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Transparency and commitment

Deans Council endorses statement on equity, diversity and inclusion

By Mandy Cook

Memorial University’s Deans Council has drafted a unanimously endorsed statement on the subject of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

At a time when the university is actively searching to fill the positions of vice-provost (equity, diversity and inclusion) and associate vice-president (Indigenous research) and is advertising an Indigenous cluster hire of five tenure-track positions, among numerous other initiatives, the statement is a timely one.

Linking to academic mission

The statement, led by the Deans Council’s Working Group on EDI, clearly links the work of equity, anti-racism, decolonization and Indigeneity to Memorial’s academic mission, and teaching, research and creative work, says the group’s chair.

“It also asserts that the work of equity and anti-racism requires administrators and academic staff members to examine all academic work in their units,” said Dr. Jennifer Simpson, dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, “rather than only increasing numbers of individuals from underrepresented groups or “adding onto” existing curriculum, programs, or research priorities.”

“Actions will be necessary to ensure equity and anti-racism.” — Dr. Jennifer Simpson

And members of Deans Council are leading the way, she says.

By clearly committing words and pathways for action to paper, they are articulating next steps for themselves – the leaders of academic practices at the university – and linking the priorities of equity, anti-racism, decolonization and Indigeneity to the academic portfolio.

‘Hold us accountable’

The statement also offers a high level of transparency to the commitments of members of Deans Council at Memorial, Dr. Simpson says, and offers the university community a form of accountability in relation to equity and anti-racism and academic vision and practices.

“In identifying our commitments, members of Deans Council have made it possible for academic staff members, administrative staff and department heads to hold us accountable.”

Dr. Simpson, who has examined issues of race and equity in higher education for more than two decades, says the continued existence of racism and colonialism in universities and other institutions harms “all of us,” and particularly communities that experience systemic discrimination.

“Accepting the reality of systemic discrimination results in privileged communities receiving many benefits, and oppressed groups experiencing harm from those same institutions,” she said. “This is a problem for everyone. This statement is a way forward to strengthen Memorial University’s capacity to address systemic forms of discrimination at Memorial University, in Newfoundland and Labrador, and beyond.”

Shared language

And while Dr. Simpson says actions “will be necessary” to ensure equity and confront systemic racism, and that everyone must change their practices and what they do, people’s ideas or beliefs must change first.

In addition to changing ideas and beliefs, Dr. Simpson confirms that “Actions will be necessary to ensure equity and anti-racism.”

“Education and awareness can change what people (and primarily those in privileged groups) know. Education and awareness will not necessarily lead to changed practice. This statement is an important part of that process because it begins to build a shared language for equity and identify points of accountability, both of which are necessary for demonstrable actions.”

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