BY ALIZA GRAHAM / Dagligtale Staff Writer
The University of Alberta’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity (EDI) Strategic Plan was launched On February 13, 2019. The Plan is inspired by the shared goal of guiding and supporting both current and future efforts and initiatives to build an equitable, diverse, and inclusive university. The mission of the EDI Strategic Plan is to work to achieve an accessible, equitable, and inclusive community of students, faculty, and staff. The Plan has been created for the purpose of having a learning environment shaped by respect, and a culture of human rights.
The University of Alberta’s North Campus created the EDI Strategic Plan. It is no longer a draft, and it is a template for North Campus. The Strategic Plan was presented to Augustana and we have begun participating in it, and getting involved in the conversation, however we have not yet made our own plan. The North Campus does not want to mandate the Plan for other faculties and campuses, and they have encouraged other campuses to develop their own plans that align with their needs. Augustana has had only two EDI meetings as of this point in time, which are open to anyone who wishes to attend. The first meeting was mostly for getting people to write out some ideas of what they think is important and to engage in a collective of ideas. In the second meeting, people were asked to bring up three to five different things they wish to see in the draft Strategic Plan for Augustana. There is not a set timeline for the Plan.
The mission of this plan is to create a working, learning, and living environment free from discrimination, bullying, and harassment. The vision is that the University of Alberta establishes a commitment to cultivating an institutional culture that values, supports, and promotes equity, human rights, respect, and accountability among faculty, staff, and students. Feisal Kirumira identified some things about the plan that are good and bad. It is good that the senior leadership is taking accountability, and is held accountable for equity, diversity, and inclusivity. However, being held accountable is more than writing reports and Kirumira believes that more needs to be done by those who have the power. The EDI meeting members act as an advisory group and do not hold the power to make the decisions. They can only share ideas, knowledge, experiences, and expertise. In Kirumira’s opinion the not so good part is that it is a plan that does not have a lot to do with the real life challenges and problems that people meet, for instance as minorities. Reflecting on recent racist incidents on campus, he believes that the plan needs more equity initiative, disciplinary measures against hate crimes, and a reevaluation of the language used in the mission statement. There is no reference at all in the mission statement, about racism, hate speech, xenophobia, or any of these things; it says Augustana is committed to having a university free from discrimination, however, the term discrimination is vague. Kirumira’s suggestion is that the university explicitly states these things to make a clear commitment to combat racism and other forms of [oppression]. It is important that the university stands by what is written in the Plan.
In an executive report written by Naomi Mahdere, Vice President Academic of the Augustana Students’ Association, it is noted that there is concern about how to sensitize individuals who are already comfortable in the current system, outside of the EDI Strategic Plan implementation (e.g. through bias training). Mahdere agrees with the Dean that the plan looks leisurely and not at all that ambitious. The Dean’s main concern is the need to treat campus climate issues with a greater sense of urgency moving forward.
The EDI efforts are forming an inclusive community that encourages and supports individual and collaborative efforts to identify and address inequities, and it welcomes and enables contributions of all voices and perspectives engaging in diverse ideas, in the pursuit of inclusive excellence for the public good. Overall, Augustana is in the early stages of drafting their own EDI Strategic Plan and is involved in the process of bringing about better change. For anyone interested in looking at the plan, it is accessible online at www.ualberta.ca/provost.