Structural Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Is More Than a Dedicated History Month

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As we celebrate Black History Month, I reflect on the foundations that allow McGill University’s School of Continuing Studies (SCS) to be a truly equitable, diverse, and inclusive learning and working community. It is one of our core values and is reflected in our mission: to offer diverse adult learners a path of lifelong professional and personal transformation, to empower learners, strengthen communities and support partner organizations to thrive, and to build bridges – within SCS, across the University, and between the University and wider society. Ultimately our goal is to ensure access to the highest quality education. Advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) is paramount to realizing these commitments.

EDI (or DEI as it is called south of the Canadian border), has unfortunately also become a catchphrase so vague, that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what we strive to achieve. There can be no “one-size-fits-all” approach. Different demographic groups certainly share some interests and needs similar across all groups – we are, after all, all HUMANS. But we very quickly must recognize that not only are there important differences in socio-economic, political, and cultural contexts across various racialized, ethnic, and identity groups, but they also differ within each population. Efforts focused specifically on combatting anti-Black Racism and on addressing the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for First Nation, Inuit, and Métis peoples play a vital role in this need to differentiate and respond to inequities in ways that are appropriately contextualized.

At SCS we believe that EDI needs to be woven into the fabric of every aspect of our work, and as such, is a responsibility of us all. The work to counter centuries of discriminatory or exclusionary structures and practices cannot be accomplished overnight or in a mere month dedicated to highlighting Black, Indigenous, Asian, or other histories and cultural heritages. It is truly lifelong.

With the help of an ad hoc working group of SCS faculty, staff and students convened during 2019-2021, SCS has been working on a strategic plan that fully integrates EDI considerations. These draw on McGill University’s Strategic Action Plan regarding Anti-Black Racism, Indigenous Initiatives, and Equity responses more broadly.

This work to date produced several tenets that may seem obvious to some but are worth stating explicitly and repeatedly. As noted in the School’s proposed EDI/ABR strategic plan,

  • It is important that SCS provide learning environments and student services that are universally accessible and adequately support the diverse needs of our learner community from initial contact through graduation and beyond.
  • SCS recognizes that research, discovery, and innovation is enhanced when scholars belong to inclusive research communities with a richness of diversity, experience, identity, and ideology.
  • SCS is nothing without our community connections in Montréal and Québec, across Canada and the world. Our EDI goals reflect how much we value our collaborations with the wider community in the public, private, and community sectors.
  • SCS is committed to a working environment rooted in the health, safety and well-being of employees and the sustainability of the workplace. This includes being aware of and following McGill’s Employment Equity Policy as it relates to equitable practices in the hiring, promotion, and retention of all staff. Ensuring the safety and well-being of our employees is fundamental to a culture of inclusion and benefits the students engaging with our staff as well.
  • SCS physical spaces must be inclusive, accessible, and diverse to ensure inclusion for all. Looking at physical space from an EDI perspective means considering how they are designed, navigated, and interpreted by our diverse community, and beyond.

An internal Working Group convened to begin the work of translating these ideas into practice. A final report is forthcoming, and findings will also be incorporated into the School’s next Strategic Plan. But as noted above – we do not have to wait for reports and plans to make a positive change. Consider your own unconscious and conscious biases; and how policies, procedures, routines, or social practices might lead to structural inequities, pose barriers to access and success or, inversely, could be put in place to advance and promote equitable, anti-racist, inclusive learning, and work environments. For instance, consider today and every day – what can you do to ensure that Black students, faculty, staff, community partners, employers, friends, etc., are seen, heard, and respected but also not defined merely by the amount of melanin in one’s skin? Each one of us has the power to be anti-racist and make a positive difference every day.

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