The atrocity that occurred this week at the home of our students is a stark reminder that not only does racism still exist and is a problem in Canada, but also that issues of racism are present and affects us here far closer to home in the Kitchener/Waterloo area. At UW-BASE, we are often reminded of the absence of space within which to have discourse on racial issues here at the University of Waterloo.
At UW, there are a number of services currently that allow for minority groups to get a safe space, but this incident is proof that a service for racialized individuals is not only a necessity, but is also an indictment of the current set-up. Every student’s voice deserves to be heard, in particular minorities who may not immediately feel at home in their academic environment. Unfortunately, UW does not provide such a service for that to be possible for everyone represented in the student population. It has quickly become apparent that there is either a lack of willingness among the leadership at UW or an inability to understand its necessity.
The Equity Office — an established resource with a mandate for diversity and inclusivity for racialized minorities, lacks any visible initiatives that allow for discourse of the challenges facing people of colour. Their website lists “Resources” that direct people of colour to ‘Related Services’ for support. Damningly, the resources include mute and anonymous websites such as the UN High Commission for Human Rights and the Canada Race Foundation. If UW wants to be taken seriously as a school that makes diversity a priority, then these resources are laughable, and worryingly, a reflection of the administration’s attitude towards racialized groups.
The school’s senior-most leadership on diversity — the Vice-President, Academic and Provost, currently has working groups to advise on Sexual and Gender Diversity as well as Prevention of Sexual Violence. In the same vein, a working group on Racial Inequality seems like a natural next step. In its absence, we at BASE are left to question whether the needs of racialized students are really within his radar, or whether the fringe location we occupy serves to remind us of our anonymity on the agenda.
The leadership at FEDS provides little solace either. The FEDS Diversity Education Team boasts a website that has not been updated in 4 years and at the annual AGM, held about a week ago, when candidates for the FEDS Board of Directors were asked about the need for a service for racialized students in the same vein as GLOW or the Women’s Centre, a number of responses offered little semblance of urgency or willingness to address the matter. FEDS has a very large mandate, and its leadership run several services and initiatives divided among 4 main executives. Perhaps it is time to concede that diversity and inclusivity is a mandate too far.
Our neighbours at Laurier currently have a space and service solely for racial diversity and a vibrant Diversity and Equity Office that houses the Association of Black Students. The synergies that exist between the administration and the students are clear and the model is easily adaptable. At our school, nearly double its size in student population and a supposed diversity champion, racial diversity simultaneously belongs to both the school and the student body. And when something is everybody’s business, it is also nobody’s responsibility.