Eduvation Blog

Pride vs Shame; EDI and IDIC

Good afternoon, and TGIF!

It’s Pride Month, and CdnPSEs are painting rainbow crosswalks and hoisting flags to celebrate diversity – albeit at half-staff this week, recognizing the fresh atrocities of residential schools “unearthed” by ground-penetrating radar in Kamloops. The 100th anniversary of the race massacre in Tulsa Oklahoma has likewise refocused the discussion of anti-Black racism this week, after a year of debate and unrest over Confederate statues and campus names. In Canada, new revelations this week of “rampant” sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces has underscored the substantial way that gender equity has yet to go.

For decades, higher education institutions have included Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Indigenization among their values, and increasingly have counted EDI among the priorities in their strategic plans. Institutions have task forces, standing committees, directors and vice-presidents, councils and circles – and there are literally thousands of initiatives, projects, and partnerships announced every month to advance the cause.

Not only can I not do justice to the full sweep of activity and initiatives, but as a white male settler (literally born in London England, and one who studied Shakespeare towards a doctorate) I have always been conscious that I am only an ally, and hardly the best interpreter or guide for others when it comes to EDI. (See my Ten with Ken interview with Vianne Timmons, “Why Indigenization Matters,” for a discussion of our obligation to understand and support the effort anyway.)

As a lifelong Star Trek fan, I’ve always embraced the show’s philosophy of diversity and multinational cooperation, imperfect though it has often been. (Female characters were often objectified in the 1960s episodes, and it took until 2017 for Star Trek Discovery to incorporate gay main characters.) Yet Starfleet’s “Prime Directive” of noninterference with pre-warp civilizations is an explicitly anticolonial policy, and the Vulcan philosophy of IDIC (infinite diversity in infinite combinations) meant more to me and my fellow fans than it ever meant to series creator Gene Roddenberry (who arguably saw it primarily as a way to sell jewellery as a side business).

So, even though I’m hardly the best spokesperson, I do want to recognize Pride month. Sadly, though, I have been struggling for the past 2 days to reconcile my idealistic desire for a positive message, with the disturbing, disappointing and dismaying news of the past few weeks… It’s all quite overwhelming, but here’s my best effort. Perhaps it will make for some weekend reading, if it’s too much for your Friday afternoon coffee break…

Rising Above?

As I mentioned a week or so ago (see “Compassion, Camus and COVID”), I often invoke Albert Camus in talking about the psychological impact of the pandemic…


Rising Above Ourselves

In Camus’ novel, La Peste, the plague provides selfish villains and cowards an opportunity to reveal their true colours, but also gives many heroes the opportunity to display compassion and selflessness. My most-used slide in presentations about COVID19 features a quote from Camus, that “plague… helps men rise above themselves.”


Squabbles & Prejudice

But sadly, the pandemic has also provided an excuse for plenty of xenophobia, racism, nationalism and class warfare. Right-wing politicians have fuelled anti-Asian sentiment by nicknaming COVID19 the “Wuhan flu” and have been attempting to ban the teaching of critical race theory. Tensions between Israel and Palestine have been on the rise. Vaccine nationalism is pitting domestic self-interest against the more generous, enlightened self-interest that would ensure the whole international community had access to life-saving COVID19 vaccines.


Instinctive Xenophobia

A new biology study from uPittsburgh observes that insects and animals hunker down in small groups and effectively isolate in the face of viruses and pathogens. This biological impulse to separate can limit disease spread, but also prompts “hypervigilant and particularly error-prone” behaviours that amount to xenophobia and prejudice against any physical abnormality. “We become much more bigoted, we pay way more attention to things that differentiate people from what we perceive as our own phenotype.”



Promising Moves

Just in the past few days, there have been plenty of positive initiatives in Canada, demonstrating rising awareness and providing at least symbolic gestures towards reconciliation…


The Edmonton Elks unveiled their new CFL name and brand identity, replacing the “Eskimos” moniker dating from 1949.


Canada’s Top 100 corporations tripled the number of Black board members in the past year, to 26. (Still just 2%, but progress.)


Algoma U, located on the site of the former Shingwauk residential school, has committed to probe the campus for unmarked burial sites.


Ottawa city councillors are urging the federal government to rename the Sir John A Macdonald Parkway, through Indigenous-led consultation.


St Francis Xavier U now offers parchments written in both Latin and in Mi’kmaw to its graduates.  StFX


The Canada Research Chairs program has set equity targets for awarding CRC positions, not just to reflect the diversity of the applicant pool but of the general population, and now universities themselves must have equity action plans in place and meet those targets over the next 8 years.


Ottawa has finally completed a preliminary national plan to respond to the findings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, released 2 years ago. 7 immediate steps include funding for support services, a public education campaign, data strategy and an oversight body.


King’s UC raised the Progress Pride flag this month, as did 8 Catholic school boards across Ontario, over the objections of conservative Catholics and the silence of the Vatican. “Grounded in the person and mission of Jesus, and enacting the principles of Catholic social teaching, we stand with all those who are positioned at the margins who suffer discrimination. We support and advocate for initiatives which create and foster inclusivity.”


“The Progress Pride flag signifies our openness and support for those on the margins who we want to affirm are fully part of our place, which is a place for everyone.”David Malloy, Principal, King’s UC at Western



BCIT unveiled its anti-racism framework as “local and global events have compelled us to acknowledge our role in perpetuating systemic racism and to take action.” The working group has identified 4 key priorities: raising awareness, collecting data, adapting HR policies, and “enacting strategies within programs, co-curricular activities, and services that contribute to a more racially inclusive and aware environment.”


Centennial College’s Anti-Black Racism Task Force has launched community consultations about recommendations for impactful change.


Nova Scotia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons has an independent commission reviewing policies and procedures, to try to “regulate racism out of medicine.”


“What we’ve come to realize is what we’ve always known: the few in fact are not the issue. It’s not the individual, it’s the systems themselves, the structural, the institutional racism. Therein lies the real problem.”Douglas Ruck, Former Ombudsman for Nova Scotia



UBC’s Law School launched a $225K fund to assist Black students, created by donors including former Supreme Court Justice Selwyn Romilly, who was mistakenly arrested by Vancouver Police recently.


Yukon U has established a new Institute of Indigenous Self-Determination, thanks in part to a $100K donation from Power Corp which will support a mentorship program for participants engaged in HR, Lands or Finance within First Nations government.


Ryerson U is among the many Canadian institutions named for Egerton Ryerson, Hector Luis Langevin, orJohn A Macdonald now being asked to reconsider their names, statues, and the legacy of the architects of the residential school system. Last month, Indigenous students at Ryerson started using “X University” on their emails, résumés and correspondence. The Standing Strong Task Force at Ryerson has been conducting consultations since November, and a report is expected this Fall.


“While we’re dealing with our family and our friends and our relatives that are experiencing this trauma of residential schools and all the shock that accompanies this recent discovery, there’s also this sort of additional burden that I think the Indigenous community at Ryerson is carrying right now… I think that the Indigenous community has been pretty unequivocal in the demand that the statue be removed and the university be renamed.”Hayden King, Executive Director, Yellowhead Institute, Ryerson U


UBC released a series of four 1-min videos this week posing some key questions to promote the National Forum on Anti-Asian Racism, June 10-11: “Why has Anti-Asian Racism Resurfaced?” (featuring sʔəyəɬəq Elder Larry Grant of Musqueam), “Where are You Really From?” (featuring actor Andrea Bang of Kim’s Convenience), “Have Museums Sidelined Asian History?” (featuring Viviane Gosselin, curator at the Museum of Vancouver), and “Why are Allies Important?” (featuring Victor Ling, president of the Terry Fox Research Institute).



Falling Short

But sadly, the news for the past 15 months has made it eminently clear that not all people have become more compassionate or understanding as a result of the pandemic…


Anti-Asian racism has been resurgent throughout the pandemic as suspicions rise about the potential origin of COVID19 in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and now rumours swirl about collaborators at a Winnipeg lab.


“People who try to criticize China often do it in such a broad brush that they are inadvertently stoking anti-Asian racism.”Lynette Ong, Political Science prof, uToronto



The CBC sitcom Kim’s Convenience was abruptly cancelled this spring, and star Simu Liu has complained about the “overwhelmingly white” producers and the lack of East Asian representation on the writing staff for a show about Korean immigrants to Toronto. Huffington Post


Medical devices can themselves be biased against race or gender, such as no-touch soap dispensers or faucets that ignore darker skin tones, or pulse oximeters that miss low oxygen levels in Black patients.


The NFL finally pledged this week to stop “race-norming” – assuming Black players started out with lower cognitive function, in the settlement of brain injury claims.  AP


Metrolinx fired 2 Black dispatchers just days into their jobs when they failed police background checks, even though neither has a criminal record. They have filed complaints with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.


Gender-diverse teens in BC are 6x more likely to experience extreme stress, according to a new UBC study of 38,000 youth. 80% of trans boys and 60% of trans girls reported being bullied in the previous year, putting them at higher risk for health problems.


Joyce Echaquan was ridiculed by medical staff with racist abuse and neglected as she died in hospital – while livestreaming the evidence. “Never again,” insists the Quebec Coroner conducting the inquest. “Tell your children that a small reconciliation revolution started thanks to their mother.”



Ivory Tower So White?

After half a century ostensibly adopting civil rights and securing gender equity, accepting a range of sexual orientations and gender identities, why are supposedly intelligent, educated people still exhibiting Neanderthal tendencies?


Cancel Culture Backlash

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has been a vocal opponent of the efforts of so-called “cancel culture” to remove the names of historical racists from public buildings and institutions. In 2017 he asserted, “I reject this campaign of total defamation, of historical vandalism directed at our founding prime minister.” But Kenney appears particularly tone-deaf this week, in the wake of the Kamloops discovery of mass graves. “If the new standard is to cancel any figure in our history associated with what we now rightly regard as historical injustices, then essentially that is the vast majority of our history.”


“If we want to get into a debate about cancelling Canadian history, we need to understand that it’s all of our history. I think that kind of destructive spirit is not really the spirit of reconciliation.”Jason Kenney, Premier of Alberta



“History is not set in stone. It is a living discipline, subject to excavation, evolution and maturation. Our understanding of the past shifts.”Gary Younge, The Guardian



JAMA Editors Stumble

Howard Bauchner, editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association, stepped down this week after a February podcast appeared to deny systemic racism in medicine. In it, deputy editor Edward Livingston said “many people like myself are offended by the implication that we are somehow racist.” JAMA’s Twitter account added, “No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in healthcare?” Livingston stepped down within days. For the past 2 months, criticism of JAMA has been growing as an internal review was conducted. 9,000 people signed a petition declaring that “the lives of all patients are at risk if the medical structures that provide care fail to actively name racism as a public health challenge and to commit to antiracist action” – including the hiring of a deputy editor with a dedicated focus on anti-racism and health equity.  Times Higher Ed


Tenure Denied at UNC

Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones was recommended for tenure at U North Carolina’s journalism school by a faculty committee, but was overruled by the UNC board of trustees – perhaps due to pressure from major donors and conservative activists opposed to her work on the New York Times’ “1619 Project.”


Islamophobic Int’l Recruiter?

Wilfrid Laurier U has placed an international recruiter on leave after Islamophobic posts were reportedly made in a private Facebook group, advocating a boycott of Muslim-owned businesses and urging people to keep their children away from Muslims. Police report no grounds for criminal charges, but WLU’s investigation is ongoing.


UNBC Board Chair Removed

UNBC board chair Aaron Ekman has been removed by the province due to “racist and discriminatory comments.” Said Minister of Advanced Education Anne Kang, “We have high standards for public appointees, and racist and discriminatory comments from public appointments to post-secondary institutions will not be tolerated.”


Race and Cheating?

uRegina is investigating after a Chemistry prof sent students an email with what it calls “racist remarks,” and says “corrective actions and disciplinary measures have been implemented.” Allan East emailed multiple students about their cheating on a final exam, saying “I could not help but notice that all 14 of you cheaters have East Indian last names. None of the Canadian or other international students cheated. You must not cheat in Canada. Canadians do not like cheaters.”


Outspoken Blogger

Mount Allison U has condemned “inappropriate” remarks on the personal blog of Health Psychology prof Rima Azar, which apparently was “denying systemic racism in New Brunswick or in Canada, talking about BIPOC students in unkind ways, labelling Black Lives Matter a radical group.” Azar is also an adjunct prof at Dalhousie Medicine NB and at the uMoncton school of psychology. “Freedom of speech doesn’t mean amnesty from consequences,” said MtA Students’ Union president Jonathan Ferguson.


Denying Genocide and BLM?

Back in September, 2,200 people signed a petition calling on Mount Royal U to fire prof Frances Widdowson over comments in the media saying that Black Lives Matter has “destroyed MRU” and that she “doesn’t recognize the institution anymore.” She also denied that Canada’s residential schools were “genocidal,” emphasizing their educational benefit.


“If these people are teaching students and then later these students are going to be remembering these things that she said… it reinforces negative stuff that should never be out there.”LJ Justice, Black Lives Matter LLC



Anti-Oppression or Anti-Semitism?

The social justice and anti-oppression theme lead for uToronto’s medical training programs, Ritika Goel, is being blamed for a “prevailing culture of antisemitism and xenophobia” in the Faculty by an anonymous open letter – although her supporters insist the allegations are baseless. Goel was recently among 3,000 signatories to a petition calling upon Canadian health workers to express solidarity with Palestinians, after the recent destruction of medical facilities by Israeli air strikes.



Advancing the Conversation

You can see why I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume and complexity of EDI issues swirling around North America and higher education specifically. Doubtless many of you feel the same way on your own campuses. Thankfully, academics and scholars are contributing to the growing conversation about Indigenous reconciliation, anti-racism, equity and inclusion in thousands of ways as well. This issue is already overlong (and long overdue) but here are a handful of recent examples…


Rewriting History

uTexas Austin history prof Steven Mintz observes that most US colleges have problematic pasts. “Most of our most prestigious colleges and universities have skeletons in their closets. Even those that did not benefit directly or indirectly from slavery advanced pseudoscientific ideas involving eugenics or imposed discriminatory admissions policies.” And changes to the campus “racial geography” (building names, statues, campus traditions and songs) are often essential to eliminate pain and trauma for marginalized groups. While Edmund Burke warned that “we should be cautious and thoughtful when we tamper with the past,” Oscar Wilde was “right on the mark” when he quipped that “the only debt we owe the past is to rewrite it.” Mintz worries about American society’s “disconnection with the past” and the erosion of a “shared conception of a meaningful future.” (I think of the way Gene Roddenberry’s original, idealistic Star Trek has been replaced by increasingly dark, dystopian spin-offs.)  Inside Higher Ed


The “Uncivil War”

US politics are so polarized that president Biden’s inaugural address likened it to an “uncivil war.” Aside from contested and loaded terminology like “cancel culture” and “woke,” columnist Perry Bacon writes that “most of today’s political fights are really about two underlying questions: Will power — cultural, economic, social and political in particular — be taken away from the kinds of people (wealthy, White, Christian, male) who have traditionally dominated most of American life? And, if so, how much and how quickly?” Republicans disagree with Democrats over the first question, and Democrats with each other over the second. (Think Nancy Pelosi vs Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.) Battle lines have been drawn over affirmative action, welfare reform, charter schools, enforcement of civil rights laws, abortion rights, immigration policy, same-sex marriage and wealth taxes. The Republican party, writes Bacon, is now defined by “an all-consuming form of resentment politics.”  Washington Post


Trans-Inclusive Colleges

Clark U psychology prof Abbie Goldberg surveyed 507 trans and gender-nonconforming college students, and concludes that truly welcoming institutions should offer gender-neutral restrooms, gender-inclusive housing, explicit nondiscrimination policies, options for chosen names and pronouns on records and class rosters, affinity groups, a mental health counsellor trained in the needs of trans people, and health coverage for hormones or gender-affirming surgery. (112 colleges in the US cover hormone therapy in their student health plans.)  The Conversation




It’s neither new nor PSE specifically, but for this issue on Pride Month, I thought it fitting to draw your attention to an award-winning Pride campaign…


The Pride Shield

Violence against LGBTQ individuals has been on the rise, even as mainstream political and legal acceptance has improved. To promote the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in 2018, Canadian LGBTQ+ rights organization Fondation Émergence, created “the Pride Shield.” In this full-scale ballistic experiment, 193 Pride flags (one for each country in the UN) stopped a .45-calibre bullet in its tracks: “if we take a stand against violence together, we can stop it once and for all.” The video attracted hundreds of millions of views and the exhibit has travelled the world.  Strategy



As always, thanks for reading!  I wish you a peaceful, generous weekend – whomever you spend it with.

This issue put me a little behind schedule, and there’s plenty of breaking news I want to share with you next week. You may have heard more about the rising threat of the “Delta variant” (which I’ve been writing about since March 25). Perhaps you’ve also heard that Fanshawe College has just joined Western and Trent in making vaccines mandatory for students in residence this Fall.

I’ll be back next week with all that and more. Meanwhile, “Live Long & Prosper!”



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