Students question UVic’s diversity ranking

Many feel UVic has a ways to go before it can be considered truly inclusive

Mar 01, 2012 | Volume 64 Issue 25 | 1 Comment

UVic advertises itself as inclusive, but not all students agree.UVic advertises itself as inclusive, but not all students agree.Tess Forsyth

Canada’s Best Diversity Employers recently ranked UVic among its top 50 of 2012, but student groups are skeptical.

The Best Diversity Employers competition is meant to recognize exceptional workplace diversity and inclusiveness programs compared to other employers in a given field, so the top 50 should be leaders in their industry and region. There are over a million employers in Canada. While more than 2750 Canadian employers requested application packages, the Martlet was unable to confirm the number of completed applications, or the number UVic was up against in its region and field. It’s also difficult to determine which industry UVic fits into, since it provides education, accommodation and food services, among other things.

UVic consistently sends representatives to community job fairs and open houses, like those held by the Victoria Native Friendship and the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee centres. The university holds an annual diversity research forum, workshops on accommodation, and a Mental Health Info fair.

It boasts a Diversity and Equity Steering Committee complete with budget, a Mental Health Task Force, Faculty Disability Caucus and the Positive Space Network (PSN) for LGBT issues. All of these initiatives represent steps toward improving diversity on campus, and are cited by Mediacorp editors as reasons UVic made the top 50 list.

Certainly a glowing recommendation, but UVSS advocacy groups see definite room for improvement. “They should have investigated further before giving this recognition,” says Michael Allen-Newman, President of the Society for Students with a Disability (SSD). “They didn’t consult student groups.”

Allen-Newman says UVic hasn’t yet achieved a climate where people can outwardly acknowledge a disability in all cases. He notes that he doesn’t see professors being open about their own disabilities, if they have any. He knows of one qualified employment candidate with a disability who has been repeatedly turned down for a position at UVic.

“They won’t promote him beyond being a casual student worker,” says Allen-Newman. While Allen-Newman says the dedicated people at UVic Equity and Human Rights (EQHR) are good for listening, the university faculty and staff don’t always follow their recommendations. Despite substantial efforts by EQHR workers, Allen-Newman says, “It doesn’t seem like I’m ever going to get accom- modated in my department.”

The PSN has a similar position at the uni- versity to that of EQHR. While Pride Co-or- dinator Ilaina Decter says Pride has received reports that indicate many UVic community members could benefit from an education in inclusiveness and equity, training is entirely voluntary.

“It’s incredibly stressful to deal with profes- sors who are ignorant or oppressive,” says Decter.

The combined efforts of Pride, the UVSS and SUB management to bring gender-inclu- sive washrooms to the student union building — with the support of surveyed SUB users — has been delayed while Facilities Management and unnamed UVic committees review the proposal. Pride was neither informed of the review nor included in the process. Student groups say these washrooms would better accommodate people with different-gender caregivers and with children, and al- leviate gender policing, which reports suggest is prevalent in the University Centre building. Pride has also seen university staff refer to the plan as “transgender washrooms” in emails, a term deemed “othering” and insensitive by Pride.

Decter says the university could also improve its equity and inclusiveness by mak- ing its forms inclusive of all genders and facilitating name changes on student IDs and records. Some people have encountered UVic staff being inconsistent in allowing name changes.

Jessica Humphries of the Students of Colour Collective says, “UVic has made effort to better create a diverse community on campus, but has often lacked in areas around fostering and maintaining a safe community.” She’s observed a positive shift in employment practices and hiring, but also cuts to events, insensitivity and lack of accountability.

“Creating a diverse campus goes be- yond quota hiring processes, and active recruitment of marginalized groups,” says Humphries.

She’d like to see a campus where there’s space for members of marginalized groups to safely exist in the first place, and avenues for individuals to participate within an institution that she finds by its very nature privileging to certain identities over others.

“There’s a lot of room for improvement in the diversity conference on campus. They could include a lot more student groups in the process of organizing it, because it doesn’t necessarily appeal to students unless they’re already involved,” says Humphries. “There’s a huge lack of student involvement” However, Moussa Magassa, UVic’s Human Rights Advisor at EQHR, says people are working very hard at UVic to improve diversity and this type of positive recognition can only help the progression. He hopes the Canada’s Best Diversity Employers competi- tion will encourage employers to redouble efforts. He says the university is taking a leadership role in diversity. This doesn’t mean UVic is perfect, but it is getting somewhere.

“It is not something that we have, it is some- thing we make as we go. Diversity is something you create,” says Magassa. “Definitely it is being created here at UVic through our policies and our practices.”

UVic scored 2.17 out of 5 on The Equity Continuum sliding scale of diversity. Organizations that score 0 are in denial about their inequity, believing they’re equitable when they’re at or below base human rights. Scores of 1 and 2 mean an organization is driven by or in process of moving beyond compliance to legislation and avoidance of legal action. Organizations that score 3 realize that diversity and inclusion lead to stronger performance from successful and engaged employees and delivery of relevant products: a stronger business model. Any score below 4 or 5, (practised, integrated diversity and truly inclusive and equitable organizations) undermines efforts to im- prove diversity. While equality is treating ev- eryone the same, equity means recognizing differences. Moving along the continuum is a journey from human rights through social responsibility, diversity and inclusion, to complete human equity.

Among the rest of the 50 Best Diversity Employers, 37 scored higher than UVic and 11 scored below. WCB Manitoba’s rating wasn’t released. The other post-secondary institutions recognized: UBC, U of T and the Seneca College of Applied Arts & Technology, scored 2.7, 2.97 and 2.67 re- spectively. Ernst & Young LLP had the high score at 3.18. Manitoba Hydro made the list with a 1.5.

The fact that these employers are worthy of recognition sparks pessimistic humour from Miles Motture of the SSD, who says, “In a city of blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

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