Community Feedback Letter
To the signatories of the open letter to the University of Calgary (UC), and to our broader community, the purpose of this document is to summarize and supplement the suggestions and comments you have provided in response to the open letter. We thank you again for your signatures and valuable feedback. We thank the UC executive leadership team for issuing a response to the open letter (links to their responses are provided below). In addition to making the following summary of suggestions available publicly, we have sent this summary directly to the UC executive leadership team.
Please note that this summary may not reflect every comment or suggestion shared, as many overlapped with or reinforced points iterated within the open letter. Instead, this summary reflects more nuanced topics brought forth by signatories. The topics are discussed below, and suggestions for specific actions the UC can take to address some of these issues are included. Based on community response, these topics include:
A) Intersectionality and Overlapping Systems of Power
B) Creation of Targeted Education on Racism
C) Employment and Compensation of BIPOC Members in Senior Executive or Leadership Roles
D) Investment in Campus and Community Resources for BIPOC Individuals
E) Research Collaboration with BIPOC and Community Members
F) Handling Complaints of Racism
G) Police and Campus Security
Preface: Defining Diversity and Acknowledging Sociohistorical Context
Prior to presenting the summary of comments and suggestions from the open letter, it is important to define diversity in an academic setting. Diversity in higher education reflects differentiating characteristics of individuals such as gender, race, and ethnicity, as well as less visible characteristics such as socio-economic status, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status, etc. In academic settings, such characteristics are important to acknowledge, as they influence how institutional decisions around inclusivity and accessibility for all stakeholders (e.g., staff, faculty, administration, students) are made. The differences that diversity presents us with are not just a reflection of categorical, biological, or demographic differences. Rather, these differences are also structured around cultural systems, status, hierarchies, and dominance (Ghosh, 2012), and in this way, determine who has access to power and resources within our institutions.
The response provided by the executive leadership team acknowledges that “systemic racism requires a longitudinal journey of listening, learning, compassion, and commitment to change, followed by action.” This journey also requires us to intentionally acknowledge the violent history that racial and ethnic minoritized groups have and continue to experience, such as enslavement, colonization, assimilation and police brutality. The impacts of these events continue to persist by way of overt and subtle forms of discrimination; thus, we must bring awareness to the ways in which diversity is also influenced by group members’ sociohistorical context and position in society and its institutions (DiTomaso et al., 2007).
Bringing awareness to the sociohistorical context of group membership serves several important functions. First, doing so can help us to better understand the meaning and purpose behind Black and Indigenous Lives Matter movements. We can all agree that “all lives matter”; however, historically, not all lives have mattered equally. Importantly, we must not forget the sociohistorical context of other group memberships such as gender, the LGBTQIA2S+ community, people with disabilities, and non-Black and non-Indigenous people of colour. Deepening our knowledge of our history helps us move forward in more equitable ways, by helping us to better understand different histories and work to address historical and current injustices.
Second, gaining awareness of the sociohistorical context of group membership can help us understand how racial legacies (e.g., Whiteness) continue to influence our policies and practices today – all of which contribute to the disparities deeply ingrained in our institutions, systems, and practices. Academic institutions, as locales of knowledge transference, can serve a key role by self-critically acknowledging the sociohistorical context of academia and the institution’s role in upholding racial legacies, and incorporating historical knowledge into its curricula. Doing so provides the community with a foundation upon which to understand the relevance of, and to engage with, current and future equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives.
Intersectionality and Overlapping Systems of Power
The intersections of race, sex, socioeconomic factors, gender, sexuality, religion, age, ability, and other visible and invisible characteristics create overlapping and interdependent areas of disadvantage or privilege. For example, people experience the intersection between racism and sexism, yet feminist and anti-racist efforts seldom recognize these experiences. Thus, individuals face marginalization from multiple systems because efforts that are put in place do not consider their unique experience in multiple groups (e.g., Black women). Intersectionality considers intragroup differences in order to address individuals’ experiences of being (dis)advantaged along the different dimensions of their identity (Crenshaw, 1989; 1991). To address equity within the university, greater focus on understanding intersectionality within individuals, and understanding broader systems which may overlap to compound or remove power, is needed to drive action. Signatory responses included the following actionable items:
· Create safe and supportive environments for individuals with intersecting identities, including attention to queer and trans intersectionality for BIPOC individuals. These students, faculty, and staff are more likely to face symbolic, physical, and psychological violence.
o Increase training that facilitates an understanding of diversity as a complex and nuanced construct, and that utilizes and teaches identity-conscious practices.
· Review and update existing campus mental health and sexual violence policies to ensure they adequately acknowledge identity-based and systemic disparities in mental health, victimization, and access to resources.
o For example, one of the six strategic foci of the campus mental health initiative is “Raising Awareness and Promoting Wellbeing.” Within this focus area, the following gap was identified: “Some students, faculty, and staff lack awareness of existing campus resources, programs and services related to mental health and well-being.” A review and update of campus policies could acknowledge how a lack of awareness can be exacerbated by a system which does not account for compounding effects of race, language barriers, immigration status, income level, age, negative historic interaction with healthcare systems, transgenerational trauma, etc., which further decreases awareness of available resources. Furthermore, additional resources and funding for minority and BIPOC individuals could be mandated in campus policies.
· Acknowledge and address the effects of misogyny and racism on Black and Indigenous women in North America and in the academy, as “racialized women are the most under-represented among full time, full year professors and instructors” (Canadian Association of University Teachers, 2018). As previously mentioned, most initiatives put in place to address discrimination, such as anti-racist or feminist efforts, stand alone. Rarely do they consider that the unique experiences and discriminations encountered by women of colour do not fall under the spectrum of racism or misogyny alone. As Kimberlé Crenshaw elucidates in an interview, “We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality, or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts” (Steinmetz, 2020). Therefore, the UC should consider an intersectionality analysis of current policies, practices, and procedures in order to identify the ways in which individuals from marginalized populations continue to experience exclusion.
· Examine how broad diversity values claimed by the university are in tension with current university practices. Progress towards a more equitable institution involves critically assessing tensions between the University’s stated commitment to EDI principles and its institutional pillars and goals.
o For instance, the UC’s institutional initiatives can be seen to endorse and strive towards a “neoliberal ethos of individualism, merit, competition, and entrepreneurship” (Henry et al., 2017, p. 85), as can be seen in UC’s recent “Growth through Focus” proposal, which centers entrepreneurship as a major institutional goal. However, it is important to note that “with the ascendance of neoliberalism… Canadian universities’ commitment to equity and diversity has decreased…” (Henry et al., 2017, p. 85). In the UC’s efforts to maintain its ongoing commitments despite these tensions, EDI initiatives need to be weighed with as much (or arguably more) merit as these neoliberal points of focus in order to mitigate these effects.
Creation of Targeted Education on Racism
What is needed in conjunction with specific initiatives and action plans on campus is targeted education on racism and anti-racism. Knowledge of the experiences many BIPOC individuals face, both currently and historically, can enlighten our campus community on why these topics and initiatives are important. This is especially significant for those who are in positions where they can be valuable allies (e.g., White, heterosexual, affluent, male, etc. - i.e., members of groups that have historically been advantaged and may not be fully aware of the challenges other groups face). Increasing education will increase buy-in to these initiatives and understanding of why these initiatives exist. Dedicated spaces to learn about EDI should be available to students, staff, and faculty through mandated workshops and course curricula. Mandating EDI workshops is an important matter that should be taken as seriously as mandated health and safety training. Based on this feedback from the open letter, the following action items are proposed:
· Implement mandatory training programs that explore topics such as microaggressions, white privilege/fragility, and anti-racism in the institution. This training can either be completed online or in person but must occur on a regular basis. In this regard, all students will be required to complete annual training on these or related topics as a pre-requisite to class enrollment. Faculty and staff will be required to complete an initial module as part of their onboarding training, in addition to completing an annual training as a condition of employment.
· Canada’s history of racial injustice and inequity, and the way in which inequities have been manifested within, and upheld by, academic institutions, should be incorporated into existing curricula across disciplines. Current and future EDI curricular initiatives must center historical injustices in order to facilitate an understanding among our campus and broader community of the necessity of such initiatives. In order to center historical injustices, disciplines in the academy must acknowledge a culture of Whiteness in the institution. Doing so means “recogniz[ing] that the category of ‘White’ is socially constructed and takes ‘Whiteness’ to be ‘a set of assumptions, beliefs and practices that place the interests and perspectives of White people at the center of what is considered normal and everyday’ (Gillborn 2015, 278). Whiteness serves to maintain the conditions of systemic inequality where the worldviews and interests of the dominant groups are entrenched and normalized as unstated stands against which ‘Otherness,’ including Indigenous and non-Western peoples and cultures, is marked as different (McIntyre 2000, 162)” (Henry et al. 2017, p. 15).
Employment and Compensation
The representation of BIPOC individuals holding senior executive and professoriate positions within Canadian institutions is limited (Henry et al., 2017). Considering most student bodies are comprised of people from various backgrounds, and that the proportion of visible minority individuals is continuing to increase in our university community, it is important to have BIPOC individuals holding leadership positions within our institution. However, it is not enough to merely hire diverse members for faculty and staff positions. The challenge for many BIPOC academics/leaders is that, not only do they fulfill the traditional expectations and duties outlined by their institutions, but they do so while balancing extra-role activities within their communities (e.g., mentoring, public speaking, other forms of activism, etc.) (Miller, 2016). These attempts to restore equity within communities often comes at the price of emotional burden, burnout, and limited compensation. Therefore, the following actions are proposed:
· As an initial step, assess diversity and representation within various fields and faculties on campus. This corresponds to the action item presented in our original letter, which requests collection and dissemination of diversity data within the university more broadly. While challenges exist to collecting diversity data, collection of such data is imperative, as “the absence of reliable data or other sources of knowledge about equity in the academy makes it difficult for university ‘decision makers, administrators and academic staff associations to develop the most effective and appropriate tools to ensure equity’”(Henry et al., 2017, p. 6).
o See also this report by Universities Canada, which includes a section on data collection and analysis.
· Develop a university and/or faculty-wide task force(s) that is dedicated to initiatives that address EDI in hiring and retention.
o Ensure the task force is comprised of diverse members (including BIPOC) who carry various power positions, and who are compensated proportionately for the work they do in communities and within the institution.
Investing in Campus and Community Resources for BIPOC Individuals
There is a need for more equitable health services on campus, health promotion with BIPOC students and staff, and more culturally competent care that addresses barriers to accessing services. A proposed biopsychosocial model of racism as a stressor for African Americans suggests that being a victim of racism results in psychological as well as physiological stress responses. Several different coping strategies are required to deal with the negative effects of racism, which can deplete individuals’ subsequent stress tolerance (Clark et al., 1999). It is vital to provide culturally competent supports for individuals who experience racism and other forms of oppression (e.g., transphobia, homophobia) as a part of their daily lives.
In addition to health services and promotion, suggestions to improve campus and community resources included the promotion of inclusive accommodation of spiritual and religious practices (as opposed to accommodation of spiritual and religious practices which is isolated from the broader student body). In this way, inclusive accommodation should be integrated throughout the physical campus. As well, investment in on-campus student groups and community collaborations were recommended. Investing in these resources will aid in the retention of BIPOC students to complete their post-secondary education (Walton & Cohen, 2011; Brannon et al., 2018). This, in turn, will address disparities in educational attainment for BIPOC groups, which will improve long-term outcomes of improving socioeconomic conditions for these groups (e.g., increasing employment opportunities, attaining higher paying jobs, etc.). Considering these suggestions specifically geared toward resources, we propose the following action items for the UC to consider:
· Create and market equitable and accessible health services and health promotion initiatives on campus that specifically target BIPOC students and staff. This will include easy-to-find guides on how to access mental health services and workshops.
· Meet with students to assess spiritual and religious needs to collaboratively plan and budget for a more inclusive atmosphere on campus.
o Ensure there are spaces on campus for smudging, with consideration for the necessary permissions and infrastructure to do so.
· Create regular meetings for representatives from the university to meet with leaders of student clubs and advocacy groups to address EDI strategies within student clubs and advocacy groups.
o Identify event planning committees on campus and highlight areas of improvement where programs can increase inclusivity.
· Create written standards for campus health providers around cultural humility in care. Standards can include hiring criteria, culturally competent education and practices, and continuing education opportunities for healthcare providers.
· Assess whether community corporations and industry partners, who are connected with the university and who provide internship and hiring opportunities to students, promote and share the same commitment to EDI. Commit to creating partnerships that support and provide opportunities for mentorship for BIPOC individuals in underrepresented areas and commit to bringing in diverse speakers from industry and community partners.
o Collect data on student race and ethnicity to track completion rates and other trends (see section: Employment and Compensation).
Research Collaboration with BIPOC and Community Members
There is need for collaborative research on the experiences of BIPOC individuals in Canada and in higher education. Support is needed in areas of funding, infrastructure, and inclusion of minoritized voices in strategic planning. The reality that “both racialized and Indigenous peoples are largely underrepresented in the country’s major institutions, and little is known about their experiences” (Henry et al., 2017, p. 5), and that there are “no institutional efforts to generate knowledge about the everyday lived experiences of racialized and Indigenous scholars in the academy” (Henry et al., 2017, p. 6), underscores the need for this action item. Furthermore, community responses to the open letter stressed the importance of centering the voices of minority groups, rather than conducting research on/collecting data from minoritized group members without the inclusion of their voices. Considering suggestions specific to research collaboration, the following actions items have been proposed:
· Fund and support research involving minority and marginalized communities (marginalized groups/low income communities and countries). Incentivize research methods that emphasize collaboration, partnership, and equal/shared power (i.e., community-engaged research). Creating BIPOC/White researcher ally-ship and giving space for marginalized groups to express themselves, have their voices heard, and their needs met are important facets of such partnerships. Wherever possible, such partnerships could be facilitated by policies, grants, funding opportunities, training, incentives, and partnership/networking opportunities.
o We offer the Alberta Strategy for Patient Oriented Research support unit (AbSPORU) as a template model for engaging community partners. “AbSPORU promotes, supports, and evaluates patient engagement in health research to build patient, family and caregiver voices in the health research process”. Similar community engagement in other research areas could focus on engaging, centering, and amplifying voices of minoritized group members in research.
· Increase awareness of how diversity in research is often and regrettably discussed within a framework of negative discourse and poor outcomes (i.e., poverty, lower cognitive abilities, incarceration), which is utilized to reinforce and conceal racist assumptions.
· Increase awareness of how certain research, rooted in claims of objective research practices and methods (Zuberi & Bonilla-Silva, 2008), and conducted by and on predominantly White populations, is often used to reinforce universalist assumptions. Promote and encourage anti-racist research practices in university research spaces (Chaudhary & Berhe, 2020).
Handling Complaints of Racism
Although the UC has existing grievance procedures for students and staff, lack of procedural visibility and awareness may be a barrier for individuals who are navigating incidences of racism on campus. Individuals may not know who or where to direct their grievances (e.g., advisor, department head, dean’s office, student conduct office, human resources, etc.) and, as such, may not achieve the resolution or justice necessary. Furthermore, complaints surrounding racial microaggressions (subtle comments or actions that unconsciously and perhaps unintentionally express prejudice, or stereotype members of marginalized groups) are often dismissed due to grievance procedures that are only equipped to handle overt forms of discrimination. The following actions are proposed:
· Develop policies to address microaggressions by faculty, students, and staff, including penalization and grounds for termination. Policies can be outlined in “stand-alone, anti-harassment, and anti-discrimination” documents (Saloojee & Stewart, 2016).
· Educate those who handle complaint cases on microaggressions. Education can include information on the severity and impact of covert racism, to increase recognition and understanding of these more subtle forms of discrimination.
· Establish grievance procedures for incidences of covert racism and discrimination. Studies show that anti-racism policies in Canadian universities tend to be geared towards overt racism; yet BIPOC faculty in Canada do not commonly experience overt forms of racism. Rather, they “are more concerned with their everyday experiences, which are often subtle and difficult to prove, but may, in fact, lead to differential treatment” (Henry et al., 2017, p 35). In line with this action item, assess whether the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Protected Disclosure is equipped with the necessary resources and procedures to respond to reported grievances.
Police and Campus Security
Campus security works closely with the Calgary Police Service and other agencies to maintain safety at the UC. Several incidents have shown that the Calgary Police Service is not immune to issues of excessive force with disadvantaged and general members of the community. Lack of justice for marginalized groups has also been a systemic issue that has affected Black and Indigenous communities and maintained colonial violence. History of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls demonstrates issues of institutional discrimination. With close ties between campus security and the Calgary Police Service, concerns of potential abuse of power and discrimination were voiced. Actionable suggestions included:
· Implement reporting of diversity measures (e.g., hiring of diverse officers, trainings in diversity competency).
· Examine past/present potentially anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racist actions/sentiments, racial profiling, and disproportionate rates of encounters between BIPOC group members and campus security.
· Re-examine university and faculty partnerships with the Calgary Police Service.
o Increase research and investigation on ongoing practices regarding how campus security is encompassing diversity principles.
The Department of Psychology’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee
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