Congress 2021 blog edition
By Megan Perram (she/her), PhD Candidate in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta
Malinda Smith, Vice Provost Equity Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and Professor at the University of Calgary, invites us to think about racial diversity in leadership positions in Canadian higher education, barriers to inclusivity, and solutions to our existing racial and gender inequalities. Smith’s talk, “Diversity Gap in Canadian Higher Education,” was organized by the Canadian Sociological Association and the Canadian Society for the Study of Education.
Like most talks at Congress, this lecture began with a land acknowledgment. However, Smith called on the audience to think deeper about our complacency and participation in ongoing colonial violence. She referenced the recent discovery of 215 Indigenous children’s bodies found on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, as confirmed by Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanna Casimir, and soberly acknowledged that “we continue to live that violence.” It is all of our responsibilities to grapple with this tragedy.
Smith soon dived into the topic of EDI and considered its meaning: “My view is that each of these concepts means something important. They're not interchangeable. And certainly, the acronym by itself doesn't capture what we need it to capture.” She continued: “what's important for us to focus on is the language of equity as Justice.” Justice, for Smith, is about centering the human being, human rights, and human dignity in every conversation about EDI.
Smith guides her audience through a complex debate that is unfolding in academia around the power of language. We utilize, almost exhaustively, the term diversity. However, some academics feel “we have reached the end of diversity, the utility of the word.” Smith explains that some believe diversity as a term has become emptied of its meaning and is now doing more harm than good. In this sense, diversity is hollowed out of its political power, but makes us feel as if it is doing something effective.
In contrast, some radicalized individuals on the opposite side of the spectrum believe the term diversity is doing too much: “it's those scholars, on the right, who see diversity as white genocide.” Language, and the power of language, is something we need to interrogate and pay attention to, said Smith.
Smith called on her audience to consider how the institutions they are a part of are enacting EDI measures. She explained: “if an institution is waiting for the diversity gap to close by itself, knowing the historical record of obstacles and barriers that are formidable and self-perpetuating, if there are no proactive interventions underway...then there is no effort to advance equity.”
Smith knows that if institutions want change, they must take action with intentionality. “We need to intervene. And without intervention, equality will not happen on its own.”