Students to be consulted on “experiences and perceptions” of inclusivity at U of O

This year a new committee has been implemented at the University of Ottawa to promote diversity on campus.

Caroline Andrew, who is a researcher in political science at the U of O and serves as chair of the new committee, said that there have been so many changes during her time on campus that the implementation of such a committee was a “very important thing to do.”

She believes that the question of diversity is important in the context of Canadian society, and both herself and U of O president Jacques Frémont wanted a campus that worked to reflect this changing image of Canada.

“It’s been a bit slow getting it started,” said Andrew about the committee, which held its first meeting in late December 2016.

According to Andrew, the committee, which is comprised of students, faculty members, and other staff at the U of O, are working to identify what kinds of “barriers to inclusion” exist on campus.

With this information, the committee will distribute a survey to all students and staff at the U of O in the spring, which will gather information on “their experiences and their perceptions of inclusion at the university.”

Approximately 10 other universities in Canada have similar committees in place, including the University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta.

According to Andrew, the student voice is crucial to the work of this committee, as “some people don’t feel included at the university—they don’t feel it’s their institution.”

The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) and the Graduate Students’ Association also played a major role in pushing for the inclusion of this student voice, according to Andrew, saying that she met with both unions in the fall of 2016, and they advised her to get students to bring their concerns to the committee.

“Students should be willing to express their concerns about what can be done to make sure (campus) is a more inclusive environment, it does express all the diversity of Canadian society,” said Andrew.

Andrew also hopes to hear from students who do feel a sense of inclusivity at the U of O, so their experiences can be used to improve the experiences of all students on campus. 

The Fulcrum also spoke with Naomi Haile, a fourth-year U of O commerce student who supports the idea of the committee, and believes that it will work “if there are dedicated students who come together frequently and discuss ideas on how to make the university more inclusive … in terms of race, sexuality and religion.”

Haile believes that the work of the committee should “celebrate diversity” through “events (and) information sessions where they get different leaders who are part of these communities … coming together and educating us, especially while we are young.”

Another way the university can push for diversity is through social media, according to Haile.

“Using those platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) can speak volumes because it’s not only U of O students who are seeing that—it’s literally everyone,” said Haile, noting that social media extends “beyond our campus.”

Ultimately, Haile believes that “it’s important for other people to stand up for what they know is right even if it’s not affecting them.”

In an email to the Fulcrum, Vanessa Dorimain, the vice-president of university affairs for the SFUO, said, “I am hoping they are consulting community members, clubs, associations, federated bodies, and the federation about work that has already happened in the past, to not reinvent the wheel but instead be able to allocate money and resources to better support. I hope that there will be trainings and educational initiatives that are imposed on everyone profs , staff, students alike.”

Dorimain also hopes to see “a clear policy on racism and discrimination that students can refer to, and a standing centre for racialized students to be able to find support and resources which gets re-evaluated every two years.”

“Members of this committee should be from marginalized and racialized (which includes Indigenous folks) communities and not just consulted,” said Dorimain, who notes that these members should have voting rights on the table.

“If not – then I would be very confused about why this committee would be created in the first place if it is not for these oppressed communities to be able to have proper representation within this institution,” said Dorimain.