Queen’s, we need to talk

University should position itself more firmly in multicultural and multiracial society

On Oct. 22, the Senate Educational Equity Committee (SEEC) presented its annual report. Guess what? It’s more of the same. The SEEC worked hard to show Queen’s University’s struggle with issues of diversity and equity. Yet the report found Queen’s has been largely “reactive instead of proactive.” In May 2004, York University professor emeritus Frances Henry, published “Systemic Racism Towards Faculty of Colour and Aboriginal Faculty at Queen’s University,” a report on the 2003 Study “Understanding the Experiences of Visible Minority and Aboriginal Faculty Members at Queen’s University.”

The findings—known as “The Henry Report”—concluded that “white privilege and power continues to be reflected in the Eurocentric curricula, traditional pedagogical approaches, hiring, promotion and tenure practices, and opportunities for research” at Queen’s.

The report offered several recommendations for Queen’s to position itself “more firmly in the multicultural and multiracial society Canada has become.”

Four years later, SEEC chair Adnan Husain told the Journal “we lack a lot of concrete success.” One recommendation was to initiate a program of targeted recruitment of more diverse students. But surveys and studies have shown students of colour are applying to Queen’s as a back-up to more diverse universities or they aren’t applying to Queen’s at all.

Queen’s doesn’t take into account how hostile this campus is to students of colour when creating the yearly budget. We spend virtually no money on eliminating the obstacles students of colour face.

It’s no surprise we aren’t able to attract students of colour—we simply don’t care enough.

There’s a financial comfort in knowing Queen’s will continue to be a haven for white scholars—eliminating the real need to deal with the absence of people of colour on this campus. We don’t need to actively pursue other recruitment options because enrolment isn’t suffering—there’s no shortage of white students who apply to Queen’s.

So we remain reactive. The Henry report was only commissioned after a number of faculty members who were visible minorities quit over their academic environment. We only had a rally against racism after a professor of colour was forced off the sidewalk.

We can’t continue to act only when prompted. Queen’s needs to recognize the value in improving the diverse makeup of this campus. We need to make Queen’s a less hostile campus for visible minorities.

Another recommendation was to appoint a high-level administrator to deal with issues of diversity on campus. Yet there are no conversations about creating a vice-principal position that’s committed to these issues.

On Jan. 1, 2009, the University of Western Ontario appointed a Dean of Diversity and Outreach in their Faculty of Science. Queen’s, though, refuses to examine its Eurocentric curriculum. I’m in philosophy and I can take a course on existentialism—a philosophy developed by a handful of major European philosophers—or I can settle for “African Philosophy.” The varied ideas of an entire continent are wrapped into one half-course.

It’s been four years since the Henry report was tabled and it’s been a shocking 18 years since its precursor—the Principal’s Advisory Committee on Race Relations’ report (PAC)—was tabled.

Both reports suggested a pervasive culture of whiteness at Queen’s. The reports suggested methods of dealing with this problem. Yet the problems persist. It’s clear Queen’s has no interest in adequately addressing its institutional conundrums. Instead, we engage in report-writing and repeating what was said at our last anti-racism event. Someone needs to break the cycle, because it’s getting ridiculous.

Queen’s—we need to talk. If this article makes you question things, if it makes you furious, don’t just put it down and forget about it. Talk to your peers.

If you don’t think there’s a problem, say so. If you think there’s a problem, demand solutions.

I’m content with Queen’s declaring itself an exclusive university that isn’t meant to make people of colour welcome. At least they would know not to come here. But as it stands, this pretending to care has got to stop. The time for action passed years ago, but the least we can do is try.

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