Category Archives: Equity

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 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.

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.