University Secretary and Corporate Counsel, Lon Knox talks about their feelings of hesitancy leading a working group at Queen's. But being comfortable feeing uncomfortable is an opportunity for learning and growth.
When Stephanie Simpson, AVP (Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion) asked me to co-chair the working group on Black Community Representation with Dr. Martha Munezhi, Adjunct Assistant Professor at the School of Policy Studies and Assistant Director, Research Promotion and Initiatives in the Research Office at Smith School of Business, under the Scarborough Charter, I hesitated. Normally I am always keen to accept a leadership role on important issues facing the University, including matters concerning equity, having brought the concept of a Board Diversity Statement with me from another university and advocating for and leading the consultation process regarding the Harassment and Discrimination Prevention and Response policy. This role, however, seemed like one that I was ill-equipped for. What did I know about the experiences of Black members of the Queen’s community? How could I understand what meaningful representation would look like? How would I avoid making mistakes that would see tokenistic and facile recommendations being made on such an important matter?
Despite my initial hesitation, and knowing that failure may lie ahead, I decided to trust in the process which would see Black voices centered in the development of the core recommendations with administrative and coordinating support provided by my office. The experience resulted in a transformative journey through reflection and humility, to active listening and then some heavy lifting to navigate structures to pull key data together to support informed reflection and advice by a dedicated group of peers intent on making a difference. While I could not truly know and fully understand the experiences of Black faculty, staff and students on our campus, and still don’t pretend to, I found that this lack of knowledge wasn’t the barrier to making an impact that I feared it might be. Even though there were key aspects of the work of the group in which I could not participate, I contributed where I could – providing leadership, support, gathering and sharing information, and learning. I was uncomfortable when our work began, and I remain somewhat uncomfortable having played a leadership role in an area in which I do not have a rich background, but I’ve come to accept that the work of fostering equity isn’t comfortable. It wasn’t comfortable for the Black members of our working group, whose labour was so intertwined with personal aspects of their identity and their everyday experiences at Queen’s, and it isn’t going to be comfortable for those, like myself, who have benefited from existing structures of power, control and decision-making.
This is the work of decolonization and anti-racism. To sit with knowledge that my experience of Queen’s is not shared by every member of this community. To know that we must make space for other voices, other ways of knowing and being, and challenge the ways in which we make decisions and examine whose voices we give prominence to at the tables within our governance structure. The path forward isn’t clear, the work is not easy, but pushing-back on our customary approach that eschews risk taking and avoids messiness, as uncomfortable as that is, has, for me, propelled me further along on my journey toward greater understanding. I am hopeful that this experience enhances not only my ability, but my willingness to take increasingly supportive and active roles in the transformation of our culture and shaping experiences for the good of all members of our community. I’m still uncomfortable, but I’ve gotten comfortable with that.