Students and equity services, seeking justice for UW’s treatment of BIPOC, united in support of student-led social media campaign ‘Equity4WHO’.
On July 7, Equity4WHO released a social media post on multiple platforms and an open letter to UW’s administration, supported by WUSA and signed by ISA, RAISE, BASE, UWASA, UWACS, The Women’s Centre, and QTPOC KW. The statements set out a list of demands that hold UW accountable for actions that oppress and tokenize BIPOC students, staff, and faculty.
“Our primary concern is the complete and utter ineptitude that [UW] has continually shown regarding the implementation of meaningful and sustainable institutional anti-racism work, despite years and years of BIPOC students asking, demanding, and frankly begging for action,” a spokesperson from Equity4WHO, said.
Central to this initiative’s concerns is Dr. Diana Parry, Associate Vice-President Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion (HREI), and her limited support for BIPOC students. According to Equity4WHO, Dr. Parry has never attended any RAISE event and refused to hire an anti-racism coordinator when asked in December 2019. This is in addition to several student experiences expressing Dr. Parry’s narrow focus on anti-racism efforts.
“Through the sharing of 72 student experiences- through form responses to Equity4WHO- as well as consultations with WUSA, and the alarming gaps that have been publicly identified by members across the [UW] community, it has been sufficiently proven that Dr. Diana Parry is not meeting key expectations for this position,” WUSA said, in a brief shared with UW administrators.
UW’s Indigenization Strategy, led by Dr. Parry, aimed to follow the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls for Actions, announced by UW President and Vice-Chancellor, Feridun Hamdullahpur. While Dr. Parry received awards for work that violated Chapter 9 of the Tri-Council Policy Statement and the OCAP Principles of Research, BIPOC students on the taskforce were tokenized and their ideas were shut out, according to Equity4WHO.
“By receiving credit and accolades for Indigenization without meaningful relationship building and consultation with present Indigenous communities, Dr. Parry has engaged in the silencing and unethical exploitation of Indigenous knowledge and histories. The Indigenous people who contributed to this taskforce were overshadowed and unrecognized. Since the formation of this strategy, all Indigenous members have left citing lack of action, while Dr. Parry remains the chair,” a spokesperson from Equity4WHO, said.
Signatories of Equity4WHO’s open letter, RAISE and ISA, agree that consultations with Indigenous staff are integral to creating an effective Indigenization strategy.
“We believe in the restructuring of PART and the Indigenization Strategy which must be composed of, and led, solely by Black and Indigenous students, staff, and faculty. This also means furthering BIPOC representation across UW in tenured faculty and in staff positions,” ISA said- in a statement of support for Equity4WHO.
WUSA proposes the restructuring of UW’s hiring priorities in a way that makes anti-racism its a key component..
“This should include the hiring of the new President by intentionally involving Black and Indigenous voices, in particular, by reaching out to RAISE and other WUSA clubs- who have been doing this work using WUSA as a liaison for student representation- along with ISA, and declaring an intention to prioritize anti-racism in the hiring of the next President,” WUSA said in their brief.
WUSA also asks the UW Board of Directors to appoint Jean Becker, Senior Director, Indigenous Initiatives, as Vice-President Indigenous Affairs and Engagement. This would raise Becker’s current role, a position that reports to HREI, into an executive-level role, no longer operating under the HREI portfolio.
“The position of As an executive officer, this position will have the power to actively contribute and influence the university’s academic mission, governance, teaching, student experience, recruitment and research,” WUSA said in their brief.
Following reports of anti-Black racism on campus by UW students, in response to global anti-Black racism initiatives and the death of George Floyd, the HREI office announced on June 1 that they had hired Dr. Christopher Taylor as an Anti-Black Racism Advisor. However, Equity4WHO reports that their inquiries into the position reveal that, presently, Dr. Taylor has no contract with the HREI office.
“We find this extremely deceitful, an attempt to actively mislead students and silence the reality of how prevalent anti-Black racism is on this campus, by providing a band-aid solution with no follow-through. As AVP, Dr. Parry is in control of all hiring decisions within HREI, so the failure of this action item is further proof of her inability to lead anti-racism on this campus,” a spokesperson from Equity4WHO said.
Zainab Ashraf, Coordinator at RAISE, believes the position remains unfilled because HREI, “provided no contract, no written agreement of a long-term employment for someone to fill that position.”
In an open letter to the UW community on June 15, Hamdullahpur announced the President’s Anti-racism Taskforce (PART). The taskforce was envisioned to be led by co-chairs that represented BIPOC communities to ensure the taskforce had an understanding of the lived experiences of BIPOC students.
“It is clear to me now, after spending time engaging with the issues of anti-racism, particularly anti-Black racism, over the last two weeks, that we must build further on what we’ve been doing as a University to advance equity for BIPOC on our campus,” Hamdullahpur said.
However, RAISE is concerned that PART is an empty promise. The university should be focused on creating transparency in the structure of these initiatives, a quality PART does not possess, according to RAISE.
“This is concerning for BIPOC students, because [they] are too aware when things are merely said but never done. Saying things is good optics, having PART is good PR. But with the lack of structure and transparency with PART, it is concerning whether it would work to address anti-racism,” Ashraf said.
Hamdullahpur acknowledges that he reached out to WUSA after becoming aware of Equity4WHO’s campaign and WUSA’s brief to UW administrators. He previously met with WUSA leaders and committed to meeting with them once again.
“Our leaders want to meet with student groups to hear feedback in a respectful way that reflects our community values. I look forward to continuing these conversations so we can create meaningful action. This university is committed to addressing racism and anti-Black racism on our campuses. I know we must listen to BIPOC voices and address systemic racism problems,” Hamdullahpur said.
As a result of this campaign, Dr. Parry resigned on Jul. 31, 2020. Jean Becker, Senior Director, Indigenous Initiatives, will serve as interim Associate VP, HREI, starting Aug. 4, 2020.