Prioritizing Equity, Racial Justice, and Indigenous Initiatives: A Message from the Dean and Vice Dean of the Faculty of Arts

Over the stretch of the pandemic, we have regularly been reminded of the violence and heartache caused by the legacies of settler colonialism; by anti-Indigenous, anti-Black, and anti-Asian racism; by practices that promote the inequitable treatment of gender-diverse individuals and sexual minorities; by refusals to hear the truths about residential schools. And while these very public stories cause a flurry of awareness and consciousness raising about work yet to be done, they are the more mediatized placeholders for the microaggressions, inequities, and structural challenges experienced on a daily basis by individuals identifying with equity-deserving groups. Celebrations and storytelling during such nation-wide commemorations as National Indigenous History Month, Black History Month, Asian Heritage Month, or Pride Month do a great deal to raise consciousness about the histories and cultures that mark the past, present, and future of the communities that make up the University of Alberta, commitments that advance equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), and that promote Indigenous rights, initiatives, and decolonization efforts from the institution’s leaders must be sustained year round.

In the Faculty of Arts, the fostering of a welcoming, equitable, and antiracist working and learning environment is our guiding principle. We acknowledge that diversity in Indigeneity, race, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion, language, and disability is key to our excellence in learning, teaching, research, service, and community engagement. We commit to taking deliberate action towards dismantling the conditions that allow for structural oppression and racism to persist. Systemic barriers that limit full participation and contribution of members from underrepresented equity-deserving groups in Arts must be identified and removed at regular intervals to ensure diversity thrives in our community and enriches the lives of all.

Concrete steps must be taken to progress such lofty goals, and we must share these goals collectively. On 22 January, 26 February, 19 March, and 16 April 2021, the Faculty of Arts community was invited to meet and discuss priorities, ideas, and concerns with respect to building an equitable and just community. While the first meeting focused specifically on restructuring (the condensed notes from that session can be found on the Faculty of Arts restructuring website), the subsequent meetings turned more generally to the question of advancing Indigenous initiatives and EDI in the Faculty of Arts over the short and longer term, and sustainably into the future. The discussion notes from the three meetings provided important background information for a “summit” on 16 April, during which Departmental and Faculty leaders met to establish a list of 13 priorities on which Arts should collectively take action. The roughly 150 registrants of the four sessions were then invited to rank and comment upon those priorities.

Out of that ranking exercise the following key priorities for the academic year 2021–22 have emerged:

  1. Establish EDI-measures for hiring, including creative pathways to addressing underrepresentation, the hiring process, and onboarding;
  2. Support Departments in making commitments to and plans for decolonizing curricula, including student consultation and adopting inclusive and antiracist pedagogies;
  3. Provide training to all Arts members (that takes into account different levels of investment, identity, experience, and impact) to ensure that the mission is shared and everyone has a stake in EDI efforts and Indigenous initiatives;
  4. Develop a confidential and accessible process, mechanism, or triage system for receiving disclosures of incidents of racism, oppression, or harassment that supports and aligns with University policies;
  5. Make publicly available workforce and student demographic data in keeping with UofA data privacy policies to assess present state and progress on addressing underrepresentation.

The priorities here and in the full list are interconnected, the work is iterative, and any success relies on public commitment to accountability from Arts leadership. The initiatives need to be evidence-based and have clear and accountable goals, be visible to the communities they serve, not undermine existing university-level processes, and be respectful of Departmental concerns, cultures, and aspirations.

How we show up collectively as an institution matters; how the Faculty of Arts leads in the work of dismantling the systems and structures of ongoing racism, white supremacy, and colonial oppression matters. It matters not only to those most impacted—those whose experience of racism, ableism, sexism, and harassment marks their daily lives—but also for the future of a Faculty that is equitable, just, and committed to acting on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

As Dean and Vice Dean, we commit to advancing the five key priorities identified in the community conversations, and to making progress on all the priorities set out in those forums. We share this responsibility with other Arts leaders, including Associate Deans and Chairs. Activities and initiatives supporting the advancement of these priorities will be recorded in the Progress Dashboard at regular intervals, a tool that can be expanded in the future as other urgent priorities emerge and that may be adapted to track and make public Department-level initiatives.

Of course, these priorities are not comprehensive and cannot stand alone. In keeping with the goals of the Arts Academic Strategic Plan Change for Good, equity, racial justice, and the advancement of Indigenous initiatives must be threaded throughout the work that the Dean’s Office and other Arts leaders undertake, and across all areas of student support, governance, research, teaching, community engagement, evaluation, recognition, and service. Thank you for committing to this work with us.

Steve Patten, Interim Dean

Carrie Smith, Vice Dean