Open letter: Power and privilege don’t lead to collaborative, inclusive communities

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This year, UVic’s Diversity Research Forum includes a panel taking place on Friday, Jan. 27, made up exclusively of UVic executives. Titled “Shared Lessons: On the Journey to a Collaborative, Inclusive Community,” panelists are the Associate VP of Student Affairs and the Deans of the Faculties of Law, Social Sciences, and Science, with the Dean of Humanities moderating.

As UVic students, volunteers, and staff actively engaged in diversity and social justice work, we have strong misgivings about this panel. By holding up UVic executives as champions of diversity, UVic is legitimizing a power structure that creates significant inequities. How is it collaborative or inclusive to have an all-executive panel, with no representation from students or the staff who make a fraction of the $200 000/year average salary made by each of the four panelists?

We see no evidence that this panel is about UVic executives pushing back on their power and privilege. Instead the panel holds up an elite as leading the way in diversity and equity. This continues a longstanding pattern at UVic of people in power appropriating others’ work to advance their own position, status, and profile.

Given the power-based positions executives hold, how can they relate to the diverse perspectives of people who are on the margins, and who experience the UVic campus as highly exclusionary? From what community do we derive understanding of inclusivity?

While as people who sometimes pass as being part of a dominant group who don’t want to make assumptions about the identities of anyone on the panel, we find it ironic that in a forum on diversity, the entire panel is white-presenting, and four of the five are male-presenting. Such basic lack of diversity reinforces white supremacist and patriarchal notions of who has knowledge and what kinds of experiences matter.

Although the elite would love to believe that we need them to lead the way, what we see from the Sexualized Violence Task Force, for example, is that the people most directly affected are the leaders. This task force is a group of on-campus sexual assault survivors who shared their stories and made real change by pressuring the government and the university to address sexualized violence. Collaboration and inclusivity does not come from executives, it comes from grassroots activists, marginalized students, and community members who push back.

This was recognized at UVic’s recent Let’s Talk About Teaching event during the session “Classroom and campus climate: Supporting students’ calls to move beyond the rhetoric of inclusion and diversity.” Teachers who work with students (unlike the distant executives) talked about the ways students challenged them to re-think inclusivity in the classroom, and using buzzwords to put forward an image of being progressive without actually doing the difficult work of transformative change. Only one of the panelists presented as a cis-male and all panelists were people of colour.

“Collaboration” and “inclusivity” aren’t actions that UVic executives perform or enact in meaningful ways. We call on the Provost’s office and the panelists to rethink this panel, and to use it as an opportunity to listen to, rather than speak over, voices from the margins.

Signed,

Concerned UVic community members

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