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Draft Strategic Plan

Does Queen’s spirit impede
diversity?

Febraury 13, 2006

Resources critical in creating culture of diversity, town-hall speakers say

(Queen's Gazette) - The university must do more to build a culture of diversity and "decisions have to be made top down," says Joy Mighty, director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning and chair of the Senate Educational Equity Committee.

Speaking at the final Engaging the World town hall, Dr. Mighty recommended that Queen’s create a vice-principal position responsible for equity with a mandate for building diversity into the life of the university – through its recruitment and admissions practices as well as its pedagogy.

"It’s not just about race and gender – a culture needs a body." Dr. Mighty and others, staff and students, spoke of the isolation, "the N of one," that individual members of a minority group frequently feel.

She and other speakers disagreed with Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane’s view that little can be done "top down" to change the culture at the university. He took the view that university community members need to share ideas on how students and administrators can work together to promote diversity and advised participants to offer some concrete suggestions for achieving the goals.

About 80 people attended the seventh and final town hall on the theme of diversity Jan. 24 in room 202 of the Policy Studies Building. Dr. Hitchcock, who shared the panel with Dr. Deane and Vice-Principal (Human Resources) Rod Morrison, added the session to the schedule after a previous town hall that was to focus on equity veered into other topics. Given its importance, another session was required, said Dr. Hitchcock.

Several people spoke, some passionately, during the 90-minute session on themes such as creating an environment conducive to freedom of inquiry; rethinking university planning that inadvertently creates barriers for people with special needs; offering a compulsory course on diversity; focusing on the world view and not just the euro-centric perspective in courses and creating a sense of belonging to aid in the retention of minority faculty, staff and students.

Offering scholarships and bursaries to students or other incentives to prospective employees is not enough to convince them to come to Queen’s, let alone keep them on campus, said Wayne Myles, International Centre director. Queen’s can offer all the scholarships it wants, but it has to give students a reason for coming, he said.

The International Centre plays a community-building role at the university, and there is much to celebrate. However, Queen’s very existence, created by Scottish charter, works against a more inclusive view of the university. He noted that it is the tendency of the dominant culture to remain as it is.

“We are trained from the moment we come to Queen’s to reinforce the dominant culture,” he said. Queen’s can attract people of colour or other diversities, but without the support of peer groups, they are going to continue to leave, “because we keep saying, ‘this is who we are.’ You can offer all the scholarships in the world – but we’ve got to stand tough and make resources available to change this.”

Dr. Deane also spoke on the issue of cultural perspective. He questioned whether the university was offering the "experience to become like one of us. You can set up bursaries, you can evaluate them in a certain way, but you really won’t get anywhere as an institution unless you undertake a transformation of yourself." Queen’s "traditional spirit" can work against inclusiveness, one graduate student said. Previously, as a Waterloo student, he traveled to Queen’s to make a presentation. When he told the class where he was from, 160 students booed him.

"I knew it was in fun, but it hit me. It made me feel like I didn’t belong here."

Dr. Deane said his story was helpful to hear.

"There is excellence here, but there is excellence elsewhere too," he said.

Drs. Hitchcock and Deane questioned the feasibility of a compulsory course in diversity. It would be better to extend an awareness through the entire curriculum, and not just in isolated courses, Dr. Hitchcock said.

Jeanette Holden, a professor in the Psychiatry and Physiology departments, offered the example of a university that sets routinely aside time outside of classes for various clubs to interact and learn about people of other backgrounds.

Queen’s also needs to do a better job of getting the word out about existing programs and initiatives that do support diversity. Many students stay away from Queen’s not only because of its elite reputation, but also because of a fear of isolation, one student said. As a Jewish person, he said he was thankful to have discovered Hillel House on campus, a community that supports his culture and his faith.

"Knowing that someone will be here that shares your religion or culture or sexual orientation makes the transition that much easier," he said. "It’s important to get the word out through admissions that these groups exist on campus."

Mr. Morrison remarked on the goodwill of those who spoke and the emergence of a positive theme. A central entity is needed, he said. Positive things are happening on campus – but each operates in isolation.

"It’s a matter of packaging it all together and making it work." Dr. Hitchcock expects to be able to share a draft document of her strategic initiative for comment by the Queen’s community by the end of March.

The ultimate outcome will provide a framework for guiding decision-making and establishing priorities in key areas of the university – from research, academic program planning and enrolment management to development activities, facilities planning and alumni relations.