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Together We Are 2021-2022

Image showing a tower of Jenga blocks

How do you envision the post-pandemic world?

How do you envision the future?

During a long and exhausting health emergency crisis, equity-deserving communities have been facing the exacerbated consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Society has been reckoning with the multiple and intersecting forms of oppression that impact QTBIPOC communities, both at the individual and the systemic level. And now, we are entering a time when a return to life as we knew it seems to be getting closer; however, technological changes and societal demands have put in evidence the need to rethink the future. During the school year 2021-2022, our blog contributors will reflect on the challenges, responsibilities, and practical strategies for building the post-pandemic world.

Check our blog month by month to find new and interesting reflections!

EDII and the Changing Academic Mission of Universities—a personal reflection

Campus during a sunny day

In our most recent blog post, Dr. Fahim Quadir, Dean and Vice-Provost of Graduate Studies and Professor of Global Development Studies, reflects on the crucial role universities have to play in building a more equitable future after COVID-19

A recent discussion at a meeting with my colleagues in the School of Graduate Studies somewhat unexpectedly provided the context for my deep reflection on the topic of EDII. Are the normative principles of EDII at odds with academic excellence? What is EDII all about? Is this primarily a matter of representation?

I find the current general interest in and support for equity, diversity, inclusivity and Indigenization to be enormously exciting. The debates are intense, engaging, and truly thought-provoking.  In most cases, they are no longer about paying lip service to cultivating the civic commons. Nor are they about promoting a political rhetoric without substance. The desire to dig deeper into the underlying causes of racism, colonialism, deprivation, and exploitation is remarkably genuine in much of the academia. Instead of scratching the surface, academic leaders, for instance, are now very much engaged in reimagining the academic mission of universities. The question is not so much one of rearticulating the role of universities as equalizers but rather of redefining the academic mission of post-secondary institutions in the post-COVID world.

Implicit in this profusely important dialogue is a recognition of the fact that we are living in an imperfect world and that universities bear at least some of the responsibility for creating a just, equitable, and sustainable social order. While the commitment to advancing the concept of non-repressive inclusivity varies significantly from one institution to another, the narrative of EDII, especially in Canada, points to an emerging trend that, albeit indirectly, accepts universities’ apparent failure in building a non-elitist framework of teaching, learning, and research. Manifested in the new EDII framework, in other words, is the acknowledgement that universities were and are part of the problem. Despite championing academic freedom and equity, most universities did not do enough to level the playing field. A false dichotomy between academic excellence and inclusivity was in part what prevented most academic leaders from pursuing a comprehensive agenda for creating a global cosmopolis, a common humanity where we belong –one that creates an equal opportunity for everyone to realize their potential. The last few years’ spontaneous social movements, from the “Black Lives Matter” to “Me Too” to the “94 Calls to Action”, however, light the way for a new academic mission for universities. Further, a puzzling conundrum that resulted from the pandemic in effect shed light on the purpose of liberal education. Challenging traditional academic thinking, the pandemic promoted the constructive potential of a collective purpose by exposing us to the divided, unequal world in which we currently live. The unavoidable question that looms in the background of COVID-19 is: what role do universities play in not only restoring a state of normalcy but in fact contributing to building a better normal?

The evolving consensus is that social responsibility will be at the heart of universities’ new academic mission. As a core, foundational value, universities will advance the goals of cosmopolitan humanism and non-repressive inclusivity designed to nurture an environment that brings people together by transcending all traditional divides. EDII in this context becomes a lens, an overarching theme that goes far beyond the typical focus of representation and categorization. It is about making a bold political commitment to creating a just, equitable, inclusive social order where no one is left behind. Nor is anyone denied an opportunity for realizing their constructive potential based on their race, class, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, geography, and physical ability. It proactively expands the boundaries of knowledge production that does not create the aforementioned false dichotomy between academic excellence and inclusivity. Instead of glorifying particular sites and templates of knowledge creation, it cultivates, defends, and legitimizes local praxis. Making a departure from the dominant, more formal, Eurocentric framework of teaching and learning, the EDII framework serves the global good by integrating the local into the global and by fostering a deep sense of belonging to a common humanity.

The Language of Anti-Asian Racism

anti-asian racism rally. Protesters with signs
Photo from

Our March blog post was written by Jenny Lee Northey, Career Counsellor. In this piece, she talks about the importance of language when doing anti-racist work

As we mark the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic, we have witnessed how the pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated all types of longstanding inequities in our society. In the early months of 2020 as the novel coronavirus spread, overt discrimination and acts of racism towards Asian communities spiked as people associated COVID-19 with people of Asian descent. There was heightened fear and anxiety, not only with the uncertainty of the coronavirus itself, but of the growing anti-Asian sentiment.

As the pandemic continues, we have seen anti-Asian racism and hate crimes continue to persist. There has been heightened media coverage of recent violent and fatal attacks on people of Asian descent, including an 84-year-old Thai American man who died of his injuries after being brutally shoved in San Francisco, a Montreal stabbing, as well as reports of verbal harassment and physical assault of frontline workers and business owners, amongst other incidents. While Canadians often claim that our country does not have the same level of race-based violence, the city of Vancouver reported a sevenfold increase of anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020, and other major Canadian cities such as Toronto and Montreal have seen similar spikes. In April 2020, concerned by the lack of news media coverage on Anti-Asian racism and data collection, individual organizations such as the Chinese Canadian National Council – For Social Justice (CCNC-SJ) and Project 1907 began their own work to report and track incidents across Canada.

These incidents and hate crimes corresponded to the rise of racist rhetoric, fuelled by inflammatory racist headlines and deliberate usage of the label “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus”. As Viala-Gaudefroy and Lindaman describes, using the word “Chinese” to describe the virus personifies the infection and associates it with a specific country and ethnicity, creating an “othering” effect that “stokes anxiety, resentment, fear and disgust toward people associated with that group.” Asian Canadian communities also recall similar xenophobia and racism they faced in the early 2010s related to SARS and the H5N1 bird flu.

This use of language is not novel, in the longstanding history of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy towards immigrants of Asian descent in both Canada and the United States. Part of the intent of the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 was to limit the “spread of disease” as the Chinese were often seen to be carriers of infections and disease and to further limit the influx of the “yellow peril”, despite the essential contribution of Chinese labour to the early economic development of the west coast of North America. Chinese people were seen as “dangerous to the white” and often described and labelled as “dirty” and “disgusting” and living with a “standard of morality immeasurably beyond ours”, as outlined in the 1885 Report of the Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration.

What we give language to shapes our narrative and worldview, and it is particularly in the midst of fear that language can be wielded as a weapon to further divide and alienate people from one another, further normalizing and institutionalizing racism and discrimination into our societal structures. Over this past year, we have seen how language around race and identity has been critically re-examined for the ways in which they can further marginalize individuals and groups of people, even erasing the differences that should be acknowledged and celebrated. As we continue to advocate for racial justice and equity for all, we need to continually be critical-minded and vigilant of how language is employed in shaping a more equitable, instead of divisive, post-pandemic world.


“Chinese Immigration Act.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, Accessed 15 Mar. 2021.

Chung, Amy. “In 2021, Asian Canadians Document Hate Crimes To Be Believed.” HuffPost Canada, 3 Mar. 2021,

Larsson, Paula. “Anti-Asian Racism during Coronavirus: How the Language of Disease Produces Hate and Violence.” The Conversation, 31 Mar. 2020,

“The Chinese Immigration Act, 1885 | Pier 21.” The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Accessed 15 Mar. 2021.

Viala-Gaudefroy, Jérôme, and Dana Lindaman. “Donald Trump’s ‘Chinese Virus’: The Politics of Naming.” The Conversation, 21 Apr. 2020,

Hope for the New Year

The first blog post of the year is written by Lavonne Hood, Queen’s University Ombudsperson. In her piece, Lavonne reflects on the impacts of 2020 and shares her hopes for 2021

As the seconds ticked down to midnight on December 31st, there was the usual sense of excitement and celebration for the new year. But this time felt a bit different. When 2021 arrived, it felt as if we took a collective sigh of relief after finally turning the page on the last year.

2020 was a year that few could have predicted, and one we won’t soon forget. From social justice issues regarding police brutality against Black and Indigenous people to the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 was full of challenges. Yet through it all, what it taught us was the ability of the human spirit to adapt to change and reminded us of our resiliency.

Resiliency. When things get tough and obstacles appear in our way, trip us up, maybe even knock us down, how are we able to pick ourselves up time and time again? This requires an inner strength that we often don’t even know exists until we must call upon it. Often we are stronger than we think.

With the new year comes a feeling of hope and a look toward the year ahead with optimism. 2021 is an opportunity for us to reflect on the past year while acknowledging that we have overcome a lot. We should be filled with tremendous pride for all that we have achieved. However, the challenges of 2020 will not magically disappear now that it is 2021 and there is still much to do. But there is hope, and so we persevere.

At Queen’s, the BIPOC community has had to come together like never before. With the challenge of working and studying remotely, we may be apart physically, but it is our shared experiences that unite us and bring us closer. As I think about 2021 and the year ahead, I am inspired by the courage of BIPOC faculty, staff, and especially students, to speak out about their experiences of racism this past year. It is this courage – this strength – that we will use to feed the resilient spirit that is foundational for the BIPOC community’s ability to overcome repeated injustices.

Standing on the shoulders of our ancestors and those who came before us, we are pushed forward and forever hold the hope in our hearts that tomorrow will be brighter than the yesterdays of the past. It is this hope that I hold on to every day, and it is my hope for all of us as we stand at the dawn of 2021.

Happy New Year!

Compassion, Acquisition, Respect, Evaluation (CARE): Key to Academic Acculturation

Talking stick image

In our final blog post, Liying Cheng, professor and Director of the Assessment and Evaluation Group (AEG) at the Faculty of Education, talks about how we can re-shape higher education systems in Canada with a more equitable approach

At Queen’s University, we are proud to state that “We are people who want to learn, discover, think, and do. We push the limits of what can be achieved and develop ideas that can make a difference in the world”. In order to achieve this goal, we need to challenge our thinking, learn something new (Learning), relearn what we have acquired (Re-learning), and have the capacity to challenge what we learned previously (Un-learning), which is this year’s theme for Together We Are! Most importantly, this learning, re-learning and un-learning within a higher education setting need to be conducted in a Safe Space where compassion, acquisition, respect, and evaluation (CARE) are key to academic acculturation.

As Queen’s University professor, John Berry, put it, acculturation is “a process of cultural and psychological change that results from the continuing contact between people of different cultural backgrounds” (Berry, 2006, p. 27). In a study of second language students in Canadian universities, we defined academic acculturation as “the dynamic adaptation processes of linguistically and culturally diverse students engaging with the academic study cultures of Canadian English-medium universities.” (Cheng & Fox, 2008, p. 309). Within these two definitions, I’d like to frame acculturation as the process where learning, re-learning, and un-learning take place. And this process involves the continuing contact and dynamic interaction with different languages, cultures, and, in the higher education setting, different teaching and learning. I created an acronym CARE to illustrate the process below.

Compassion, Acquisition, Respect, and Evaluation (CARE)

Compassion is the ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes, i.e., to have the capacity to feel what others feel. This is crucial when it comes to the differences of teaching and learning in a diverse higher education setting. I have adopted the term acquisition here to refer to both natural and unconscious learning, and intentional learning as both types of learning have to happen for academic success. Respect is about how we deal with differences and others who “learn, discover, think, and do” differently than us. Evaluation involves making a judgement, which in turn must entail critical thinking.  In CARE, acquisition and evaluation are about the process of  “learn, discover, think, and do”, whereas compassion and respect are about the ways in which we  “learn, discover, think, and do”.

In the fall of 2019 during one of my graduate classes, we used an Indigenous talking circle pedagogy[1] to express gratitude in our lives and our academic studies around the time of Canadian Thanksgiving. As the talking stick, borrowed from the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program[2] at the Faculty of Education, (see the image of the talking stick) was being passed around, the learning, re-learning, and un-learning occurred in a compassionate and respectful manner in which all students – be they domestic, international, masters, doctoral, or exchange students – expressed their gratitude from a multidimensional, multilingual, and multicultural perspective, inevitably from many different perspectives. Many of them learned something new, re-learned something that had acquired long ago, and un-learned something which might be stereotypical and/or misinformed. Some of the graduate course participants were moved to tears, thinking about their family and their loved ones whom they left at home/in school in order to come to the class. And many of them gave heartfelt thanks to their family and their loved ones, who are so far away, in some cases halfway around the world, far beyond regular or frequent physical contact. It was in that time and space (a Safe Space) when we opened our hearts and minds to embrace this diverse learning environment. It was also in this time and space where compassion and respect for others and the differences that others bring to the learning environment must have been present for such a powerful and positive learning to take place. Without compassion and respect, we cannot have a safe space where we can challenge ourselves and each other to “push the limits of what can be achieved and develop ideas that can make a difference in the world”.

We live in an ever-changing, increasingly diverse society. Higher education systems in Canada are under constantly growing pressures to meet the needs of an ever-more diverse population, not only of students but also of teaching, research, and administrative staff. As our complex classroom communities become increasingly heterogeneous, the traditional dichotomous perspective of seeing the world in terms of discrete entities, such as domestic/international, black/white, male/female, cannot continue. Therefore, we need to move away from thinking of dichotomies to working with continua. Within this larger and complex learning environment, we cannot afford not to care (CARE). We CARE so we can truly achieve the goal of pushing “the limits of what can be achieved and develop ideas that can make a difference in the world” – a foundation of who we are at Queen’s University.

The HREO would like to thank prof. Liying Cheng for the generous donation of her honorarium as a blog contributor to our office’s efforts in advancing EDII on Queen’s Campus.

[1] First Nations Pedagogy Online refers this pedagogy as “Talking Circles or Circle Talks”. “When everyone has their turn to speak, when all voices are heard in a respectful and attentive way, the learning atmosphere becomes a rich source of information, identity, and interaction”.

[2] “The Aboriginal Teacher Education Program Office provides administrative, academic and cultural support for our ATEP campus and community-based teacher candidates, Faculty of Education students, faculty and staff, and the greater Queen’s and Kingston community”.

Berry, J. W. (2006). Contexts of acculturation. In D. L. Sam & J. W. Berry (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of acculturation psychology (p. 27–42). Cambridge University Press.

Cheng, L., & Fox, J. (2008). Towards a better understanding of academic acculturation: Second language students in Canadian universities. Canadian Modern Language Review, 65, 307-333.

Speaking Up with Love (and maybe a glass of wine)


In this blog, Vanessa McCourt, Academic Advisor and Undergraduate Program Coordinator in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, talks about the importance of having courageous conversations


I’ve never been one to speak up. I get red and flushed in the face, my underarms sweat, the right words don’t come, and I feel REALLY uncomfortable. So, for those reasons, when people have said something that I think is offensive – either directed to me or someone else – I usually keep quiet.

Fast forward 40 years (well, minus the two years before I could speak), I read a Facebook post that made me really upset. Then to my husband’s chagrin, I responded back with my own comments. Of course, this started a commenting frenzy of defending opinions.

The person who posted is my neighbor. The neighbor who is nice to my kids, a great mom, and all-around lovely person.

After about ten comments or so, my neighbor suggested that we needed to sit down together with a glass of wine and discuss our viewpoints on the issue. I agreed.

However, before we had that glass of wine, she posted AGAIN with her support for a certain ex-hockey commentator! I thought to myself, ‘we’ll probably need the whole bottle to get through this!’

We eventually sat down and talked. What I learned from that experience is that in order to undergo a process of unlearning, we must experience an embodied connection. Although we didn’t agree, our talk together cemented that connection – something a Facebook comment could never do.

In the Ted Talk entitled “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Luvvie Ajayi says, “people and systems count on our silence to keep us exactly where we are.” I didn’t want to keep silent any longer. I didn’t want to stay where I was or have my neighbor stay stuck in her thoughts and opinions either.

What I also learned from Luvvie’s talk was the importance of asking myself three questions before speaking up:

  1. Do I mean it?
  2. Can I defend it?
  3. Can I say it with love?

I tried to keep this in mind when talking with my neighbor, and we are both better because of our talk. And, a glass of wine (or two) definitely helps!