Category Archives: Diversity

Eight “Good Practices” for Engaging in Courageous Conversations

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Photo by Kid Circus on Unsplash

Our November blogger, Andrew B. Campbell, Adjunct Assistant Professor at Queens University, shares with us a set of recommendations to navigate the difficult conversations that lead us to positive change

 

After being involved in a number of conversations at workshops, conferences, and in classrooms, I wish to share eight of my personal principles. Five are postures and positions I have developed throughout my practice over the years, and the other three are from Singleton & Linton (2006).

Share Your Story

Black people, like myself, visible minorities, LGBTQ, Indigenous and the “othered” who do this work, often feel the need to be careful and cautious, often doing this work within predominant white spaces. Story telling of others and self are powerful tools. Our lived experiences are valued. We live our stories. Often, our stories are situated and shared in deficit ways. It is therefore important and empowering to tell my own story. It is often one of the most courageous things we can do as we engage as our authentic self.

Come prepared to Learn

As I engage in courageous conversations, I am always prepared for learning. So much is happening and very fast, and it is therefore essential that we engage in these conversations from an informed place. Ignorance is poison to a courageous conversation. In the last three years, I personally have had so much learning around historical contexts, terminologies, identities and cultures. I am always excited to add something new to my toolbox. Learning is a change in behaviour brought about by an experience. How are we are changing?

Come Prepared to Unlearn

This process of unlearning is personal and calls for us to be reflective and reflexive about what we know and what has influenced our knowing. Nothing is more wasteful than people coming to conversations with deficit, oppressive or discriminating views, and after much engagement, leave with those same views. They consciously refuse to unlearn since they know that unlearning may cost them some loss of power, loss of privilege, provide truths they were not ready to face and force them to acknowledge others.

Check your Biases

The work to dismantle biases begins with you. It is an internal process. Way too often, when we seek change, we engage in an over dependency on policies, statements, and another checked-box. What we need is for us to foster a greater sense of self-examination within our work, knowing that acts of courage are centered on the individual and not a system. We change to change the system. Who you are impacts how you lead.

Stay Engaged

How many times do we hear of an incident of racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, micro-aggression, or any of the many “sisms”, and we share sentiments of shock and surprise, maybe engage in social media commentary and we move on. We move on very quickly these days and force others to move on as well. I have heard this statement many times, “are we talking about race again?” and my answer is always, yes! As a black professor, I am constantly engaged in the discussions on race. I do not get to skip it or avoid it. Each day I arrive at school, I arrive as a black man. We have to also sustain the conversation for many others inflicted and affected by institutionalized oppressive and discriminatory practices. We have to sustain the conversation for those who are marginalized and disenfranchised. We have to use the power, privilege and access that we have to sustain those conversations.

Speak Your Truth

Speaking your truth requires a willingness to take risks. Growing up in Jamaica, in a very homophobic environment, I learned how to not speak and live my truth. I knew my truth was dangerous and could easily cost me my life, family, and career. Today, as I engage in the work of equity, I am reminded of the power in truth, and I am also reminded of the possible danger in that very truth. Courageous conversations require truth – the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Experience Discomfort

Courageous conversations will be uncomfortable at times. When I teach a class or deliver a workshop, and I sense that discomfort, I allow the participants to understand the value in that discomfort. I never hasten to change the topic or move away from it. I articulate the need to sit in it for a while. I remind them if these are issues that make us uncomfortable – imagine those directly affected and inflicted.

Move to Action

In 2016 Nike engaged in a courageous conversation and designed the first sport hijab to be worn at the 2016 summer Olympics. The Toronto Raptors made history by being the first NBA team to have their own licensed line of the traditional Muslim head covering. We have to engage in conversations that are tangible – conversations that lead to change.  We are big on conferences, workshops, seminars, councils, committees, symposiums and working groups. All that is necessary and needed, however, let us ensure our conversations are intentional and deliberate and lead to real action.

 

References:

Singleton, Glenn E. Linton, Curtis. (2006) Courageous conversations about race: a field guide for achieving equity in schools Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press.

Justice Is Not Some of Our Work but All of Our Work

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For our April piece, Curtis Carmichael, Queen’s alumnus and a respected community leader, talks about the need to move the conversation forward, from equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) towards an anti-oppression and anti-racism framework, in order to create meaningful change

 

I was raised in a lower income community in Scarborough. In these neighborhoods, underfunded by the government, we noticed that poverty was by design – structural. Schools in Toronto, like many across Canada, treated children differently based on their race and income. They funneled Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) and lower income students into courses below their ability and disproportionally suspended and expelled these students.

In 2011, while studying at Queens, I noticed why students from communities like mine were underrepresented in universities but overrepresented in colleges. This was by design. Students from these communities were capable of excelling academically. The problems lay within the systemic barriers that limited their choices and access to opportunities. As a teacher and former Queen’s employee, I recognize that educational institutions often have a similar approach to diversity: to increase it without providing institutional supports to sustain it. Representation does matter; however, this alone is not enough.

Encouraging and promoting diversity does not do justice to diverse communities if systems are not put in place for them to thrive. To move forward for meaningful systemic change, Queen’s needs to move beyond Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). EDI has become popular and trendy in western discourses but it is not able to identify and remove the systemic barriers that were historically designed to exclude and further marginalize BIPOC communities. Specifically, we must move from EDI towards an anti-oppression and anti-racism framework. This will better inform the direction of the university as it establishes the institutional supports needed for staff and students at all levels. By using these frameworks, the barriers and processes that continue to perpetuate marginalization can be identified and removed.

Queen’s University has made strides forward; however, much is still required to establish the support for staff and students from underrepresented communities. Anti-oppression & anti-racism training must be provided with institutional support and accountability in order to drive meaningful systemic change. These frameworks need to inform all of our work, not some of our work. The first step toward change is to name the ongoing oppression, colonization and marginalization for what it is. We must name and understand systemic white supremacy, a system based on economic exploitation and structural exclusion of BIPOC by limiting their access to opportunities and resources. In short, Canada has racism so deeply embedded in our systems that we need as many people at the local and national level to disrupt our system to make changes. We need to uplift one another and each find our role in this fight for justice. We must choose to disrupt our system and make changes or we will perpetuate it by keeping silent.

“The system is not broken. It was built this way.” – Desmond Cole

Breaking Boundaries Through the Arts: The Power of Poetry

Can’t see the video? Click Here.

This month, Nirosha Balukamar -fourth-year undergraduate student at Queen’s- writes a powerful piece on how the art of the spoken word can be used to create connections and understandings. Nirosha sees poetry as a tool to educate, empower and engage others in the conversation by raising awareness and fostering environments for constructive dialogue.

 

My voice is my strength and my strength lies in my voice.

If you know me, you’ll know that one of my favourite phrases is “let’s decolonize education.” I am a huge believer in embracing the untraditional and unconventional ways of learning, of challenging the systems in place and trying to reimagine the way in which we communicate and educate. I am a spoken word artist and I use my art as a platform to advocate and empower others. I use my art to connect and empathize, to create understanding and bridge barriers, to overcome boundaries and differences. You see for me, the arts are a means to foster intergenerational dialogue. I truly believe that when I perform, I am able to reach individuals in ways that our traditional systems cannot.

It is important to understand that these mediums hold value. We live in an education system that tries to confine us and produce identical beings. We are taught how to learn, we are constricted on what is seen as valid. These Western and Eurocentric models continue to reinforce negative power dynamics. We limit ourselves and the conversations we have by ensuring people follow a certain status quo. We silence creativity and self-expression, we fear the unknown. My advocacy for the arts as a valid form of communication lies with the importance of accepting untraditional ways of learning and engaging.

For me, it’s more than just reimagining the way in which we communicate, but it’s about reinventing these methods- understanding that storytelling, poetry and music are indigenous forms of knowledge and communication. It’s about honouring how my ancestors across the Caribbean and South Asia, engaged and celebrated the arts throughout history- from the plantations to the scriptures. To understand that wisdom and knowledge come in different forms, is the point in which we can begin to decolonize our minds.

One of the most powerful moments for me was when I was working for the United Nations this summer. I had the opportunity to perform at the UN Reception and I was incredibly nervous because this was the most high-profile audience I had ever performed to. My poetry is usually shared amongst youth for advocacy and empowerment purposes. I wasn’t sure how my spoken word would be received in a venue filled with professionals that wrote reports and conducted research- I wasn’t sure how far my creativity would reach. It was this performance that made me realize that my art could one day translate into my career. After my performance, I was approached by an individual who had experienced domestic abuse and expressed how much my words had resonated with her; how she had felt like I had written it for her and her story. I then had another individual- completely different story, from a completely different country, approach me to tell me that he had to walk away for a moment because it was as if I was speaking specifically to him and some of his struggles with recovering from alcoholism. At that moment, I realized the power of poetry. How one set of words were able to connect and bring reflection to two complete strangers. I realized that in allowing this to be a form of communication, we can not only reach a wider audience but we can invoke emotions, creating spaces to foster dialogue.

When we talk about wanting to make effective change, I saw the challenges for myself this summer within the UN and governmental bodies. The laws may appear to be perfect, but if they are not respected, implemented or justified, then there is no actual change to take place. The truth is, that a lot of the issues lie within societal attitudes and behaviours. Systems have been created to keep certain groups marginalized and we continue to maintain these, whether or not our policies are discriminatory. Changes in laws, conducting research and producing reports, won’t change attitudes. But reimagining how we communicate and how we can use it as a tool to create connections and understandings, could be the key that we need to helping bridge these gaps in humanity. To make people feel, to want to care and listen- to create change, we need to communicate.

You can experience one of Nirosha’s poems here: To the Person on the Other Side of the Mirror: What Do You See? – Nirosha Balakumar.

 

Together We Are reaches its fourth year!

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.

In 2018-2019 our blog will focus on (re)imagination. Contributors will (re)imagine the institution, space and dream for the future. Over the course of the next year you will hear from students, staff and faculty reflecting on the challenges and accomplishments of the past as well as their respective visions for the future.

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.

Being Who You Are, Inside and Out

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This month, contributor Erin LeBlanc, Director, Strategic Program Development & Accreditation at the Smith School of Business and Queen’s alumnae, discusses themes of identity, authentic self, and belonging. Ms. Leblanc is an advocate for LGBTQ+ people with a focus on education, awareness, and building community for transgender people.

If I can’t be me, who am I supposed to be?

This is a question that I hear time and time again in conversations with transgender people. And with June just around the corner and communities preparing to host Pride celebrations, I am reminded of these conversations. Some people may be perplexed by this statement in that they don’t understand why there is such a great deal of stress for those who suffer from Gender Dysphoria.

They don’t understand why there is any issue with someone being transgender.

Good for them. They get it. They are enlightened.

However, if you don’t suffer with gender dysphoria, it is hard to appreciate what it is like.

People in the LGBTQ+, in particular the Transgender community, are, for the most part, terrified of how they will be treated if and when they come out. Because society isn’t as welcoming as some people think, or hope. There is still a great lack of understanding and compassion out there. There are numerous examples of transgender people losing their jobs, being evicted from their accommodations, and being disowned from their families. Essentially, they are disenfranchised from society.

And for what? All they want to do is live their lives. Do their jobs. Contribute to the community. But society stills feels threatened by transgender people.

Why?

Usually, it is from a lack of understanding about what it means to be transgender, to suffer from Gender Dysphoria. With some education, they start to be more accepting and can, in many instances, become allies. But many people out there in society still harbor resentment and a sense of confusion, or even disdain, for transpeople.

They refuse to be exposed to any type of information about what it means. How many times have I heard people refer to being transgender as a lifestyle choice.

A choice?

Seriously?

Ask anyone in the community. The last thing I would ever wish upon anyone is to have gender dysphoria. It is something you are born with. There is no choice. Gender is separate from the sex you are assigned at birth based upon a physical attribute. Gender is who you are in your heart and soul and mind. And that too is assigned at birth.

Who would choose to not be congruent in your inner and outer being?

To look in the mirror every single day and not recognize who is looking back at you. To suffer from the depression and anxiety attacks that accompany the dysphoria. To be out of control of your life. To simply be a passenger on the bus that is your life, with no real control over where the bus is taking you. That is frightening and at times debilitating.

A choice?

Not even close.

Think of it this way. You have a can with a label on it that reads “Peas” along with a picture etc. But inside the can, it is actually peaches. On the inside, it is peaches, but to the outside world it is peas. Nowhere near close to being congruent. We can’t change the peaches to peas. Not going to happen. That’s what they are, on the inside. Peaches.

But we can change the label.

That’s on the outside and that can be changed. So, we change the label. We have congruency. Now, people see a can of peaches and guess what. That is what it really is on the inside. All transpeople want is to have the outside match who they are on the inside. To present in the gender they were born with. For some this means surgeries. In some instances, numerous surgeries. For others, it means simply having their external presentation in the clothes they wear, and the way the cut or style their hair etc. match their gender. This provides them with a sense of congruency and hence peace with who they really are.

We are fortunate to live in a country that offers protections by federal and provincial legislation. For many employers, there are official company policies regarding the protection of transgender people from discrimination and humiliation.

And that’s great.

But the work is not done. We can’t take our foot off the gas. There is still a lot that has to be done. Policies are great. But without the processes in place to back them up and implement them, they mean nothing.

Organizations have to look at all the processes they have when hiring, promoting and training their staff to ensure there is understanding and awareness of these policies. More importantly, how it impacts their jobs so they know what to do when a transgender person is asking for assistance or simply wishing to purchase their goods and services. This means front line staff must be trained on what it means to be part of a positive space. To accept all people as equal, to treat everyone with dignity and respect regardless of their gender, race, religion, nationality etc.

Look, all the community wants is to live their lives, do their jobs and contribute to the community.

To live, love and laugh, just like everyone else.

 

That shouldn’t be that hard to accept. It’s not too much to ask.

 

Knowing Who You Are

This month, contributor Ann Deer, Indigenous Recruitment and Support Coordinator in the Faculty of Law and the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, discusses her experiences of being Indigenous within western education systems; attributing her strength and resiliency to the Mohawk women in her family who came before her.

“Go learn what the White Man knows and learn it better,”  – Jake Swamp, Mohawk Traditional Chief, Wolf Clan 1942-2010

This is probably the one statement from my undergrad years at Trent University that will always stay with me.  For the first time, an Elder, someone from my community was teaching me in a western setting and his words hit home.  I was asked to write about my experience on campus with respect to diversity.  My experiences here in the western education system go back to when I was young.  A person does not experience life in a moment it is all the events that lead you to a moment that defines how you experience a situation.

For me a visible Mohawk woman, living as one with my traditions as much possible as that can be in a concrete world, I believe my experiences leading my moments in life go back to my ancestors and all they stood for.

I am a true believer that in order to be a leader, a teacher, and an advisor you must know yourself. To know yourself you must know your roots, what and who made you.  I am Tewesaks, Wolf Clan of the Mohawk nation.  I come from a long line of clan carrying women who in my opinion beat all the odds, because we were not wiped out of existence, we are still here.

When I was in elementary school we were brought in to the gym for a presentation on bullying.  The counselor talked about stats (Don’t think anyone knew what he was talking about).  But as this memory lived on in my mind I realize he was talking about us.  Every one of us in that gym was a stat.  He wanted us to know we had choices to make and those choices had consequences, but either way we make our choice we are always going to be seen as a stat.  I now understand he was tired of our people being seen as the problem stat (welfare, prison and jail populations) and wanted to see our students turn these stats around through graduating high school.  Graduating high school does not seem like a huge accomplishment to some, but when the schools were not required to hire qualified teachers and you are not expected to attend college, let alone university and have a career, graduating high school is a huge event.  After all, you are just a stat to be dealt with.

I was lucky my mom against my wishes fought for me to attend a high school with all white kids (The nearby town was predominantly white).  This school had a Chefs kitchen, dance, theater, a real automotive shop and an amazing art teacher who was the only other brown person I remember besides the four other indigenous students who attended with me.  My high school life summarized as a stat: Five Indigenous students began high school together, two female three male.  Two of us graduated and I was the only one not pregnant.  Graduation was after the 90s crisis many who were not there refer to as the Oka crisis. My experience during that time is for another story.

Fast forward to taking the long way around to getting my Master’s in Education Leadership. After many, many rewrites and attempts to be employed in a University I get a call from Melanie Howard, Director of Access to Engineering.  In the call she asks me why I did not indicate that I was Indigenous on my application.  I said I did.  That was a lie.  I honestly thought that was a mistake in the application process and thought what does that have to do with my getting a job?  Never helped me before.  During my first interview to work here at Queen’s I was asked, “What is your definition of success?”  My answer was, “This is; I am being interviewed to work at Queen’s University! Me, the little Mohawk girl, who was predicted through all the stats to be a young jobless uneducated single mom is being interviewed to work at Queen’s University!”  Not an expected answer but it was the truth.

I am aware that when I enter a room I am the visible minority on campus.  But that is okay with me, because I come from a long line of proud clan carrying Mohawk women, we are still here.  I am living the dream my ancestors had for me and bringing many more with me.