Together, racism, discrimination, and oppression of designated groups is one of the biggest challenges facing the University of Windsor and the entire higher education ecosystem in Ontario and Canada.
It also presents as one of our greatest risks as an institution.
The University of Windsor will not be able to attract and retain excellent faculty, staff, and students if it is not a welcoming, safe, and inclusive space. In the last 20 months or so, the University has tangibly demonstrated a commitment to being a more just and inclusive learning and working environment through several bold initiatives. An important step in this regard was establishing an executive leadership position in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) by appointing an Interim Vice President. It is a recognition that as an institution, we have more work to do in creating a more inclusive and just campus. It is also a commitment to taking concrete steps to be better. Representation of diversity at the executive leadership table is an important and overdue piece of the bigger picture for the University.
The Office of the Vice President Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (OVPEDI) will work collaboratively with a coalition of university stakeholders, to build a sustainable EDI infrastructure that is positioned to dismantle systematic discrimination and oppression and transform the University of Windsor into a truly safe, inclusive, equitable, and just learning and working environment. A sustainable infrastructure enshrined in the governance structure of the university and built upon a shared and common vision of our community, will stand the test of time, and survive changes in the university’s executive leadership. We will develop a whole-system approach in which EDI considerations, principles, and values not just permeate but form the foundations of practice in policymaking, teaching and learning, research and scholarship, service, co-curricular activities, and community engagement.
Our approach will be built from the ground up as the result of the establishment of communities of practice and action. We endeavour to establish a common understanding of who we are as a university community. What are the foundational principles on which we stand? What are the fundamental values for which we stand? Very importantly, how do these principles and values become manifest in every aspect of university life? How do we make EDI our very essence? The goal is to develop an ethos — a campus culture — centred around EDI. In this context, EDI is a pathway to a kinder, gentler, and just campus.
The OVPEDI is committed to create change that is profound and enduring and achieving this transformative thinking and action that eschews the typical performative check-the-box exercise is imperative. The transformation will recognize the broad spectrum and intersectionality of discrimination and oppression because, while racism -and anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in particular- is often the most public, people on our campus experience multiple forms of injustice. Injustice may be based in the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s protected categories of citizenship, race, place of origin, ethnic origin, colour, ancestry, disability, age, creed, sex/pregnancy, family status, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, receipt of public assistance (in housing) and record of offences (in employment).
We will promote the review and revision of policies and procedures but, that will not be enough.
We must then ensure that policies and procedures are followed but even more importantly, are applied consistently and fairly.
Furthermore, we must commit to treating all members of our community with dignity, fairness, and respect. We must be always mindful of the critical importance of what we do every day in our classrooms, teaching and research laboratories, residences, on the playing fields, in our offices and in common public spaces. These places are ground zero for people's lived experiences. We all deserve to learn and work in an equitable, diverse, and inclusive environment that is welcoming to all and fosters a sense of belonging. Our differences are our strengths and what will build a strong institution. We must do everything to stop behaviour that stifles our growth as a community and dishonours, devalues, and dehumanizes members of our community. The Office of the Vice President of EDI will be intentional and unapologetic in addressing the perverse and debilitating epidemic of oppression and discrimination which belittles, demeans, and dehumanizes students, faculty and staff who experience it.
The work we need to do will be hard at times because we are looking to change, and change is often hard, uncomfortable, and disconcerting. Change is especially hard in a place like an academy where we have been doing things a particular way for centuries and where the fundamental structures and systems remain entrenched in ideologies whose time has passed but which remain stubbornly hegemonic and seemingly intractable. Ending discrimination and oppression in all forms requires a sustained course of bold, courageous, and unapologetic action. This means speaking the truth to power. It means having difficult conversations. It means learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. The conversations that are needed might at times be disorienting. They will inevitably create disequilibrium and tension. All of that is good, necessary, and healthy. It will lead to greater understanding among us.
Our community has indicated that anti-oppression statements and words are not enough--we must act. Now is the time for action on our campus and in our community. I am inviting you to join the mission. To be involved. To have a stake in it, and to take ownership. This is our campus. Its problems are our problems. And this moment is ours too. Let us seize it. Together.
Dr. Clinton Beckford
Acting VP, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion