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Loud thumping and other construction noises permeate Veronica Amberg's basement office, home of the new Social Equity and Diversity Education Office. "We are starting up a new office. That means doing everything from research and program development to buying dishes and posters!" she says. She was hired in the fall and moved to this space in January; it's all still a work in progress.
Most people think of equity as an employment issue, but Amberg's objective is much wider than that. The Human Resources office of McGill has a separate Employment Equity Office, and there are other places where people can take grievances, complaints and pressing crises that need to be resolved. Amberg's office, on the other hand, is concerned with educating the McGill community about equity concerns, and says her mandate includes "heightening awareness and providing opportunities for dialogue about equity and diversity-related issues."
There are many ways that this can be accomplished. One standard educational tool is a workshop designed to sensitize staff, faculty and students to issues of harassment and discrimination. Amberg is currently helping the Teaching and Learning Service create a video that provides teaching staff with information about diversity in the classroom. And she has many events lined up for the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21, including guest speakers, films and presentations.
But she and Vincia Herbert, her Administrative Coordinator, have some more unconventional ideas. Herbert wants to make a calendar that would highlight the work, academic and non-academic, at McGill that promotes equity around the world. Amberg is interested in théatre populaire, or social theater, an idea she got from the Université of Montréal. She has also organized roundtable discussions with representatives from McGill organizations like the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association and the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students' Society.
Many groups at McGill work for social justice and part of the job of the Equity Office involves networking among these groups. For example, the McGill Equity Subcommittee on Queer People has created a workshop called Promoting Safe Space that the Equity Office will promote and publicize. There are also non-McGill groups, like the Commission des Droits de la Personne and the Black Community Resource Centre, who can make contact with McGill through Amberg.
Equity and tolerance issues show up everywhere. Any McGill organization can find itself in need of the office's services and Amberg is prepared to respond to the individual needs of any group or faculty. Last semester, after a hazing scandal, the Department of Athletics asked her to take part in a task force designed to develop leadership and teambuilding. "They are taking a difficult incident and turning it into an opportunity for the department to be a leader in teambuilding," she says.
Having worked for many years at CUSO, Amberg herself is used to a horizontal and collaborative work environment. She is a firm believer in teamwork and insists that everyone in her office be an important contributor to the advancement of the office's mandate. She and Herbert work together with two students, Goran Marjanovic, a first-year law student, and James McCrea, a political science graduate student. Amberg stresses that one of her goals is "to create a team based on principles of collective decision making, where everyone's contribution is valued." She plans for the office to be an example of the kind of inclusiveness that she would like to see everywhere at McGill.
For more information about the Social Equity and Diversity Education Office, and a listing of UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination events, check for the soon-to-be released website www.mcgill.ca/equity_diversity.*varies slightly from print version