Vice-president a precedent

The only way to solve our problems with systemic oppression is to change our institutions

All across the University at different levels, there are dedicated individuals working towards solutions to the multi-faceted issues of racism.

These issues range from curriculum reform to the recruitment of non-white students to Queen’s, and on a macro-level, tackling what has come to be known as the University’s “culture of whiteness.” There are students, staff, professors and administrators who are doing anti-racist work at Queen’s and have dedicated years to doing so. All these groups run into the same problem: there appears to be some kind of university-wide amnesia that sets in every year with regards to issues of racism at Queen’s.

Every year, the conversations at different levels are basically a repetition of the ones that were taking place the year before. I should know—I just started my sixth year.

Consider this: in 1991, the Final Report by the Principal’s Advisory Committee on Race Relations (also known as the Barry report) came out, addressing some of the serious race and diversity issues that the University had to deal with.

Fifteen years later, and only after six professors—five women of colour and one indigenous woman—left Queen’s citing systemic racism as the reason, the University asked Dr. Francis Henry to investigate further.

The Henry Report uncovered a larger issue, a “culture of whiteness” that permeates through all the levels of the University, acting as a systemically oppressive matrix for non-white students, staff, and faculty. The Henry Report presented several recommendations to the University Senate in order to address this issue.

But you knew all that.

You might not know that Dr. Barrington Walker of the history department was appointed as the Diversity Advisor to the Vice-Principal (Academic).

He presented his report last year, which included several immediate, short-term and long-term recommendations.

Furthermore, Dr. Adnan Husain was appointed the Director of Educational Equity & Diversity Projects within the office of the Provost and is directing the Diversity and Equity Taskforce (DET) to work on better integrating equity into the University structure.

Presumably Dr. Husain’s taskforce will issue its report in the coming year.

This takes us to 2011.

Nearly 20 years since the PAC Report was issued, we find ourselves with four major reports, and yet Queen’s is still merely reactive to racist incidents and embarrassingly stagnant on systemic issues.

A faculty member of colour hears racial slurs and gets forced off the sidewalk? Let’s have a rally against racism! Vehicles of Jewish students get defaced with swastikas? Let’s issue condemning statements!

These are always great starts, but the action has stopped there.

The overall issue always gets overlooked—this university needs a high-level administrator to deal with problems of racism, equity and diversity.

Without such a position, Queen’s will continue to do its best by having different arms of the University respond to problems as they come up and in different ways—and clearly, the University’s best hasn’t been good enough.

The dedication of the people who have worked or who are working on equity issues at Queen’s is admirable and should not be forgotten, but every year the recommendations are not implemented, and every year someone has to remind us there are recommendations in the first place, is another year where we do these dedicated people a disservice.

Without a vice-principal position dedicated to diversity and equity at Queen’s, we will continue to come up short. Unless there is a centralized position in the structure of the University that is in place to deal with these issues, we will continue to treat the symptoms separately, while letting a larger illness go unaddressed.

The University currently has five vice-principal positions. These positions, it can be argued, represent the areas that the university takes most seriously. By virtue of being elevated to one of the highest levels of governance, the focus on these areas is intensified.

For instance, the position of vice-principal (advancement) represents a big area of growth for the university—maintaining strong relationships with Queen’s alumni.

By allotting resources to instituting a vice-principal position dedicated to equity issues, the University can show that it is serious about racism problems and diversity questions.

Of course, integrating diversity into high-level administration goes beyond a superficial recognition that these issues matter—a vice-principal role dedicated to equity would synthesize the varied efforts of different groups who are working on resolving the problems at Queen’s.

As an example, this person would be involved in the academic planning process currently underway at Queen’s, thus giving the process more legitimacy with those who do anti-oppression work by ensuring that problems of Euro-centrism are always talked about.

It’s time for Queen’s to introduce this new position. Only then can we start to make progress on equity issues. Only then can we begin to adequately address the “culture of whiteness” which has been talked about for so long, without anything being done.

By having a vice-principal (diversity and equity) we can finally begin to implement the recommendations of 20 years worth of reports that we have fallen behind on.

What is needed is a role that will shepherd all the efforts working on the diversity front, including dealing with reports and recommendations, with the authority to start implementing them.

The alternative is continuing to do great work every year, and then losing the continuity by having to start all over again the next year.

It is my sincere hope that we break this cycle, and begin to catch up on issues of diversity and equity, an area where we have fallen terribly behind.

Let’s show the people who have dedicated years of their lives to solving the issues on campus that we are serious about solutions.

Instead of merely paying lip service to issues of diversity and equity, the University governance structure must change to reflect the idea that we care about these problems.

Elamin Abdelmahmoud is an ASUS student senator.

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