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Becoming a more inclusive site of scholarship and learning

Canada marks its sesquicentennial this year, and amid the excitement and celebrations much attention is being, justly, paid to how as a country we can improve our national record on the treatment of our Aboriginal Peoples. There is a strong feeling that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, issued in 2015 and published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, has the capacity to mark a watershed in Aboriginal matters, and not simply with respect to the apologies owed for the blight of the residential schools. Educational access and opportunity will lie at the core of any initiative to empower First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people.

Queen’s, along with other Canadian universities, is doing its bit. Last year we set up a committee under Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) Jill Scott to consult widely and recommend some specific educational actions that Queen’s can take. Some are already in place or under way, as depicted in this issue of the Review. Others will be announced in the coming months.

During a Special Senate meeting on March 7th, Nathan Brinklow, a lecturer in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, speaks after presenting me with a friendship wampum on behalf of the clan mothers at Tyendinaga and the Grandmother’s Council in Kingston.

During a special Senate meeting on March 7th, Nathan Brinklow, a lecturer in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, speaks after presenting me with a friendship wampum on behalf of the clan mothers at Tyendinaga and the Grandmothers’ Council in Kingston.

At the same time, Queen’s is also confronting wider issues of inclusivity, diversity, and – though the word is an ugly one – racism. Queen’s is a much more diverse institution than it was in my day as a student: we have students from around the world, and Canadian students from many different ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds, and of different sexual and gender orientations.

Our faculty and staff are also more diverse, though that diversity is not evenly distributed across the university’s units and its ranks. Some of our attitudes and traditions have not kept pace with this reality.

Accordingly, in parallel with our work to improve the Aboriginal experience, I have also struck a committee to implement some changes recommended by previous reports such as the Diversity, Anti-Racism and Equity (DARE) report. A few have been made since that report was issued seven years ago, but the time is overdue to execute the others.

I do not expect this committee to be long in its work – we know much of what we need to do – though some of the actions needed (including greater attention to diversity in hiring practices, curricular reform, and the modification of some rather exclusive traditions) may take a little longer. We’ve already done some of that – I’m very glad, for instance, that some grossly homophobic and sexually offensive songs that I chanted as a frosh in 1976 are no longer in general circulation.

One or two of you have written letters with concern that the university is being “politically correct.” I thank you for sharing your thoughts. My perspective is simply this: organizations must change, adapt, and remain in tune with social standards (and, ideally, lead on their progressive reform), just as they must change and adapt with respect to pedagogical practices or areas of research. Queen’s has changed, for the better, in many ways over the past quarter-century, and will continue to do so over the next 25 years. As I have said in this column repeatedly during the seven-and-a-half years of my principalship, a university is an evolving institution; if it stands still, it will not survive, let alone thrive.

2017 marks the latter half of our 175th anniversary as well as Canada’s 150th. Let us recommit ourselves to preserving our values but also to updating our traditions and becoming a more inclusive site of scholarship and learning.

This blog first appeared in the Queen’s Alumni Review (2017 Issue 1: Indigenous Issues and Experiences at Queen’s). Those interested in contributing to the discussion on racism, diversity, and inclusion at Queen’s are warmly encouraged to attend one of three upcoming community forums on these topics.

Queen’s Model Parliament: A learning opportunity like no other

The following is a guest blog written by Queen’s Model Parliament co-chairs Jasmine Lagundzija, (Artsci’18) and Brandon Jamieson, (Artsci’17).

For three days every January, 350 students from Queen’s University travel to Ottawa to participate in the country’s largest and oldest model Parliament conference. For the past 70 years, Queen’s Model Parliament (QMP) has given young Canadians the opportunity to engage with politics firsthand as they hone their debating skills and draft legislation to address some of the nation’s most pressing issues, all while seated in the House of Commons.

The conference begins in September, when more than 500 students from nearly every discipline apply for the opportunity to attend QMP. Then, through random lottery, 338 students have the opportunity to attend the conference as delegates. When they are admitted to the conference, they are bound to one of the five major political parties in Canada. After electing a party leader, the delegates are free to roam as party leaders canvass and campaign to have delegates join their party. After two weeks of campaigning and a leadership debate, delegates may either rejoin the party they were first bound to, or they may switch to a new party. As is practice by convention, the party with the most members will form government. Then, for four months, delegates meet weekly in their respective caucuses to draft legislation that will be debated on in full session of the House in January.


Simultaneously, the QMP Journalism Program kicks off. Ten students are admitted to the conference to adopt the role of the press. While delegates are drafting legislation, canvasing for their party, and preparing for the conference, the journalists are interviewing, critiquing, and publishing their work in the bi-weekly Parliamentary Post. The Press Corp travels to Ottawa with the delegates and continue their work, holding our would-be-politicos to account for their policies. At the end of the conference, they are invited to attend a live-taping of CBC’s Power & Politics – a small reward for their work.

While in the House, guest speakers are invited to preside over debate on bills as Speakers of the House. Just this year we were privileged to welcome the Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, the Hon. Bill Morneau, British High Commissioner Howard Drake, Rosemary Barton, among countless others. After presiding over debate, speakers have the chance to share their own personal experiences and have a conversation with delegates.


The bills presented at QMP are wide ranging in their scope and subject. They cover topics on everything from the environment, to Indigenous affairs, foreign affairs to the future of the CBC. However, the topic of bills tends to reflect the broader concerns of young Canadians today. How can we address the ever pressing threat posed by climate change? What is Canada’s role in a quickly adapting global political landscape? It is hard not to remain hopeful about the future of the country when students willingly choose to attend this conference to debate these issues, for no reason other than their own personal satisfaction. The solutions presented are often innovative, comprehensive, and occasionally humorous. However, this reflects a broader light-hearted tone delegates adopt when debating issues. Debate isn’t divisive and partisanship isn’t poisonous.


The students leave with more than just the memories. The experience they have is just learning outside the classroom. They leave with a greater grasp on the legislative and procedural functions of our government and a more acute understanding of the complex issues we face as a nation. They hear of the value and importance of remaining engaged citizens through voting and community service. They appreciate the necessity of debate with equal parts respect and consideration. They have taken away skills that will continue to better them throughout their educational endeavours, their future careers, and, most importantly, as private citizens.

QMP2For us, as the co-chairs of this year’s conference, we had the privilege of working with a team of talented individuals and a network of hundreds of alumni to deliver this annual experience. Without hesitation, we volunteered 15 to 20 hours per week of our time on preparing for those three days. We were always motivated by the prospect that we were having at least a small, but hopefully a profound impact on the leaders of today and tomorrow. In our conversations with QMP alumni such as the Hon. Peter Milliken, the Hon. John Baird, and Nik Nanos, they frequently cite how their time at QMP shaped and inspired their desires to continue a life in politics. And for the past 70 years, there have been thousands of students just like them who drew on their time as students sitting in the House of Commons.



A look back on 2016

It has been a wonderful year at Queen’s University – one full of exciting announcements, unique challenges, and major milestones. As we head into the holidays, I’ve been looking back on some of my favourite moments of the past twelve months, and wanted to share a few of them with you.


The year started off with the announcement of a $4-million grant from the NSERC Discovery Frontiers Program for the Engineered Nickel Catalysts for Electrochemical Clean Energy (Ni Electro Can) research team, to develop the next generation of clean energy technologies. With 14 Canadian researchers, seven universities, nine international researchers from seven different countries, and a number of industry partners on board, the Ni Electro Can team is a perfect example of how collaboration enables researchers to remain at the forefront of discovery and propel Canadian research onto the world stage. Five of those 14 Canadian researchers are faculty members at Queen’s, including the team’s primary investigator, Dr. Gregory Jerkiewicz. The Honourable Dr. Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, Mr. Mark Gerretsen, Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands, and Dr. Mario Pinto, President of Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, all came to Queen’s University to celebrate the announcement.

Photo by Lars Hagberg


During a visit to the University of Otago in New Zealand in early February, I renewed a memorandum of understanding between the seven universities in the Matariki Network of Universities. I was also fortunate to meet with some fellow Queen’s alumni at a Matariki reception in Auckland.

Auckland Alumni with DW


It was an honour to celebrate the recognition of Nobel Laureate Dr. Art McDonald and his SNOLAB collaborators in the House of Commons in early March. The Nobel Prize is a result of the dedication of 273 collaborative scientists whose work was generously funded by numerous universities, industry, and government organizations, including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the National Research Council of Canada, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, and Industry Canada. Their discovery, which has fundamentally changed our view of the universe, would not have been possible without continued support from the Government of Canada.

Photo courtesy of the Prime Minister’s Office


In April, we unveiled Alfred and Isabel Bader’s historic donation to our arts centre – Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo. As one of the most significant contributions of art to a Canadian university in history, the painting dramatically elevates The Bader Collection and places the Agnes among the premier university art galleries in North America for the study of European art. The gift also raises the international profile of the historical European collection and of the Agnes as a whole, as our arts centre now holds three of the six Rembrandts in Canadian public collections. Alfred Bader (Sc’45, Arts’46, MSc’47, LLD’86) and Isabel Bader (LLD’07) are among Queen’s most generous benefactors, supporting the university for seven decades. They have given back to Queen’s in countless ways: transforming the campus, enriching the student experience, supporting scholarship, and helping to enhance the university’s reputation as a top-tier educational institution.

Photo by Garrett Elliott


The month of May was filled with convocation ceremonies, and in honour of Queen’s University’s 175th anniversary, we decided to celebrate the accomplishments of some of our most distinguished alumni in conferring honorary degrees. Four members of our city’s most beloved band, The Tragically Hip, joined us for our second of 21 convocation ceremonies on May 2. Dr. Gord Sinclair delivered a wonderful speech to the crowd, “Your greatest satisfaction, in every aspect of your life, will come from the interactions with the people you partner with and those to whom you provide help.”

Photo by Bernard Clark


The Annual Staff and Faculty Barbecue gives us a chance to step away from our offices and connect with colleagues from across campus. Seeing so many faces at the event in early June was a perfect reminder of just how many people work day in and day out to make Queen’s a great university.


Photo by Bernard Clark


In July, I spent a few hours visiting with the researchers and staff at the Canadian Cancer Trials Group. I followed my visit with a tour of Dr. Madhuri Koti’s oncology lab in the Queen’s Cancer Research Institute – one of several lab tours I completed over the year. I have really enjoyed meeting researchers in person and seeing the tremendous work they are doing, and I’ve found the tours to be very helpful to me in advancing Queen’s reputation and profile for research with government, alumni, and donors.

Photo by Greg Black


Just before Orientation Week, our AMS executives hosted a Roundtable on Volunteering in the Community. I joined our new Provost, Dr. Benoit-Antoine Bacon, Carolyn Thompson, AMS VP of University Affairs, and Mayor Bryan Paterson on stage. We discussed how students could become better involved in the community and leverage those experiences later in life. In honour of Queen’s 175th anniversary, the AMS also announced that they were aiming for 175 years worth of volunteer service from Queen’s students over the 2016-17 year!

AMS Panel 1


Under clear skies and dazzling sunshine, 3,373 people turned out to Nixon Field on Sept. 6 to help Queen’s University set the Guinness World Record for largest human letter – a Q. All of the participants wore gold T-shirts provided by the organizers. The Q had a circumference of approximately 140 metres, with organizers mapping out the letter in advance using more than 300 metres of rope. The record attempt is a highlight of the university’s 175th anniversary celebrations. Hundreds of incoming students helped fill up a large portion of the Q along with other students, faculty, staff, and local community members.

Photo by Garrett Elliot


Queen’s University was incorporated by an Imperial Royal Charter issued by Queen Victoria on Oct. 16, 1841. The university marked the 175th anniversary of that historic occasion with a tree dedication in the Snodgrass Arboretum in front of Summerhill on Sunday, Oct. 16. Earlier in the day, University Historian Duncan McDowall and I visited St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, where we attended a special service that recognized the important role that church played in Queen’s early history. In this photo, I’m joined by Queen’s Elder in Residence, Mary Ann Spencer.



On Nov. 23, Mr. Seymour Schulich and I unveiled the Schulich-Woolf Rare Book Collection at Queen’s University, during a ceremony at the Queen’s Douglas Library. The collection, a combined 400 books, focuses on 16th-18th-century English history and culture but also includes volumes on travel, antiquities, and Canadiana. A titan of Canadian industry whose career spanned the financial services and mining sectors, Mr. Schulich has distinguished himself as a philanthropist over the last two decades, donating more than $350 million to universities and hospitals throughout Canada, the U.S., and Israel. In 2011, he launched the Schulich Leader Scholarships, a $100-million program that provides full scholarships to promising high school graduates with a passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Since the program’s inception, Queen’s has been a top-five destination for Schulich Leaders; fourteen of them have chosen to study at Queen’s. In this photo, Mr. Schulich (centre) and I look at one of the new displays with Alvan Bregman, Head, W.D. Jordan Rare Books and Special Collections.



Earlier this month, I hosted the annual Principal’s Holiday Reception where I honoured seven Queen’s staff members with Staff Recognition Awards. The awards recognize staff members who consistently provide outstanding contributions to the learning and working environment at Queen’s at a level significantly beyond what is usually expected. The 2016 Staff Recognition Award recipients are: Melinda Knox and Kelly Blair-Matuk, Office of the Vice-Principal (Research); Sandra McFadden, Office of the University Registrar (Student Awards); Sandra Murray, Centre for Teaching & Learning; Ben Seewald, Advancement – Alumni Relations; Deborah Smith, Office of the University Registrar (Exams Office); and Angela Street, Office of the University Registrar (Student Awards).


Of course, these are only twelve of a few hundred busy days around Queen’s University campus, but they are great reminders of what we’ve accomplished since January. I give my best wishes to you for a wonderful holiday break filled with friends, family and lots of rest and relaxation. See you all again in 2017!

On racism, diversity, and inclusion at Queen’s: Some thoughts and a proposed course of action

This has been a difficult week for many Queen’s community members. Periodically, our relatively quiet campus explodes in controversy. I’ve seen it happen a handful of times since I’ve been principal, each situation unique in its own right, but each almost invariably magnified by the potent influence of social media.

Last week, reports emerged of a costume party attended by Queen’s students that involved the unacceptable misappropriation and stereotyping of numerous cultures. This has understandably caused both anxiety and anger for many; it has also rekindled an important conversation in our community about the degree to which Queen’s is a welcoming and inclusive community.

While we are much more diverse than we once were, this incident has acted as an urgent reminder that Queen’s still has much work to do on these issues, and in particular on sensitizing all our community members to actions and behaviours that may seem harmless fun to many but which marginalize some members and make them feel unwelcome at our university. For that reason, I am forming an advisory group comprising students, faculty, and staff members to examine the issue of inclusivity at Queen’s and make both immediate and long-term recommendations for change.

Among other things, the advisory group will consult key stakeholders who work on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion to identify concrete steps to create and sustain a positive, constructive dialogue and identify educational and training needs. This group will consult widely and report back to me with recommendations by the end of the academic year.

This will not be the first group to look at diversity and inclusion at Queen’s, and so I understand that there may well be skepticism about its creation and ability to effect change. With that in mind, one of the first tasks of the group will be to review the work that has been done in the past, and determine if there are barriers that have prevented previous recommendations from being successfully implemented and how we can overcome these.

Last week, I asked the provost to gather as much information as possible about the party that prompted this discussion. An investigation is just that – it is not a “witch hunt,” as some have opined on social media, but simply due process. There is no doubt that the party in question made some of our community members feel upset, marginalized and degraded, and that the decisions made by some students were insensitive and exhibited very poor judgment. However, based on the information the provost has gathered, we have come to the conclusion that there should not be a formal punitive process undertaken through the Student Code of Conduct. This in itself would fix nothing. What is needed is a broader, sustained, and more meaningful conversation around these issues.

This is a very difficult subject, and many of you have strong feelings about how the university should proceed. However, as an educator and the principal of Queen’s, I am confident that the most effective way to address these issues is through education, discussion, and awareness. That is why the work of the advisory group, and the dialogue that will take place in the coming months, is so important.

Of the many conversations I’ve had with members of our community over the past several days, one conversation with an alumna in particular stands out. To paraphrase, she defined racism as a broader concept than many members of the general public are likely to acknowledge—one that includes not only obvious actions of discrimination and hatred, but also unconscious assumptions and opinions, and more subtle acts of disrespect. Perceptions of what “racism” includes are fluid, and they have evolved historically.

Within a progressive society such as a university, such definitions have also broadened over recent decades. But progressive communities acknowledge that definitions evolve, open themselves up to difficult conversations, and respect each other as the status quo is challenged. Sometimes it takes an event such as the recent costume party to make us re-evaluate our own assumptions, unconscious biases, use of terminology, and our sense of what is and what is not appropriate behaviour in a multicultural and inclusive community.

We have made great progress on many social issues at Queen’s over the years (mental health and sexual violence, for example) through dialogue and concrete, rather than symbolic, actions. I encourage everyone to share views in a constructive rather than a divisive way, with a focus on the wellbeing and success of all our community members. Change comes from conversation and education, and creating a culture of greater respect and understanding. I do not know at this juncture what our specific actions will be, other than that they do not include demonizing individuals who are members of our community. I do know that we need to find solutions, and I welcome your suggestions.

Peace: the absence of fear and the presence of justice

The following is a guest post from Queen’s University’s Inter-faith Chaplain, Kate Johnson, who delivered this speech on November 11th at a Peacequest event called “The World Remembers.” 

In my early teens I made my first faulty commitment to pacifism. At 28, I met the soldier who would eventually become my husband. He had learned of my claim to pacifism previously but was still interested in meeting me. Had I known he was a soldier I would not likely have seen the date through. Immediately, I was forced to admire his open mind and willingness to challenge his own prejudices – although one of his first questions felt more like a challenge to me.

He asked how a person of conscience could be willing to “do nothing” when the world was crying out for justice. I was confused – what did he mean by “do nothing?” In the world he came from, the teaching was that pacifists “did nothing” in place of preparing to take up arms. I was glad to explain that my pacifist role models were very much people of action and that I did all that I could to live up to their examples. While his lot were (with varying degrees of reluctance) willing to do violence in the hope of creating peace, my lot were (with varying degrees of self awareness and integrity) using less coercive means to bring about greater peace. Each of us shattered the other’s illusions about who was “on the other side” of our differences. Since that night, I can say with certainty that loving and marrying a soldier has indeed been the most constructive thing I have ever done to strengthen my commitment to pacifism.

You have read Ursula Franklin’s beautiful words above me: “Peace is not the absence of war but the absence of fear and the presence of justice.” In our world, and in our homes where violence has been present as often as not and the dividing line between good and evil cuts through every human heart, peace is a state brought about by strongly held conviction, rigorous self-examination and as much action as our personal circumstances allow. As people who want peace for ourselves and others we can not shirk Margaret Meade’s perhaps cliche but still essential suggestion that we must “be the change we want to see in the world.”

The practice of pacifism is a life-time, moment-by-moment commitment – many splendored in its efforts. Those efforts are too numerous to describe tonight so instead I want to briefly talk about what I believe to be the primary pacifist practice – that of spiritually grounded self-examination.

Different traditions use different language but my own Quaker tradition advises that we “remove the seeds of war from our own lives.” This is a tall – if not impossible – order. It does not refer merely to holding political ideals or particular interpersonal practices but extends through the whole of our lives. It includes eliminating investments and patterns of consumption that lead to fear and conflict close to home or at a distance. Few of us have the integrity to even pretend to strive for such an ideal these days – I certainly cannot lay claim to it.

It is much easier to call out ideas we don’t like than it is to lay down the technology that contains conflict minerals or the many consumer goods produced in circumstances of oppression. Certainly we can not live in this society without participating in oppression unless we are willing to be thought terribly odd and take up a place far on the margins of society ourselves. We need to be honest with ourselves about that but we also should not let that reality stop us from doing what we can – including some of the hard stuff.

A famous prophet once challenged his followers: “what credit is there in loving those who love you” or already see you as allies? Love of allies is not meaningless – indeed this week in North America has made the ever-present need for solidarity even more urgent. We must speak our truth, wear our safety pins, and create safe havens for the marginalized but none of that is enough.

It sounds naive to some but I assure you it is not when I say with all certainty that if we want peace, we must refuse to be enemies.

We must oppose evil ideas and evil agendas – and to give that opposition integrity, we must not dehumanize those who tempt us into conflict. In 30 years of seeking to understand humans and our range of behaviour, I have arrived at this one unavoidable truth: from the roughest streets, to the darkest prison to the privileged environs of Queen’s University, I have yet to meet a person who did not make sense when I learned their whole story.

We can and must resist evil but we also can and must exercise that resistance in the most humane, compassionate way possible – constantly challenging ourselves, our allies and those we oppose to methods of living that transcend the perceived need for violence. It takes a life-time of training and discipline to achieve this – and never perfectly. Still, more often than we imagine, it can be done.

Audre Lorde is famously quoted as saying “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” She goes on to point out that “they may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” She “urges each one of us to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself to touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all of our choices” and we can respond with the kind of compassion and humility that hurting children deserve – for who among us has ever left their hurting child entirely behind?

I heard it said this morning by Military Chaplain Captain Ryan Carter that no one has a monopoly on the meaning of Remembrance Day. It is right and good that we gather this evening to mourn the violence in our world and to long together for our vision of peace: an absence of fear and the presence of justice. Let us be sure as we leave this place that we do all that we can to remove the seeds of violence from our own lives, holding each other up so that we do not betray ourselves in fear but rather that we encourage each other to be sure that our actions speak our convictions.