- E.g., things like:
- Host an expert-led conversation on how to be anti-racist. Amplify the voices of BIPOC groups by hosting conversations and presentations in the department.
- Broadcast the things we are doing for accountability on our website.
- Put recurring time on the calendar now to assess progress on these goals.
What can we do as a department to support an anti-racist agenda?
Members of the EDI committee have worked hard to compile a resource list to help us educate ourselves.
As we personally commit to this work a useful framework might be2:
- Educate yourself, gain knowledge. Enhance your knowledge about the history and policies that support racism and listen to and elevate BIPOC perspectives.
- Empathy. As your knowledge grows, allow yourself to feel empathy and compassion and be moved by that.
- Act. The problem of racial inequality in the world is overwhelming, but there is a step that each of us can commit to that will address the continued problems of racial inequality in Canada and beyond. We commit to continuing to engage in this work alongside of you.
1 In order to make our workplace more supportive of EDI, we will follow several of the actions set out by Dr. Erin L Thomas
2 This framework is credited to Rachel Carle from “The Start” and “Unpacking White Feminism”. Head to her website to read more or engage in some of the courses she has put together.