Oct. 2, 2019, was the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, a leader who adopted non-violent resistance as a strategy to lead the successful movement for India’s independence from British Rule.
This in turn inspired successful campaigns for civil rights and freedom across the world.
Not easy, but necessary
It was also the 275th day of the year and 10th day of fall. And now there are only 81 days left in 2019 and, for us Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, there are 71 days left until winter.
That day was a special day for the School of Graduate Studies (SGS): We launched the school’s monthly Lunch and Learn Series on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).
Although, none of the aforementioned facts played a role in choosing the date for our inaugural event, in hindsight, it made so much sense to engage the Memorial community on a dialogue about social justice when we are starting to prepare for winter in the hope for next summer.
“The purpose of education is to comfort the troubled, and trouble the comfortable.”
To feel the warmth of the Newfoundland and Labrador sun, we will have to endure the harsh Arctic air masses. Likewise, to make the necessary changes for a more inclusive School of Graduate Studies, we will have to engage in a dialogue that will seldom be easy and enjoyable. However, it is necessary.
Educator Maxine Greene once said, “The purpose of education is to comfort the troubled, and trouble the comfortable.” Likewise, the objective of the SGS Lunch and Learn Series is to engage graduate students, faculty and staff in a dialogue on the importance and application of EDI in all areas of graduate studies.
In this dialogue series, we invite students, staff and faculty with an interest, expertise and lived experience of various obstacles and challenges for equity-seeking people in any dominant cultural setting.
We will discuss how to promote student engagement and success, while ensuring participation of equity seeking and Indigenous Peoples.
We will try to find ways to cultivate equity, diversity and inclusion in our curriculum, research and student engagement.
Evolving definition of equity
The topic of the inaugural panel conversation was the importance and application of equity, diversity and inclusion in the areas of research and innovation, teaching and student service, human resources, and policy at Memorial.
The conversation was moderated by Dr. Aimée Surprenant, associate vice-president (academic) and dean, School of Graduate Studies.
Our four panelists were Dr. Paul Banahene Adjei, School of Social Work; Dr. Sulaimon Giwa, School of Social Work; Nabila Qureshi, a graduate student, and Camila Fujiwara, family and sponsored students advisor, School of Graduate Studies.
In her opening remarks, Dr. Surprenant shared with the audience how her definition of equity has evolved over the years. She said that, although it may seem fair to treat everyone equally, in reality that leads to perpetuating existing inequalities. To ensure everyone has the right tools for them, we must practise equity.
“EDI works on mutual respect and understanding.”
Many important points were made to the crowded room. Ms. Fujiwara emphasized that there is always power dynamics in relationships and they are linked to historical and systemic forces.
That is why student affairs professionals must realize the power they hold over students and how important it is to level power imbalances by asking students what they need instead of imposing values, ideas and opinions on them.
According to Ms. Qureshi, EDI works on mutual respect and understanding. This important point was echoed by the other panelists.
Dr. Adjei emphasized the importance of not confusing Indigenization and EDI. According to him, there are many ways the two connect; however, they are not the same and the university must commit to both efforts.
Dr. Giwa said that equity-seeking people can lead the equity work on campus, but that they should be compensated for their emotional labour. Further, he noted the importance of Indigenous and racialized people in senior leadership roles at Memorial.
A commitment in this direction could help to improve the campus climate for all, in which the ideals of EDI are not only spoken but practised.
Finally, he underscored the privileged position that Memorial, as the only university in the province, is in to take calculated risks for a bolder EDI institutional change.
Ability and inclusion ≠ interchangeable terms
The cornerstone of the dialogue series is openness and a commitment to doing better. We have received significant positive feedback from the campus community.
However, in our inaugural talk, we failed short of discussing disability rights and inclusion. As one of the participants rightly argued, they hoped the conversation would be helpful. Sadly it was not: the terms ability and inclusion were used interchangeably.
Canada’s universities are committed to making their communities more open and inclusive. Memorial University’s School of Graduate Studies’ commitment to graduate students from diverse backgrounds and lived experiences extends across the lifecycle.
If you would like to share your wisdom with the community, if there is a burning topic that you think need to be discussed, please do not hesitate to contact me. Our next event will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 12 p.m. in SN-2025.