Editorial: Why Concordia Needs an Institutional Equity Office

  • Graphic: Nico Holzmann

Equity is a big deal—it’s important that university administration ensure all Concordia students a comfortable space in which to learn and succeed.

We have the Office of Rights and Responsibilities, which offers a policy for students dealing with behavioural issues or harassment—but there is no specific place where students can seek assistance and advice for issues related to discrimination based on one’s gender, race, sexual orientation, or disability.

For this reason, The Link supports C-FAR’s initiative to collect survey data on students’ experiences with racism, sexism and so forth, with the ultimate goal of developing an institutional equity office at Concordia. Standing for Critical Feminist Action in Research, the group will also be researching representation amongst faculty, and assessing class syllabi across campus for similar issues.

“We have a very diverse campus,” Concordia President Alan Shepard told The Link. “I think that’s a big strength for Concordia—I’m very proud of that.”

While this may be true, the university’s institutional bodies—like its Senate and Board of Governors—are far from being representative of its student body. Shepard added that university administration has “tried in our hiring […] to keep that in mind and try to move towards an administration that reflects the campus we have,” while also acknowledging that they still have work to do despite some progress. The Sexual Assault Resource Centre and related policy changes are good examples of how the university has responded well to students’ calls for action—but now it’s time for more.

Concordia’s history is rich with meaningful mobilization against austerity, racism, and sexism. While this is something we should be proud of as Concordia students, we must question why these public demonstrations of solidarity were necessary in the first place.

In 2014, an anonymous former student politician experienced instances of racism and sexism during her time at the Arts and Science Federation of Associations. Mei-Ling—the student’s alias—came across Facebook messages between the president and vice-president of the association, calling her terms like “chink slave.”

Other messages read: “I’m going to try to fuck her at the first meeting,” and “Well whatever, if she doesn’t suck our dicks: impeached.”

Mei-Ling went to the Dean of Students, where she was told that her story was a common one, and that the dean couldn’t help her without an assessment from the Office of Rights and Responsibilities. The office told her that since conversations were private, Mei-Ling was alone to deal with the situation.

She went to the Centre for Gender Advocacy and the Legal Information Clinic, and was later referred to the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, a non-profit, external organization whose mandate is to promote racial equality and combat racism in Canada.

Perhaps with the proper resources here at Concordia, Mei-Ling would not have had to jump through all these hoops in her search for justice against what she called a “toxic, blatantly misogynistic, sexist, racist environment that stifled how student leaders should be creating positive change.”

Various equity offices have emerged at many universities across North America, including Queen’s and Wilfrid Laurier Universities.

Laurier’s Diversity and Equity Office is a space which “strives to foster an atmosphere of equity and inclusiveness at Wilfrid Laurier University […] We believe in eradicating the barriers that inhibit access to equal opportunities, and we advocate for the inclusion and equal treatment of everyone, regardless of gender, race ethnicity, culture, sexuality, religion, age, ability, or socio-economic background.”

Queen’s has a similar office, which is also committed to initiating processes with which to find gaps in equity policy and continue to implement policies to remove barriers to equity.

C-FAR’s survey project is the first step in Concordia’s long walk to more equal representation and participation amongst students and faculty. Another big question, though, is whether those running the equity office will be representative of the student body itself—something that is crucial if we are to strive for an inclusive space.

The Link supports the development of an equity office fit to the needs of our students, based on the results of this survey which will hopefully reflect students’ actual experiences at Concordia.

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