Momin Rahman is a sociology professor at Trent University and co-chair of the CAUT Equity Committee. His research interests include intersections between sexualities and ethnicities, with a particular focus on Muslim LGBT politics and identity.
How is the Equity Committee structured?
We have two co-chairs, one of whom represents women and the other represents one of the other equity-seeking groups, including racialized minorities or racialized people, Indigenous people, queer groups, people with disabilities and also a combination of all those, so what we might call a kind of intersectional version. And, in fact, at the moment, the committee really is populated by people who identify with more than one dimension of an equity-seeking group. We take our direction from and report to CAUT Council, and maintain a fairly busy ongoing agenda of work broadly related to equity issues, including policy development. We mount an equity conference every three years, and are currently developing a web-based resource we call an Equity Toolkit.
Last February’s equity conference was called Organizing for Equity: Tools and Skills for Activists. What feedback did you receive?
I think it was a really successful conference and one of the most important things about it was emphasis on activism and building skills for activism around equity. We have actually collated a lot of the feedback from the conference, and there was an overwhelmingly positive view of it. Specifically, on the first day, we included presentations from local associations that had won victories in terms of equity issues in order to illustrate strategies that participants could use. For example, our colleagues from Ottawa discussed how they'd managed to get more equity provisions into the collective agreement through bargaining. And then we had some good examples from the University of Victoria where they have been successfully lobbying for better accommodation procedures for people with disabilities. These were practical examples of what individual associations can actually do to improve equity. The second day was devoted completely to various workshops about developing and/or learning new skills to progress equity issues, through scenarios with practical applications.
How important are these kinds of real and practical tactics toward change?
It’s very important, practical and positive in the sense that we are illustrating to people that you can make changes. I think for a lot of the associations and the university sector as a whole, the access issues have not really been mainstream or at the forefront. That's changing somewhat because of the settlement around the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) Program, which CAUT was involved in, and that's actually provoking real change, particularly from the research councils, around recognizing that various groups are underrepresented, not only in the CRC program, but also in the wider research ecosystem. I think that's been a really positive example of CAUT action.
What about at the local level?
We have to be ready as union members to engage with new policies or procedures that universities might adopt that genuinely advance equity, rather than simply being another kind of layer or “veneer” of equity and statements and discourses that universities make. We must recognize the frustration with the fact that there are a lot of policies out there and they're often just a veneer and there's no real action behind them. It’s time to call that out and say to our colleagues, "Yes, we know that veneer exists and that's a frustration. But here are the ways in which we can make that real and make that practical."
Will the Equity Toolkit be helpful in that regard?
Very much so; we are developing a structure for a web-based resource that members can access, that really focuses on how to take action in a variety of ways we have available to us such as bargaining, campaigning, and using grievances around equity issues. There is an emphasis on making real change with practical steps to help do that. The toolkit is envisioned as a kind of ongoing living resource, so it will be refined as we go along. There will always be different examples of successful practices, but also different examples of issues that arise, or the dimensions of issues that perhaps we haven't thought through, or didn't realize had become problematic. The website will explain the importance of equity issues to the union, and the importance of recognizing that there are equity-seeking groups within our profession who are under-represented and under-served, and that we have a duty as unions and associations to do something about that and to be engaged on the issues. We hope to also have information on the importance of gathering equity data, and examples of how you might construct a methodology to survey and understand data on pay equity. It will be very pragmatic in its application, but within that pragmatism, hopefully we'll be able to develop recognition of nuances where there need to be nuances.