Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

The Magazine Of Queen's University

Search form

From the principal: Progress on diversity and inclusion

From the principal: Progress on diversity and inclusion

[photo of Daniel Woolf]
Photo: Bernard Clark

If a future history of Queen’s says anything about the academic year 2017–18, I hope it will recognize it as the year that our university, perhaps belatedly, made significant, rather than merely incremental, progress on issues of diversity and inclusion.

Since the spring 2017 twin reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Task Force and the Principal’s Implementation Committee on Racism, Diversity, and Inclusion, a number of decisive steps have occurred. Our governance bodies have had robust discussions of matters falling broadly under the category of diversity and inclusion. We have committed funds to support initiatives (including the Principal’s Dream Course program, which has supported several courses connected with Indigenous issues). We appointed Kanonhsyonne (Janice Hill) as the university’s first director of Indigenous Initiatives, and an expansion of the Four Directions Aboriginal Centre is now underway.

Under the overall supervision of Deputy Provost Teri Shearer, other plans are afoot, including creating a welcoming space, analogous to Four Directions, for racialized students. The University Council on Anti-Racism and Equity (UCARE) has been created. Student Affairs has launched a first-generation program targeted at minority students who are the first in their family to attend university.

To assist with this initiative, we appointed alumnus Curtis Carmichael (Artsci’16) as our first recruiter, based in Toronto, to help build relationships with communities and organizations that erve and support students who may benefit from the new program, and we continue to work with Pathways to Education Canada. Also, faculty and staff hiring is occurring with considerably greater attention to inclusion in order to expand the pool of candidates for any position to embrace persons who may not have felt that Queen’s would be a place for them to work.

Inclusion must include diversity of all kinds: racialized minorities and Indigenous peoples, to be sure, but also diverse sexual and gender orientations, and those with physical challenges (our campus is not as accessible in places as it should be, especially in some of our older buildings). And diversity itself, as noted in my previous column, must also embrace diversity of thought and perspective.

There’s still a lot to do and inclusion and diversity are not boxes to be ticked one time but are an ongoing process. We also have to come to terms with some of the less pleasant episodes in our past. We know from the records that Queen’s, and other universities, have not always provided a positive atmosphere for certain minorities. We’re justly proud of the admission and welcome of Robert Sutherland, our first black student, in the 1840s, and of Alfred Bader a century later, both of whom became remarkable benefactors of their alma mater. But, we have some stories that are, frankly, ugly. One that has come to my attention in the past year is the expulsion from Queen’s medical school of a number of black students – despite the fact that there had been several in the past – during the First World War, for apparently frivolous reasons, and the failure of the university to redress that indefensible decision for decades thereafter.

I’m a historian, and I don’t believe in hiding from the past, disowning it, or trying to make it disappear. We have to own it. We can’t judge our predecessors too harshly – they made decisions, right or wrong, in a particular context and set of circumstances. But, circumstances and social values evolve, and Queen’s has to evolve with them. We should, of course, take pride in our 177-year storied history, but also recognize those occasions where we failed to live up to the values and principles that, I believe, the university has always and should continue to stand for.

[cover graphic of Queen's Alumni Review, issue 3-2018]