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President’s message / Advancing equity as a collective goal

President’s message / Advancing equity as a collective goal

By Peter McInnis

The 6th CAUT Equity Conference, held both in Ottawa and in hybrid format, offered opportunities to meet and learn from advocates from across Canada. The theme was how to translate theory and lived experiences into concrete activism for our diverse membership.

Attendees expressed both their enthusiasm for the shared exchange of knowledge, but also frustration that the objectives for equity too often involve extended timelines and many obstacles. It can be a weary road to walk.

Recalling the previous conference three years ago, few among the delegates would have imagined that we were on the cusp of a pandemic that would further complicate the equity objectives and extend the trajectories to realizing reforms.

It was also noted ruefully that in February 2022 the downtown core of Ottawa was embroiled in the weeks-long spectacle known loosely as the “freedom convoy.” Thousands of dissidents occupied public spaces, demanding redress for a long list of complaints ranging from COVID-19 vaccine polices to xenophobic intolerance for immigrants. The sentiments expressed by this ragtag assemblage was an anti-intellectual backlash against many of the principled demands of equity-deserving groups to substantive inclusion into both our society, and more specifically, progressive reforms in our universities and colleges.

The release of Justice Paul Rouleau’s report on the implementation of the Emergencies Act confirmed that the forces of intolerance and bigotry have not been cast aside in contemporary Canada. Conference delegates were adamant that the prospect of malcontents halting or backtracking on equity objectives would not discourage them from advancing our collective objectives.

We know from history that waiting out such moments will not suffice. The mere passage of time does not assuage barriers to equity, and only focused activism will yield desired results.

Those attending the Equity Conference as allies observed the sheer breadth of equity issues, ranging from gender, race, sexual orientation, age and manifestations of physical or mental health challenges. We learned of the intersectionality of these issues and of the importance of developing language for our collective agreements that advance equity objectives. This language must also be, when necessary, effectively protected through the grievance and arbitration process.

The term "accommodation" is often raised, both in its technical framing as a statutory and contractual obligation, but also as a moral demand for due consideration. Given the extended struggle to achieve objectives, there are times when it may be poignantly asked, how long must we accommodate those who do not wish to accommodate the equity-deserving in our midst?

The CAUT Equity Toolkit is a multi-faceted resource to educate allies of equity-deserving groups and a detailed guide to addressing specific issues arising from this process. An overview explains the centrality of equity in all its manifestations, not just with the intent of reiterating these topics among equity advocates, but to make the cogent argument that equity must be a broader concern for everyone. We all benefit from the achievements in equity and we all must join this campaign.

Frequently, we are informed by administrators that sufficient data is lacking on equity-related challenges. Faculty are told the collection of such data is too complicated or time consuming to assemble, and that existing policies already address equity concerns. Again, the Equity Toolkit provides an effective rejoinder to such dismissive responses.

Beyond specific guidance to pursue equity issues, the Equity Toolkit articulates why this larger project is necessary. “Realizing equity is both an individual and a collective responsibility. Academic staff associations must take a leadership role. Equity is more than a particular set of issues. It is a lens through which all issues should be considered. It is not about balancing different, competing interests. It is about achieving justice for all.”

In the generations-long quest for racial equality, the traditional spiritual song urged advocates to “keep your eyes on the prize.” Delegates to the CAUT Equity Conference are to be commended for their ongoing efforts as we are concurrently reminded of our collective fight.

Find the Equity Toolkit on the CAUT website at caut.ca/equity-toolkit.

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