What does diversity on campus mean?

Representation matters for students at U of W

According to the Canadian immigration website, “diversity in Canada extends beyond race and ethnicity but spans language, gender, religious affiliations, sexual orientation, abilities and economic status.”

Thiané Diop, a prospective University of Winnipeg (U of W) student, says having representation on campus is important to her.

“As someone that lives in a lot of intersecting identities, to feel welcome in a space, representation is extremely important,” Diop says.

The U of W Human Rights and Diversity department’s website says says the university “is committed to and actively supports equal opportunity, equity, social justice, mutual respect, diversity and the dignity of all people.”

Diop says she shys away from the term “diversity,” as it can sometimes be used as a Bandaid solution.

Institutions could say, “‘Look, we put some people who look different than one another or who identify differently than one another on a brochure, we’re now diverse,’ and that’s not good enough,” Diop says.

Statistics Canada projects that by 2031, between 25 to 28 per cent of the population will be foreign-born, and 29 to 32 per cent of the population will belong to what Statistics Canada calls a “visible minority group.”

Members of the U of W community have a responsibility (outlined in the Respectful Working and Learning Environment Policy) to maintain a respectful workplace and to not cause or participate in harassment or discriminatory behaviour.

Zee Morales, the co-ordinator for the Rainbow Lounge (formerly known as the LGBT Centre at the U of W), says academia is getting better at diversifying its teaching staff to be more representative of students.

“Something that I’ve noticed is students aren’t reflected by their profs. I have had classes where the students are very diverse and representative and the prof just seems completely out of touch with what’s going on, which is discouraging. I think it would be great if the university looked at more than just the credentials of the prof … but made more of an effort of diversifying their teaching staff,” Morales says.

Morales says they feel represented by the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) because they have a mix of people who come from different backgrounds but they’re not sure about the faculty at the U of W as a queer Person of Colour.

“(T)he UWSA is doing a better job (of being representative), I think largely because they are speaking for the students themselves and are more representative of the student population,” Morales says,  “and the UWSA executive, they come from different experiences and backgrounds.”

Diop says it’s important to have a representative  faculty teaching in universities, and having an informed and diverse faculty will help the campus feel more representative for those students.

“When I did my undergrad, I was looking back and realized something like 90 per cent of the profs that I took classes with were really critical People of Colour … I don’t think I would’ve finished my degree if it wasn’t for taking classes with people who I didn’t have to explain the basics to,” Diop says.

“I just had a phone call with a friend who was extremely upset after a class that the prof and the students didn’t get it. (They) not only didn’t understand diversity but were saying extremely offensive things that she had to a) hear and  b) then explain as to why they were offensive while having that be minimized, and that sucks in an education environment,” Diop says

Morales says that because academia is often very white and  cis-normative, those are the people who have access to those opportunities and thrive in those situations.

“Access to education often does depend on your position that you’re born into - not necessarily something that you’ve earned,” Morales says.

Published in Volume 72, Number 17 of The Uniter (February 8, 2018)

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