Category Archives: Inclusion

My safety: Rethinking safe spaces through intentional community building

Hands together

In our January blog, Mofi Badmos, Diversity and Inclusivity Coordinator at the Smith School of Business, talks about the importance of community and how creating spaces for BIPoC individuals is key to fostering belonging

We finish our third book club meeting discussing Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, with so much awe and gratitude that I say to my friend and book club member “wow, I can’t believe we continue to make this happen”. I am stunned at how five Black women, in four different countries, across different time zones come together, in community, to discuss books and themes all connected through our different but shared experiences as Black women navigating society.

Our lazily named Best Book Club was intentional on the membership being Black and non-Black racialized women from African countries reading books by other Black and non-Black racialized African authors. There is something to be said about community, and being with others who have shared experiences is comforting, healing, and rejuvenating.

Community is central to my life and wellbeing. I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria surrounded by family, friends and members of my community. I always had people and this cemented the feelings and benefits of having a network around. Moving to Kingston in 2016 for work exposed me to the many challenges of making friends and creating community in adulthood, especially in a space lacking in representation of Black people and the ability gather, effortlessly. There are significant comforts and unsaid ways of being that come with being in spaces with other Black and brown folks that I have to let go of in my day-to-day life. In many instances, I have not felt like myself and I continue to yearn for, crave, and create those communities where I can just be.

This drew me to ponder the many ways in which members of marginalized groups create and maintain community, in-person and online. It is important to have a discussion around the need of spaces and communities that are centered around marginalized groups and especially dispel the notion that the creation of these spaces is sexist, racist, and exclusionary for members of the dominant culture(s).

 

Rethinking safe spaces 

Safe Space, a term that is used often at the start of events, workshops, and sessions is a call to action to ensure that everyone in that space feels safe, is not exposed to harm, and, hopefully, is protected if safety is not met. The concept of safe spaces is contested because, among other reasons, how can organizers really ensure safety. The uncertainty around guaranteeing a safe space can be attributed to the systems of oppression that exist within those spaces. A way to work towards what can be a safe space for members of marginalized groups is controlling for the representation of the systems of oppression in that space, among other things.

 

Wine and Whine was a feminist, women-only party organized in Lagos, Nigeria in 2019 to create a space where women could have fun and party without the fears of harassment and violence. Some conversations around this questioned if “exclusionary” spaces are necessary when the focus should be on creating space where all can exist. Yes, that would be the goal but that is not the reality for women and other folks, as we exist in society.

To have this conversation is to understand that anti-Black racism, racism, sexism, transphobia and other forms of oppression are deeply systemic and are not just results of interpersonal issues. Consider the fact that spaces reflecting the dominant culture (whiteness, heteronormativity, patriarchy, able-bodied) have existed, continue to exist, and are tainted with superiority, privilege, erasure and inaccessibility.  Any space created in contrast to this is not reflecting the current power structures but rather subverting them. To have this conversation is also to understand that the aim of intentional community building is to create safe spaces for Black and brown folks to share experiences and discuss forms of systemic oppression without the lurking presence of those systems.

 

Creating your space

I think about this frequently and especially in my work as the Diversity and Inclusivity coordinator at the Smith School of Business. I continue to think about how I can create space for equity-seeking students without further othering1 them. I see and can relate with the challenges that come from being in a white dominated space, wanting to connect with other Black and brown folks but not wanting that to be your only identity. The strength and validation that comes from intentionally creating your space is worth more than the illusion that fitting in can offer. Black and racialized people continue to be told that we have to limit ourselves in order to succeed, but a key part that is missing is that community is our fuel and as Black and brown folks, our coming together continues to be the fear of the dominant society. So tap into that as much as you can and like.

Intentional community building inspired the co-founding of Black Luck Collective, a community meet-up group aimed at bringing together new and seasoned Black Kingstonians to uncover our dependable and visible community through social, educational, and professional occasions. I felt the need to create this group, as I felt disconnected from my community living in Kingston and working in white dominated spaces. The limitation in self-expression, code switching, racism and micoaggressions, highlighted the importance of creating a space that does not include those things and where we can share shared experiences with understanding.

I implore readers not to lean to the initial reaction of wondering what-of-members-of-the-dominant-culture that this is excluding but think what is this doing for members of this community and how are they benefitting from this. Community gathering has always existed, but in spaces where people find themselves excluded or marginalized there is much relevance in creating space. As a member of a dominant culture that wants to attend a gathering as a way of support, I implore you to think about this and think about how much space you occupy in the way of infringing on true self-expression and comfort that these spaces bring. Reflect on your privilege and positionality as it can inform better ways you can show support and ally-ship.

I hope members of the Queen’s community; especially the students I work with will see the relevance of intentionally creating space and community for Black, Brown and other People Of Colour to be able to exist truthfully and hopefully in safety. In the great words of Audre Lorde “Without community, there is no liberation”

 

1Othering: a set of dynamics, processes, and structures that engender marginality and persistent inequality across any of the full range of human differences based on group identities.  (powell, j. a., & Menendian, S. (2018, August 29). The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging. Retrieved January 16, 2020, from http://www.otheringandbelonging.org/the-problem-of-othering/)

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.

Entering our fifth year!

Learn, Unlearn, Relearn

Another school year starts and with it our new cohort of bloggers for 2019-2020! Thank you to all the collaborators that invested their time and knowledge to make this blog possible year after year.

For our 5th year, the blog will be focusing on unlearning and relearning. Our contributors will talk about the learnt attitudes, behaviours and feelings we have to change in order to foster a truly inclusive campus. We will hear about individual instances of learning, unlearning, and relearning, and about the much needed systemic change that is necessary to remove barriers of access and participation for equity-seeking groups.

As we update this blog, don’t forget that 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.

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

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.