SOARB EDII working group addresses Orientation Week concerns brought forward by ‘Stolen by Smith’ & ‘Erased by FEAS’

Working group creates recommendations for making orientation week more inclusive

The working group produced a 24-page document with specific recommendations.
Journal File Photo

Editors’ Note: The Journal published an article originally covering this topic on March 5, 2021, which did not adequately report on the labour and experiences of the SOARB EDII working group. 

Following documentation of negative Orientation Week experiences on student-run Instagram accounts “Stolen by Smith” and “Erased by FEAS,” which were consistent with the results of student surveys over a number of years, the Senate Orientation Activities Review Board (SOARB) formed a working group last summer to focus on equity, diversity, inclusion and Indigeneity (EDII) issues as they relate to Queen’s Orientation Week. 

The EDII working group was composed of SOARB members Kayla Melbourne and Mackenzie Birchard; SOARB and University Council on Anti-Racism and Equity (UCARE) member Dr. Laeeque Daneshmend; Director of the Centre for Student Equity and Inclusion Deanna Fialho; Campus Affairs Commissioner Charlotte Galvani; and UCARE Undergraduate Representative Richelle Ignatius. 

Melbourne, who chaired the working group, told The Journal that “Stolen by Smith” and “Erased by FEAS” were “a catalyst” for implementing the working group.

“[T]his is something we wanted to approach proactively,” Melbourne said. “Even so, there is an [amount] of retro-activeness, in the sense that the accounts that detail students’ negative experiences have already cropped up. It is now just a matter of risk mitigation and trying to prevent these things from happening again, and to allow people to have as positive [an] experience as possible going forward.”

“Those could have been things that happened 10 years ago; however, I wouldn’t be surprised if [they] were still happening in some senses. I hope they aren’t. I know not everyone has a positive orientation experience, so there’s room for further investigation there to delve into some of those issues further, and see if there were any recommendations that should be made.”

The SOARB EDII working group spent the last six months engaging with stakeholders, analyzing policies and procedures, culminating in a 24-page document with specific recommendations for all those involved in planning and executing Orientation Week activities. Melbourne noted the document’s recommendations are “non-exhaustive.” 

The most pressing issues faced by marginalized students who report feeling isolated by Orientation Week, according to Melbourne, include the fast-paced nature of Orientation Week, which doesn’t always allow students to connect with other like-minded students.

“Orientation Week is super busy, and I can’t think of a [faculty orientation] week that has a schedule that isn’t busy when it’s in person. Fortunately, online people are able to get breaks […] I think that’s great for mental health, being able to get rest, and making sure you’re having a smooth and steady transition,” she said.

The online format of 2020 Orientation Week gave students more opportunities to connect with students of similar lived experience. One vehicle for this was the Equity Office Open House, Melbourne said.

“Angela [Sahi, AMS Social Issues Commissioner] and the [Student Experience Office (SEO)] were instrumental in implementing that, and it was really well received and was really great.”

Melbourne said she thinks those who were involved in the open house can see “a lot of room” for the event to grow in future years. 

“If you continue to allow the gaps in the orientation schedule to allow for students that are Indigenous, or from similar lived experiences, and things like that to meet each other, that’s a really positive thing that can happen,” Melbourne said.

“At Orientation week, kind of a secondary thing we identified is that it’s really great some people meet their best friends […] in the first week of university, but that’s not everyone. Some people need to find community a lot sooner,” Melbourne said. “Some people are pushing to explore community and find people that are like them a lot sooner, and if they’re not given these opportunities at orientation, it becomes a lot harder to do during the school year. That’s another factor that needs to be addressed to ensure students are able to connect with each other on a similar basis as well.”

Melbourne also addressed the issue of the ownership of Orientation Week, acknowledging how its student-run nature can create problems for marginalized students.

“Right now the issue that exists is students are asked to take on a lot and to be these giant people that can plan and execute an entire week, and that’s great. I think generally a good job is done,” she said. “One thing that becomes problematic is there can potentially be misaligned views sometimes with students, the orientation heads, and whoever the faculty signatory is.” 

Depending on the year, Melbourne said it’s possible to have leaders with personalities that don’t “jive” well, or leaders who have “very different ideas” from the faculty of what the week could be. 

“If you ask the students, the students will say […] the administration sets the culture so they should be in control of promoting change for the week. The administration might say that the students are the ones doing it with the potential to create change,” Melbourne said. 

“Accountability and making sure these conversations are happening on a clear basis in terms of who is responsible for what aspects of the week and to make sure that gets done are essential.”

Though the report contains specific recommendations for Orientation Week, the working group recognizes the changes will take time to implement. 

Melbourne noted the importance of hiring for leadership and planning positions in a way that ensures students who are hired for orientation positions are able to foster an inclusive week.

“There’s a lot of calls for consistency when hiring and making sure that the pool for people that are getting into different positions are also incorporating diverse thinking,” Melbourne said. “One key change is having blind hiring and being able to make sure the students getting through to those positions are able to articulate why it’s important to consider diverse needs and diverse students.”

Melbourne said the adoption of blind hiring, a practice that conceals an applicant’s identity from their application, is a good measure to adopt because it ensures the hiring panel sees applicants’ answers for what they are and aren’t influenced by opinions through associations with names. 

Though Melbourne said the proposed changes have received a positive response from senior administration and high-level Orientation Week stakeholders, the working group is also recommending the University administration increase funding for various institutional bodies within the University, such as the SEO, Institutional Research and Planning, and the Human Resources and Equity Office, so that they can expand their services and help foster a more inclusive 
Orientation Week.  

Melbourne also said the implementation of ASUS 130, a proposal for structural changes at the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society (ASUS) passed at referendum in January, will allow for more oversight of leadership and orientation fees and subsidization. The proposal also extends to COMPSA, PHEKSA, and CESA. 

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