Confronting diversity and the lack thereof

Editorials Opinions

When we reported on UVic’s most recent diversity award win — when the university was named one of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers for the sixth year in a row — we were once again confronted by the question of whether or not this recognition was deserved. Is UVic actually diverse? Is it just best among Canadian universities? Is that saying much at all?

We at the Martlet had long heard about the difficult environment in academia, and so decided to look into this issue — there was clearly a disconnect between what the university was saying and the experience of its faculty and students. We felt it was important to explore this and discover the nuances there within.

It was around this time in May that the discussion around cultural appropriation and the whiteness of Canadian media began. Hal Niedzviecki, a Canadian magazine editor, suggested the idea of a “cultural appropriation award” for whoever could best tell a story not about their own culture. This suggestion, paired with the fact that it came in the foreword to a magazine dedicated to Indigenous writing, was rightly torn to shreds and Niedzviecki, apologetic, resigned.

We asked around campus and received a brilliant article from Alana Sayers, a PhD candidate and literary theorist, explaining why Niedzviecki’s suggestion was problematic. We have more opinion pieces about the topic coming soon, and we hope you read as much about this as you can.

Our newest issue was beginning to take on a theme, and so the question became how do we, the Martlet, represent ourselves in this issue? Our newsroom is not openly diverse — all of our current staff are white — and although we endeavour to provide as many diverse opinions and voices in every issue, but that doesn’t mean we succeed.

We wanted to make sure that in writing our feature, and in publishing an article about the whiteness of Canadian media, we were properly locating ourselves and being self-critical about the role we play.

We at the Martlet decided that we need to acknowledge the power that comes with being a publication — we are the ‘gatekeepers’ that Sayers describes in her piece. We needed to understand that it is not enough to talk about diversity as though it is someone else’s problem, because it’s our problem too. We live on unceded territory, and, like all other settlers in Canada and the U.S.A., we were not invited here. That’s something to be cognizant of.

We don’t expect to solve the problems raised in our feature, but instead alert people to the conflict that they may otherwise have been unaware of.

Storytelling should be diverse — at best, a failure to do so risks a publication or a story being one-dimensional and vanilla. At worst, it risks the erasing of stories and experiences of others.

White storytellers — be them authors, editors, or journalists — have a responsibility to their audiences: the responsibility to be respectful and mindful, to give a platform for voices that might otherwise be silenced, but to do so without stealing from or disenfranchising others. It might, at times, seem like a fine line to walk. But we have the privilege of choosing which stories we tell and how we tell them (and the responsibility that comes along with it).

Other articles have been written about the diversity problem in academia, but they look largely at statistics. Publications talk to university representatives about what they’re doing to increase numbers, without talking enough about the experiences of what it is currently like in academia. We wanted to change that with our feature; the experiences of those who win UVic its awards demonstrate the intricacies of diversity better than those awards ever could.

There is plenty of work to be done, and the Martlet is committed to doing it. We will continue to seek out diverse voices and encourage them to contribute to our paper.

It’s rare that we at the Martlet find ourselves agreeing with Jamie Cassels, but we can’t argue with him when he says that “diversity underpins excellence.”

What’s next is moving beyond acknowledging our institutional power as journalists and publishers and into action — this issue represents the beginning of that for us.

Editorial topics are decided on by staff at our editorial meetings, held weekly in the Martlet office (SUB B011). Editorials are written by one or more staff members and are not necessarily the opinion of all staff members.