A call for academic diversity

Aboriginal, African and Middle Eastern studies are unfairly under-represented

Talia Radcliffe, ArtSci ‘08
Talia Radcliffe, ArtSci ‘08

At a town hall meeting on Tuesday, Principal Karen Hitchcock provided students and faculty with an opportunity to voice their opinions with the recently released Athletics Review. What I want to know is whether she’s brave enough to create a forum for students to address the issues most critical to the mission of the University: academics. It’s profoundly troubling that the administration has managed to pacify our need and our right to have input on the available curricula with a mere bubble-sheet survey.

Our University’s curriculum doesn’t reflect the heterogeneity of our current student population nor our potential student population. It lacks such departments as Aboriginal Studies, African Studies, and Middle Eastern Studies, while other departments, such as Canadian Studies (not helped by recent budget cuts), Politics and Interdisciplinary Studies, limit their incorporation of these topics to a single course per department. Not only does this serve to marginalize the contributions of these regions’ significance to Canada and the rest of the globe, but their exclusion is counterintuitive considering the high number of courses focused on North America, Latin America, Europe, and even South East Asia the University offers.

You may be asking yourself why you should be angry. I’m angry because our principal publicizes her vision for “engaging the world,” touting Queen’s as an institution dedicated to a global perspective. But by neglecting to provide the corresponding curriculum, she isn’t giving students what they’re paying for. This hypocrisy is particularly aggravating for students who, like me, have hopes of pursuing graduate degrees in the Middle East. My lack of Arabic proficiency means I’ll sacrifice my competitive edge and my ability to fully engage in my future studies due to language barriers. I’m angry that Queen’s students, no matter the nature of their personal ambitions, haven’t been provided with a community populated by students from all over the globe. And I’m angry that the histories of my peers whose heritage lies in those regions are being marginalized and deemed insignificant.

A continuation of Eurocentric courses and a lack of more globally reflective courses cannot be separated from the issue of homogeneity on campus. Furthermore, as Canadian immigration rates are rapidly increasing, the University must keep its standards up by offering courses that reflect a heterogeneous Canada. Our second issue is that when a group of students did attempt to address the administration about these matters, the administration proved unresponsive. Despite public support for an Arabic language course, the administration has done very little to embrace this demand. A continuation of Eurocentric courses and a lack of more globally reflective courses cannot be separated from the issue of homogeneity on campus.

Last year, a petition signed with more than 2000 signatures (2005 to be exact) was submitted to Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane in support of an Arabic language course at Queen’s. While an Arabic language course is merely an aspect of the larger initiative to get a Middle Eastern Studies department, the petition showed a current demand for obtaining a goal that can be achieved in a faster and simpler way than can the implementation of a new department. I met with Associate Dean (Studies) John Pierce, under whose jurisdiction language courses fall. While he was very receptive to my concerns, I think it’s problematic to say the least that despite the fact that the petition has been sitting in our administrators’ hands for approximately eight months now, we have neither seen nor heard any tangible results, or even promises for tangible results. It must be noted that while funding is said to be the major issue behind the delay, our vice-principal (academic) is responsible for setting the fundraising priorities. We, as students who chose to come to this University due to its commitment to excellence, deserve better. The administration’s lack of commitment to a diversity of ideas and comprehensiveness of education is a direct reflection of a lack commitment to excellence. Moreover, the delay in response to a formal petition suggests a lack of commitment to democratic values. We, the students, are the people who supposedly already have a voice. What about those considering—or rather, not considering—coming to Queen’s due to lack of such courses? If the University isn’t responding to its current students as fast as they are requesting change, you can bet that there are hundreds more students who have chosen not to attend Queen’s for these very reasons.

On that note, I urge our student body to take issue with the administration on our individual academic needs. Write to the principal. Write to the vice-principal (academic). Let them know that you’re not okay with the status quo. Let us not wait for the bureaucratic processes of putting forth reviews and attending town-hall meetings.

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