ComSoc releases Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion Course of Action

EDI action plan prioritizes anti-oppression training, updated discipline policy, and whistle-blower program

(Left to right) ComSoc President Seby Monsalve, Vice-President (Student Affairs) Michelle Kong, and Vice-President (Operations) Will Van Vliet.
Journal File Photo

Aiming to be more transparent about its efforts to support marginalized students, the Commerce Society (ComSoc) released an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Course of Action for the 2020-21 year.

Published on July 8, the EDI action plan includes several items the Society intends to pursue in the short-, medium-, and long-term to “dismantle the systems of oppression that exist in [its] program.”

The Society shared the items following the launch of the Instagram account ‘Stolen by Smith’ by commerce student Kelly Weiling Zou, which provides a platform for members of the Queer & Trans Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (QTBIPOC) community enrolled at Smith to share experiences with racism, queerphobia, and other forms of discrimination that occurred in the Smith environment.

“[ComSoc] wants to acknowledge the tireless labour of Kelly Weiling Zou who cultivated a platform that gives voice to QTBIPOC students in our program,” Michelle Kong, ComSoc vice-president (student affairs), wrote in a statement to The Journal

Kong said the stories and experiences shared through Stolen by Smith have stimulated a moment of internal reflection for the entire Smith community.

READ MORE: ‘Stolen by Smith’ Instagram account details systemic violence at Queen’s business school

“ComSoc’s historic lack of action pertaining to the white supremacist systems within our program makes us complicit in perpetuating the toxic culture that exists today,” Kong wrote.

Kong said while several commitments and projects outlined in ComSoc’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Course of Action were already in progress, the Society has “failed” to be transparent about its ongoing EDI work. 

“Irrespective [of current actions], [Stolen by Smith] highlighted the gaping holes within our 2020/2021 ComSoc vision,” Kong said.

Will Van Vliet, ComSoc vice-president (operations), added the Society has long perpetuated systems of oppression and white supremacy through “empty promises and blanket statements.”

“The Commerce Society’s complacency and lack of action has marginalized students we promised to advocate for. As such, it was imperative for [Monsalve, Kong, and myself] to devise and publish an explicit course of action, equipped with specific deadlines, short, medium and long-term, for each of our commitments,” Van Vliet wrote. 

Van Vliet also said the one-year tenure of ComSoc executives has often undermined long-term projects, which the current executive hopes to overcome by putting effective systems in place to facilitate projects that can materialize beyond their tenure at the Society.

While the short-term action items are slated for implementation in the summer, the medium-term items are expected to be completed during the upcoming academic year and the long-term items are planned for the 2021-22 year.

In the short-term, the Society is currently rolling out mandatory anti-oppression training to all ComSoc co-chairs who will engage in first-year hiring in September. 

The Society has never previously offered anti-oppression training for its executives, though ComSoc President Seby Monsalve said there have been discussions in the past.

“A roadblock that ComSoc encounters is that most of our co-chairs that engage in hiring are on academic exchange all across the world during the winter term, so it has logistically been challenging to implement,” Monsalve wrote.

Monsalve said ComSoc has identified this gap and intends to initiate the training this year, as well as improve the Hiring Equity training its Talent Strategy team offers to co-chairs. 

“We are leaning on campus resources and [others] in the Kingston community to help develop and facilitate these trainings,” Monsalve wrote. “This is just the beginning; we plan to expand our suite of trainings for our co-chairs to ensure they are equipped with the support and knowledge to improve our hiring practices and prioritize the inclusion and safety of all students.”

Some of the action items in the medium-term plan are focused on creating greater accountability for student behavior in the program through the creation of a regimented code of conduct outlining unacceptable and punishable conduct, and the formal initiation of an anonymous whistle-blower program allowing students to report unacceptable conduct within ComSoc.

“ComSoc’s current discipline policy is outdated, inaccessible and unactionable,” Van Vliet wrote. “Students have sought an outlet to anonymously report systemic violence and abusive behavior within the Commerce Society—ComSoc has failed to make a platform as such available.”

The implementation of greater measures to hold its student body accountable, according to Van Vliet, is an intentional effort to place boundaries on “what the culture of Smith can and cannot be.”

“What must be made explicitly clear is that actions which uplift a culture of white supremacy, racism, exclusion, and oppression are not welcome within the Smith Commerce program,” Van Vliet wrote.

READ MORE: ComSoc hopefuls, uncontested for top jobs, want to shift Society’s perception

The Society also plans to continue engaging in collaborative conversations with the Commerce Office and the Smith administration. As part of his role as President of ComSoc, Monsalve is one of three student representatives sitting on the Smith School of Business Task Force on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Indigenization (EDII).

Chaired by Brenda Brouwer, dean of Smith School of Business, and Stephanie Simpson, associate vice-principal (human rights, equity, and inclusion), the EDII task force intends to define specific indicators of progress and provide recommendations for best practices, campus-wide collaborations, shared resources, and the creation and modification of policies and processes to promote EDII. 

The task force met for its inaugural meeting on July 10

“My goal is to continue to amplify the student voice, especially the voices of QTBIPOC students,” Monsalve wrote. “Here ComSoc will be demanding action, stressing urgency, and holding the administration accountable. While we are eager to work alongside the Smith School of Business administration, we will always put first the voices and demands of the students who have elected us.”

The executive credited the forward momentum within its course of action to the “tireless labour” of its ComSoc Assembly, specifically pointing to the labour of its Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Officers, Zou and Meena Waseem. 

“Our goal is to truly integrate equity, diversity, and inclusion into all ComSoc actions, and to ensure that all ComSoc members and executives are equipped with the resources to make Smith Commerce a more welcoming space,” the executive wrote. “We call on all students to continue to hold themselves, administration, and ComSoc accountable.”

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