Members of the McGill community have a collective responsibility to actively contribute to an equitable campus by working to reduce systemic barriers and inequities that exclude certain groups. McGill students and staff are all entitled to feel safe and included regardless of identity or background.
Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at McGill and in Canada
McGill’s Strategic Plan on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion notes that the institution seeks to “promote respectful, accessible, and inclusive work environments.” All McGill graduate students have the right to receive equitable treatment and to feel safe and included. More specifically, McGill policies state that we must strive “to ensure that students from diverse cultures, ethnic origins, sexual and gender identifications, religious or faith backgrounds, and all types of disabilities receive equitable treatment in the provision of, and access to, our services.” Under the Canadian Charter of Rights of Freedoms, any individual in Canada is entitled to “equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” These expectations regarding equity should also be reflected in your relationship with your supervisor. For more information on equity, diversity, and inclusion at McGill, consult the Student Services page.
The McGill student population is diverse. Individuals within the McGill community possess varied identities that interact and can impact how they are perceived and treated. Another way to think of these factors is intersectionality, or the way these different identities can intersect along lines of “gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, class and other forms of discrimination” (Center for Intersectional Justice). For example, a racialized graduate student who also identifies as woman is likely to experience different barriers in the university context than a racialized graduate student with another gender identity. You and your supervisor may also differ in a variety of ways including race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religious/spiritual beliefs, (dis)abilities, and family structure. All these factors influence and are a part of your cultural experiences which, in turn, affect how you work with other students, peers, and supervisors.
As we all navigate spaces with varying degrees of privilege and power, it is helpful to be aware of how our power and privilege impact not only how we experience the world, but also how we interact with others. The Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion recognizes that “historical circumstances, social traditions and group dynamics have given certain groups in our society more
privilege and power compared to other groups."
The supervisory relationship is inherently imbalanced because you may rely on your supervisor for funding, progressing in the program, and opportunities following graduation. The mentorship role includes providing feedback, networking opportunities, assistance in setting goals, support in skill and career development, and more. This imbalance is not inherently negative, as long as it does not contribute to exclusionary or exploitative situations. If not managed, the power imbalance in the supervisory relationship may be exacerbated by implicit bias – unconscious assumptions about certain individuals’ abilities or characteristics – and associated systemic barriers that students may face due to their intersecting identities. This can sometimes be a barrier to quality mentorship.
Should you encounter conflict with your supervisor, you may wish to refer to the page on conflict management and seek help in navigating it as appropriate. McGill also offers resources specific to international students through International Student Services. Besides being aware of biases and how they work, it is also helpful to carefully examine your own unconscious biases and how they impact your supervisory relationship. For more information on power and privilege dynamics, review the CCDI resources.
Harassment and Discrimination
McGill takes issues of harassment and discrimination seriously. Should you experience harassment or discrimination from your supervisor, or other members of the McGill community, please consult the following resources or make a formal report to the Office for Mediation and Reporting. To consult someone anonymously about a conflict with your supervisor, you may also contact the ombudsperson for support and advice and/or contact your respective equity representative.
What Questions Inspire Reflection and Action on Diversity?
By recognizing discrimination and bias in our communities, we can collectively take action to reduce and manage them while promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion. Creating equitable, diverse, and inclusive communities results greater social cohesion, fruitful interactions, and creativity.
Individuals may experience inequality based on intersecting identities, including “gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, class and other forms of discrimination” (Center for Intersectional Justice). Members of the McGill community have a collective responsibility to create and contribute to an equitable campus. At McGill, you are entitled to feel safe and included, irrespective of identity or background. The Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion encourages careful reflection on the ways and circumstances in which privilege and power impact outcomes at a systemic level.
Part of recognizing equity and diversity means accepting that people from different cultures have valid ways of life. This includes ways of teaching and learning that might be unfamiliar but not necessarily less effective or meaningful. Biases toward certain groups, including implicit bias, can impede mentorship in the supervisory role. Try taking this Implicit Bias Test from Harvard University – many people are surprised by the implicit biases they have. Recognizing bias is the first step in reducing them and contributing to more inclusive organizations. This article suggests several interventions – including challenging stereotypes, questioning our own objectivity, and establishing a culture of fairness – that can help reduce and manage bias.
Addressing Differences Between You and Your Supervisor
If you find that the differences between you and your supervisor are making it difficult to communicate or work together effectively, consider the following approaches.
- Reflect on your respective backgrounds and how they may influence your ideas about the supervisor-supervisee relationship, including how you think you should work, communicate, and interact with each other.
- Identify differences or implicit biases between you and your supervisor that may be causing miscommunications, discomfort, or otherwise negatively affecting your graduate experience.
- Consider bringing up these issues with your supervisor should they emerge. Because of existing power dynamics, it may be challenging bringing up some of these concerns with your supervisor. You may wish to consult McGill’s Office of the Ombudsperson for advice on how to talk about these issues with your supervisor.
Questions for Reflection:
- Do you know your rights as a student and as a supervisee? Do you know who to talk to about issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion at McGill?
- Do you know where to go should conflicts arise with your supervisor around equity, diversity, and inclusion? You can review some resources on conflict management here: Conflict Resolution
- What factors shape your identity and how does that impact how you see and navigate the world?
- What are some of the systemic barriers that may exist for you, your peers and other members of the university community?
- What can you do to better understand how culture, gender, race, sexual orientation and other facets of identity and marginalization affect your relationship with your supervisor, professors, and peers?
- How can you question, reduce, and manage my assumptions and implicit biases?
For a detailed guide on your rights, examining bias, and actively committing to learning about inclusion, diversity, and marginalization, please review the in-depth guide offered by the McGill Skillsets Framework for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.