Diversity doesn’t belong on the backburner

Professors of colour a vital part of education

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Time and time again, Queen’s whiteness has been acknowledged by the University, by its students and its faculty. But we must ask — why hasn’t it changed?

Eurocentric topics and perspectives have been taught almost exclusively at Queen’s since its inception.

Fighting against the current is a struggle. Professors of colour who come to Queen’s face an environment where they’re the odd one out and their voice is marginalized to one-off specialized courses.

In 2001, a black female professor left her teaching position due to alleged experiences of racism, along with five other faculty members.

This incident eventually led to the Henry Report, published in 2004, which looked into systemic racism at Queen’s. The Henry report found that 55.8 per cent of white professors believed the University supported diversity while 34.8 per cent of faculty of minority backgrounds thought the same.

Calling for greater diversity in faculty doesn’t mean white professors aren’t wonderful and valuable. It’s detrimental to learning, however, when white professors are the only ones in the classroom.

But first it’s important we acknowledge the necessity of diversity at a university beyond a social justice narrative.

A homogenous institutional identity is damaging to students. The world isn’t uniform, so we shouldn’t be learning about it from one perspective. Learning from professors from a range of backgrounds exposes students to a variety of discourses, without which our intellectual maturity would be, and is, stumped.

As long as we continue to accept having whitewashed faculty and content as the norm, Queen’s will continue to uphold a Eurocentric world view.

A prestigious education in Canada is often synonymous with a traditional, colonialist education — and this will be perpetuated unless we’re taught by professors who don’t conform to this attitude and are willing to make us think outside this box. 

However, it’s not enough to increase the number of professors of colour. We must build an academic culture where non-white content is acknowledged as significant and valuable, where non-white professors really want to work and teach at Queen’s, and where non-white students can look to the front of the classroom and see that there’s a future for them in academics.

Professors often do a lot more than instruct our courses. We go to them for reference letters, career advice, even life advice. If the student body can’t see itself reflected in its mentors, then that faculty is failing them.

However, these reasons for increasing diversity have already been acknowledged and accepted as important. So why then is this still an issue?

Queen’s hasn’t entirely ignored its diversity-complex in the past. But neither has it been the problem of the day.

The last look into racism in Queen’s faculty was the Henry Report in 2004. While this report highlighted a culture of whiteness and racism at Queen’s, the study’s small sample size and outdated results makes it an unreliable picture of the current state of affairs.

Yet, another report hasn’t been undertaken. The University did publish the Diversity, Anti-Racism and Equity (DARE) Report in 2009, which focused on making recommendations for the University’s diversity efforts. 

But these one-off initiatives have failed to properly address an ongoing and systematic issue for which we have little data.

Without close scrutiny, diversity is forgotten after the initial hiring of a candidate. Non-white faculty face systemic problems that can’t simply be solved by ensuring equitable hiring practices. More can — and should — be done to ensure that professors of colour stay at Queen’s and are promoted equally.  

It doesn’t help that there’s a lack of diversity among the ranks of top university officials, which is often unaddressed and has a trickle-down effect to the rest of university staff and faculty.

In the face of this immense task, diversifying content may be a more achievable short-term objective than diversifying faculty. Faculty contracts come up once in a blue moon while course content can be changed far more frequently.

But there’s a snag. Under Queen’s current funding model, courses are approved based on their ability to attract students to fill the seats. This means that new courses struggle to obtain funding, while traditional, canonical courses are guaranteed to run.

But while introducing new and diverse content may be less financially sound than traditional course content, it’s the right thing to do.

The two go hand in hand: diversity among the faculty will lead to diversity in content and curricula. But, the catch-22 is that without a demonstrated willingness to diversify content, it’s unlikely that Queen’s can attract professors to teach those topics.

Diversity may be an upstream battle, but it’s one worth fighting.

Journal Editorial Board

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