Category Archives: Diversity

Pandemic & Impact on EDII

Image of hands working together building a foundation
Photo by Rodolfo Quirós from Pexels

In this piece, Tahmena Bokhari, EDI Director for the Smith School of Business, imagines a future where forever changed communities are filled with more compassion, empathy and humility

This winter break, as Omicron was taking hold over Kingston, Ontario, I reflected back to the early days prior to the pandemic being officially declared and all that has happened since then. Back in January of 2020, when we were first learning of this virus, I was in Toronto just beginning to learn about the impact of the virus on staff and working with leaders to formulate some messaging. A staff was planning a trip to China and worried she may be getting backlash from colleagues. As weeks went on, local GTA Chinese business owners were discussing the impact to their local customers and communities. As the pandemic was officially declared and as lockdowns were being implemented, we collectively became science students learning about molecular structures of Covid-19. Members of Indigenous and Black communities began talking about their fears as minoritized persons, mistrust of healthcare systems and government mandated vaccines.  South Asian families in areas like Peel Region were talking about concerns of living in multigenerational households as well as fears of the health of family members in their countries of origin. Employees with disabilities who were suddenly having to work from home and were not provided adequate accessible supports felt that we lost accessibility gains made in the workplace. Many equity-deserving communities started voicing concerns about struggles being compounded due to isolation and job precariousness for members of equity-deserving groups, particularly newcomers. Certainly, we have seen inequitable vaccine access globally.  

Back then, on a personal note, I had no idea that today I would be sitting in my new home in Kingston writing this piece. During this past year, I accepted an offer to lead the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiative. I also had no idea the monumental leaps this pandemic would see for anti-racism, anti-Black racism, and anti-Indigenous racism and decolonization. The murder of George Floyd, the uncovering of mass graves of Indigenous children in residential schools, and the killing of a Muslim family merely going for a walk, in London, Ontario — all shook the country to the core. People came together in historic ways to march, protest and show solidarity. As an EDI leader, I have personally and professionally been transformed, in ways that I am still processing. I do not want us to lose what we have gained.

As I imagine a future with us having moved through this pandemic, I envision people and communities forever changed with more compassion, empathy and humility. Life, as we have been harshly reminded, is so very fragile, even for those who may appear to be healthy and in their prime years of life. As Ontarians, who are so privileged to have the healthcare we do, it was a wake-up call that our systems are not fail-proof and have limits. It is a reckoning with life as we know it! It is an opportunity to question how we have been doing things, what we prioritize, how we can work together for the betterment of all, and how we can shift our systems to be more efficient, agile and equitable. Ultimately, it is an opportunity to reconsider our values. I ask the question, “What side of history do you want to be on and remembered for by your grandchildren and great-grandchildren?” Just as students in grade school today are learning about residential schools, thanks to the Truth & Reconciliation recommendations on education, future generations will be reading about this pandemic and all that changed as a result. Will they be reading that this was a major turning point and that finally systemic and institutionalized forms of inequity were being taken seriously with action and results? I will leave you with this question.

The Intersectional d-20

d20 dice. Image created by Marwa Hussein

d-20 dice. Image created by Marwa Hussein

For December, Yara Hussein, Queen’s student currently completing her second year as a biochemistry major with a minor in global development, shares with us the unique perspective that the intersection of her identities has awarded her

d-20: a dice used in the game of Dungeons and Dragons and is unique due to its 20-sided nature rather than the traditional 6-sided dice. Used to depict the multiple social identities of people. Note: one can have more or less than 20 sides to their own d-20.

Intersectionality: a framework that conceptualizes a person, group of people, or social problems as affected by a number of discriminations and disadvantages. It takes into account an individual’s identities and experiences in order to understand the complexity of prejudices they face (Crenshaw, 1989).

The d-20 as The Person

Growing up in the west, I’ve had many unique experiences that have shaped my growth and my vision of the world. Being a Muslim, neurodivergent, immigrant woman of colour awarded me a unique perspective in navigating daily life in a white-centric environment. And despite my own diverse nature, I often found myself forced into a corner with how I present my various identities.

At times, I may be seen as just a woman, with only one of my inequalities at the forefront. However, my other identities as a Muslim, Egyptian immigrant, coming from a lower-middle class household demonstrate how these forms of oppression operate together, and the consequent lived experience is not just the sum of its parts.

It nearly always felt random, as though I was rolling some dice. Never did those around me think to ask, “what do You identify as? how do you want us to see you?” Rather, it was as if all intersectional people are given a d- 20 dice with their identities on each face. Pick what you’ll be accepted for today and discard all else.

And while this may be a bleak and negative view of the d- 20, the dice itself did nothing wrong. Instead of being forced to roll the dice and pick a mask to wear, I instead choose to carry my d- 20 with me wherever I go, in all its multi-faceted glory, as a reminder that I don’t have to choose. That I shouldn’t be expected to choose. And that my dice is mine to hold and to roll as I please, but never to be used to subdue any sides of my identity.

As I learn to holistically love these sides of my identity and the ways they intersect, I have learnt that our identities don’t independently exist. We must fully celebrate every part of who we are in every space. The communities we belong to must also fully celebrate every part of who we are regardless of their main targeted group.

The d-20 as The World

Another way we can understand the d-20 is by relating it to the world and communities at large. An inherent example that demonstrates the urgency of understanding and implementing intersectional understandings in all forms of social justice work would be the one-sidedness of whiteness in feminist theory and how it endangers women of colour. Feminism is not feminism if it excludes the voices of Black women, Indigenous women, and women of colour. Feminism is not feminism if it doesn’t see, support, and advocate for every side/dimension of the d-20 dice.

What communities can take from this is that by recognizing and supporting each side of an individual’s d-20 dice, we can better understand the various discriminations and oppressions an individual may face and then better advocate holistically for every side of their d-20.

Understanding intersectionality is vital in combatting the interwoven prejudices that marginalized peoples face in their daily lives. Often, when intersectional individuals are in a single community of their identity, they feel that they must leave the rest of their identities at the door as those parts of them may not be welcomed.

Evidently, by ensuring that every individual’s d-20 is seen, heard, and represented, we can continue learning about one another and understand how we can advocate for those individuals whose identities intersect diverse communities. The d-20 intersectional framework will only strengthen us when combating oppressive lawmakers and policies as we realize our multifaceted dice are what connect us in the game of life.


  1. Crenshaw, Kimberlé. (2016). “The Urgency of Intersectionality”. TEDWomen2016.

Eight “Good Practices” for Engaging in Courageous Conversations

Person jumping

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.



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


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.