Category Archives: Equity

Reflecting on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Today, March 21st, marks the 58th anniversary of the Sharpeville, South Africa massacre and is remembered internationally as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. As this is a day of reflection, Dr. Sheila Cote-Meek’s piece, which focuses on memory, anniversaries, and reflection is perfect for this day.

2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the Queen’s University Equity Office. Anniversaries provide us with a good time to celebrate as well as engage in critical reflections on our mandate and progress.

Whenever I engage in critical reflection about diversity, equity and inclusion I immediately think about Indigenous peoples in Canada. I think about the gross inequities that persist that Indigenous peoples have been fighting for, for more than a century. A century, think about it!

Indigenous peoples are recognized as the original peoples of Canada and yet, on all socio-economic and health indicators we fall below national averages. In terms of education the Canadian 2011 Census reported 9.8% of Aboriginal peoples between the ages of 25 – 64 years had a university degree compared to the general Canadian population where 26.5% had a university degree . In 2016 the Canadian Census reported 10.9% of Aboriginal peoples had a university degree (an increase of1.1%) in comparison to the general Canadian population where 28.5% had a university degree (an increase of2%) . While it is great that the numbers indicate more Aboriginal peoples are succeeding in post-secondary education, the education gap persists. In fact, from 2011 to 2016 the gap increased.

I also think about the struggles of People of Color who are also racialized and face extreme inequities.

I think about the women’s movements, the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp, which all point to systemic gender inequities and the persistence of sexual harassment and abuse.

I think about people who are challenged with a disability, visible and invisible.

I think about how voices and people literally go missing.

I also think about and imagine a world where those who are marginalized, silenced and excluded are brought to the centre where their voices are heard and valued.

So while there is much to celebrate, I think it is important to reflect on the work that still needs to be done. Despite our best efforts, inequities persist. In most instances our workplaces are not reflective of diversity. When we look around the boardroom, do we see equitable gender representation? Are Indigenous peoples represented? Are People of Color represented? Ask yourself, who are the people sitting at the table?

Anniversaries provide us an opportunity to stop, reflect and envision a better future for all; one that is inclusive and equitable.

Anniversaries provide us a unique opportunity to commit to working towards societal change.

The Appeals of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

In our first blog post of 2018, we hear from Dr. Gurjit Sandhu, a Queen’s alumna and faculty member in the Department of Surgery at the University of Michigan. In this piece, Dr. Sandhu reflects upon the meanings of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

In keeping with the theme of the 2017-2018 Together We Are blog, I am in the midst of looking ahead, only to find myself looking back to my time at Queen’s University. The knowledge and understanding I developed about diversity, equity and inclusion continues to provide me with a multifaceted lens of inquiry for my current position in medical education. Although the context and content of the work may have changed, the foundational principles of equity remain the same.

While at Queen’s University, I transitioned through the roles of student, staff and faculty member; contributed to programs and policies; collaborated on training; and contemplated theory. I recognize now that in each of these roles and responsibilities, I was developing an understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion in different ways depending on how I was positioned. I would then draw on each of these approaches as needed to make a meaningful connection with Queen’s community members to advance our collective commitment to equity.

A colleague recently reminded me of a framework for thinking about separate, yet associated, appeals – those of ethos, pathos, and logos. This framework also helps me organize several approaches that resonate with me when engaging with diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Ethos is an ethical appeal. It embodies an unbiased presentation with a great deal of intentionality in choosing the right vocabulary. Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald explore hidden and implicit biases in their book, “Blindspot.” Using the Implicit-Association Test, a method they developed about twenty years ago, they unpack individual responses to better understand how experiences manifest into hidden biases. The focus is on less reflective parts of our minds and the influence this has on decisions we make about ourselves and other social groups. When I think about hiring practices, employing ethos has a great deal of relevance.

Pathos is an emotional appeal. The audience is persuaded based by an emotional experience and how they are made to feel. The work of the world-class Center for Positive Organization at the University of Michigan disrupts the pervasive story of a fiercely competitive business world. The focus is on appreciative inquiry, collaboration, and success through diversity of partnerships. Central to the purpose of the Center is positive culture and positive relationships. When I think about community building and engagement, it is important to include pathos in the approach.

Logos is a logical appeal. The persuasive content is delivered with heavy reliance on facts and supportive statistics. In his book “The Diversity Bonus,” Scott Page makes the mathematical and economic argument for enhancing team diversity. He shows evidence through algorithms, formulas, and net results. The bottom-line: leveraging cognitive diversity results in better outcomes. These measurable outcomes, for example, include higher profit margins, increasing scientific innovation, and more in-depth inquiry in our classrooms. When I think about admissions strategies, logos is at the fore.

Looking back and looking ahead at diversity, equity, and inclusion, the lens of ethos, pathos, and logos reminds me that this work is foundational to the strength of communities, institutions, and who we are as individuals. As I think about the Equity Office and the Human Rights Office at Queen’s University, I wonder if it is possible to entirely leave a place. For me, the experiences, relationships, and milestones are indelible and palpable. They have become a part of the landscape of my life.

Welcoming and Belonging: A Kanien’kehá:ka Model of Inclusion

In our last blog post for 2017, we hear from Kanonhsyonne (Janice Hill), Director of Indigenous Initiatives at Queen’s University. In this piece, the themes of connection, community and welcome are explored.

In celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Equity Office, and in recognition of the need for all members of the Queen’s community to engage in the work of building a more inclusive campus environment, I have chosen to explore the idea of welcoming and inclusion from an Indigenous perspective.

In my work, everything I do is informed by my culture. It is an essential part of me, my life, and the way I see and live in the world. In Kanien’kehá:ka teachings around the Great Law of Peace, we are told that at the beginning of the formation of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations/Iroquois Confederacy), the Peacemaker took as a symbol the great white pine that has four white roots extending to the four cardinal directions, which we refer to as the Tree of Peace. He articulated two important concepts with the planting of the Tree of Peace. First, that all weapons of war would be buried beneath the tree so that no one in the Iroquois Confederacy would war against each other again. With the formation of the Law and the establishment of our clan system, we all became family. Secondly, he indicated that anyone who chose to follow the roots to the source of the tree could find shelter there. In our understanding, this means anyone could find welcome, safety, and belonging. This is our model of inclusion.

A further model of inclusion from my culture is the practice of extending the rafters. Traditional Haudenosaunee communities lived in longhouses, which were large communal dwellings that housed a number of families under one roof. As our families grew, and newcomers joined our communities, we simply extended the rafters of the longhouse to make room. This practice is about building new relationships and fostering a spirit of welcome within our communities. Just like the teachings of the Peacemaker, we believe that all people have a place of belonging.

Haudenosaunee people are collectivists, meaning we make decisions based on the good of the community as opposed to the individual. In our societies, decision-making is about considering the impact seven generations into the future and acknowledging seven generations into the past. This practice inherently makes room for different perspectives, reinforces a sense of responsibility to your community, and enhances your awareness of your connection to those around you.

Building new relationships, enhancing connections to community, and helping to foster a welcoming environment where Indigenous students, faculty, and staff can feel a sense of belonging are important priorities for the newly established Office of Indigenous Initiatives, but it is work that requires engagement from all of us—to learn, to empathize, and to understand. Working in collaboration with every facet of the university community, we will strive for good and right relationships, not only with the Indigenous community but with all people who find their way here.

Seasons

In our November blog post we hear from PhD student, Kuukuwa Andam. In her piece, Kuukuwa uses the beautiful imagery of changing seasons to reflect on the changing perspectives and ideas in relation to equity, diversity and inclusion at Queen’s University.

When I moved from Africa to North America, I was fascinated by the different seasons of the year. Of course, back home in Ghana, I was well acquainted with the two seasons of the year- Harmattan and the Rainy Season. I had learnt to expect strong, dusty winds to blow South from the Sahara Desert bringing along with it chapped lips, an unbearable afternoon sun, and the chilly mornings that made every child unsuccessfully try to convince their mother to skip bath time before school. I knew, also, to expect the rainy season with its heavy tropical rains, abundance of fruits, greenery, and snails excitedly going somewhere very, very slowly.

But here I was, staring at snow falling magically out of my window, as perfect as it looked in the Hollywood movies I inhaled every Christmas as a child. Then came Spring and the blossoming flowers glistening with dew, followed by a sizzling hot Summer and finally, my favorite season of all, Autumn. I must have taken a million pictures of all the gold, orange, red and brown clad trees I saw on my way to school, every day.

Cultures around the world often view life itself as being composed of seasons. Officiating ministers at Canadian weddings frequently recite the words of the poet who penned Ecclesiastes “To everything there is a season….” Among my people, huge parties are thrown after burials- complete with mouth-watering dishes, palm wine and melodious drumming. Clad in black and red African cloth imprinted with native adinkra symbols, the bereaved dance away to songs that remind them not to be overtaken with grief because this too shall pass.

As both Queen’s University and the Queen’s Equity office celebrate their respective anniversaries, what season are we in? No doubt, we live in a time of great polarization. Television screens are replete with scenes of protests by historically disadvantaged groups and counter protests by persons who complain that they are being replaced by these vulnerable groups. Political observers decry the rise of the ‘alt-right’ while in other circles, simply declaring that someone is a ‘leftie’ is as big an insult as it gets.

More than a year ago, minority students across the world started conversations about the challenges they encounter at institutions of higher learning. On social media, they documented daily instances of micro-aggression that they experienced from their colleagues and professors. On campuses, they gathered to demand that their institutions tackle discrimination and remove statues of colonizers and slavers. Here at Queen’s, after some students organized a costume party described as ‘shockingly racist,’ a committee was set up to consider issues related to diversity and inclusion. Months after the committee submitted its final report, students of color embarked on a protest where they asked the university to take action to address racism.

How might Queen’s make a difference during this season of division and strife? What steps can Queen’s take so that students from diverse backgrounds feel at home- just as Robert Sutherland, British North America’s first black lawyer, did? At a time when Queen’s was battling indebtedness, Robert bequeathed the largest donation ever seen at that time, to Queen’s because it was the one place “he had always been treated as a gentleman.”

In ancient times, when a new season was approaching, people would watch eagerly for signs, so they could know which actions to take. They would study how the birds and other creatures acted, listen to winds, and map out the path taken by the sun. Perhaps, the first step Queen’s can take is to listen to students as they voice their concerns and detail ways that their university can be welcoming to all.

The Road Less Travelled

Our October blogger is Hazem Ahmed. In his piece, Hazem looks introspectively at his own life and the choices he has made over the course of the last 15 years. Discover, how Hazem believes taking the road less travelled, has made all the difference.

It might sound a cliché, but looking back to my past 15 years, I apparently have been taking the roads less travelled whether consciously or perhaps subconsciously! Starting back in 2002, when I decided to pursue my undergrad studies in Computer Science – not Electrical Engineering (like many of my high school peers) nor Medical Sciences (like my siblings).  I enjoyed studying Computer Science so much so I earned my B.Sc. with highest honors (ranked first in class). Not only that, but I was also offered a full-scholarship to purse my graduate studies at Queen’s University, School of Computing, but again I chose a less-travelled road with a specialization in Bioinformatics, which is the intersection between Computer Science and Medical Sciences.

Studying at Queen’s was a truly life-changing experience although my first year as an international student was a bit challenging. I needed some time to adapt to the new environment, culture, and long distance from my family back home in Egypt. However, when I started participating in extracurricular and social activities at Queen’s (e.g., Elected Student Rep at the University Senate) and the broader Kingston community (e.g., Member of the Organization Team of the Kingston Multicultural Arts Festival), the challenges turned into opportunities.  I received several awards at the departmental-level (featured in the PhD Handbook of the School of Computing), University-level (Dean’s Graduate Award), provincial-level (Ontario Graduate Scholarship), and prestigious national-level awards (NSERC Canada Graduate Scholarship and Post-Doctoral Fellowship).  I would not have had similar opportunities, if I did not push the border of my comfort zone, if I did not travel to study at Queen’s, if I did not take a less-travelled road.

During my second year at Queen’s, I participated in a Work/Study program. There were several on-campus job openings available at that time in the University library, cafeteria, Information Technology Store (ITS) and one at the Equity Office. I know many students already work in the University library, cafeteria, ITS store, but I did not want to choose a common road. I applied to the Equity Office. At the Equity Office, I had a unique opportunity to learn more about the equity issues in the workplace and the hiring process. A 6-month web developer position led to over a 6-year programmer/analyst position. I was recommending and implementing IT solutions to transform many of the office’s processes; therefore, producing a significant impact in the office and the broader Queen’s community.  I would not have made a similar impact, had I worked at a library or ITS store.  I would not have left a footprint, had I picked a common road.

After completing my graduate studies in Bioinformatics, the most common road was obviously becoming a University professor. But once again I did not take the obvious road. I moved to industry – I am now a Data Scientist at General Electric Aviation.  Aviation is a data-intensive industry, where data science has the potential to offer impactful insights and revolutionize existing traditional ways used to address their multifaceted business challenges. I feel honored to be part of the digital journey of one of the world’s largest companies and work on the most demanding problems of the world’s biggest airlines.

A former student of a Bioinformatics course (that I once taught before moving to industry), recently approached me asking for a career advice and whether he should go with the mainstream or pursue a unique graduate program overseas. I told him undoubtedly travel and explore your far-reaching options, not the easiest ones. But then I told him this is not an “advice”; it is perhaps a biased opinion based on my own personal experience. You should take the road that you think is better for you, not what somebody’s else “thinks” is better for you. The point is NOT to take the less-travelled road just for the sake of being different; the point is to take the road that you can make a difference through.  At least this is what I have been doing. This is what have made much difference in my career path.

Together We Are Equity Office Blog – Year Three!

Another successful year for the Together We Are blog! Thank you to our bloggers and readers who gave so graciously of their time, creativity and passion. Without your energy and support the blog would not be possible.

2017-2018 marks a special year for the Queen’s University Equity Office, it is our 20th anniversary. In honour of this significant milestone, this year’s blog will look both backwards and forwards in time. Over the course of the next year you will hear from students, staff, faculty and alumni reflecting on the challenges and accomplishments of the last 20 years as well as discussions on how and where we can move forward.

Check out our contributors’ profile page for the full listing of 2017-2018 Together We Are bloggers.

Oh and don’t forget, YOU are part of this conversation as well. Together We Are all part of the Queen’s and broader Kingston community and therefore your comments and feedback are welcome.