June 30, 2021
One Year Later: An Open Letter to the University of Calgary
Dear Dr. Edward McCauley, Dr. Teri Balser, Ms. Linda Dalgetty, Dr. William Ghali, Ms. Karen Jackson, Ms. Susan Belcher, Ms. Andrea Morris, Mr. Corey Hogan and Dr. Dru Marshall
(cc: Dr. Malinda Smith and Dr. Michael Hart):
On June 9th, 2020, the Department of Psychology’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee penned an open letter1 to the University of Calgary’s executive Leadership Team, calling for actionable steps towards anti-racism on our campus and in our larger community. Broadly, these steps included:
1. Issuance of a statement that: i) condemns anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, and police brutality; ii) acknowledges the impact of racism on academic, social, and health outcomes for Black, Indigenous and other peoples of colour; and iii) details a plan with respect to how the university will address issues of racism and police brutality.
2. Devise and implement a long-term plan to address social inequities by:
- Hiring and retaining more faculty and staff of colour
- Re-evaluating the application process for students
- Ensuring sufficient support, protection, and fair compensation to staff with limited institutional power
- Creating and offering more courses, workshops, and resources that delve into structural racism and its consequences
- Including modules in Continuing Education (CE) courses that describe and emphasize the impacts of systemic racism, colonization, and microaggressions in schools and workplaces, and how these issues can directly impact the health and well-being of Black people, Indigenous people and people of colour (BIPOC).
3. Commitment to addressing structural racism in the university’s research efforts by integrating anti-racist initiatives into ongoing and future research practices and compensatory structures.
4. Examination and improvement of the institutional reward structures used to incentivize programs towards instruction and mentorship of historically excluded students, and addressing constraints which limit instruction and mentorship practices.
5. Clarification of resources available to students who are impacted by racism and are in need of support.
The open letter was signed by 1,387 students, staff, faculty, and broader community members. The open letter also included a blank form where community members could provide feedback, which was collated and summarized into a Community Feedback Letter.2
Actions Since June 2020
Social justice efforts must occur at all levels of an institution. To our knowledge, the following actions have been taken by the University of Calgary Leadership Team across levels since the release of our open letter in June 2020:
- On June 24, 2020, President Ed McCauley issued a message to the campus community3 condemning anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism and racism in all forms. President McCauley’s message included a link to a feedback form4 for members of the campus and broader community to provide thoughts and suggestions on how the university could do this work. In addition, the University of Calgary’s Leadership Team issued a response to the open letter.5 President McCauley’s message acknowledged that systemic racism results in differential health outcomes, impacts access to education and academic performance, and impoverishes society. The Leadership Team’s response to the open letter attributed the deaths of George Floyd and “all others” as a direct result of police brutality. The letter states that the Leadership Team will turn to us (the Psychology Department’s EDI Committee) to “help us and guide us in this journey,” and that the University is fortunate to have Drs. Malinda Smith and Michael Hart to lead EDI-related initiatives. The Leadership Team stated that there is systemic racism at the University of Calgary and acknowledged that our EDI committee wanted to know specific details about how the Leadership Team plans to develop and enact anti-racism initiatives.
- Dr. Malinda Smith joined the University of Calgary in August 2020 as vice-provost of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, representing an important step towards the university’s commitment to addressing structural racism within our own institution. In Dr. Smith’s inaugural year, she launched the University of Calgary webinar speaker series titled Courageous Conversations, designed to spark a national conversation around equity, race, systemic racism, and anti-racism. Dr. Smith also hosted “Collaborate for Change: The Urgency of Eliminating Systemic Racism in Calgary” in March 2021. In this event that was open to the public, Dr. Smith led a discussion on how we can collectively push towards anti-racism progress in Calgary.
- The Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion has also recently launched an EDI dashboard one purpose of which is to report on demographic data within the university. Demographic data typically goes uncollected within Canadian universities, despite the utility such information has to EDI efforts. Thus, collecting demographic data at the University of Calgary constitutes a step towards enacting transparency and accountability, and gathering knowledge that can inform institutional efforts such as equitable hiring, recruitment and retention.
In conjunction with institution-wide change, spearheaded by our vice-provost EDI, President, and the Leadership Team, notable faculty- and department-level changes have also been taking place. For example:
- The Cumming School of Medicine and the Faculty of Law have both implemented Black Applicant Admission Processes, offering Black students and students of African descent the opportunity to speak to their lived experiences. These student-led initiatives have been galvanized by the Black Medical Students’ Association as well as the Black Law Students’ Association.
- The Department of Psychology abolished the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) as an application requirement for graduate programs. This decision recognized the GRE as posing a significant and inequitable time and financial barrier to graduate school entry.
- The School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) formed the SCPA Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Decolonization (EDID) Committee. They have committed time and resources towards gathering faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members in dialogue, in order to further EDID initiatives within the SCPA and the broader arts community. SCPA initiatives include the creation of an alumni mentorship program, as well as an EDID Advisory Board.
- Within the Faculty of Kinesiology, a small group of researchers have started an EDI Committee in exercise oncology research. The committee has created resource lists for incoming lab members and has provided a workshop to the Kinesiology Department on issues related to EDI in exercise oncology. The workshop was well-received and they are planning a second workshop in the near future.
Actions Still Needed
We acknowledge that additional plans and initiatives may be underway of which we are not aware. As such, we are calling for either additional transparency about actions taken to achieve, or increased efforts towards, the following areas as outlined in the original open letter and community feedback letter:
a) Hiring and retention of minoritized faculty, staff, and students, as well as equitable compensation for minoritized individuals;
b) Development of targeted education via courses, workshops, and resources which include relevant and up-to-date curricula that delve deeply into an intersectional understanding of structural racism, colonization (e.g., residential schools, treaties), discrimination (current and historical, e.g., immigration policies, Islamophobic policies), and their consequences;
c) Commitment towards addressing structural racism, colonization and discrimination, and their consequences, within our institution via anti-racist and decolonizing policies and initiatives. This includes the examination of our institutional power structures and reward/incentive models;
d) Clarification or further development of resources for students who are impacted by racism, colonization and discrimination (e.g., advocacy for increased mental health coverage through student insurance plans);
e) Institutional and financial support for collaborative research with BIPOC and other minoritized individuals and community members;
f) Clarification of complaint and grievance procedures related to racism and discrimination in the workplace at the university, faculty, and department levels; and,
g) Examination of Police and Campus Security, and transparent reporting on how campus security is encompassing EDI principles.
In addition, we invite other departments/faculties to share initiatives they are planning or have implemented related to EDI. In the spirit of collaboration and joint action, our committee is looking to expand beyond our academic silos and liaise with other department- and faculty-level committees. We believe we have much to learn from each other and look forward to sharing visions, ideas, and actions among our campus community.
Further Progress: A Historical and Current Perspective
While, as noted above, positive progress has been made in the last year, there are still a number of critical short-, medium- and long-term EDI goals for the University of Calgary to work towards. Before considering these larger goals, however, we feel it is important to take both a historical and current perspective.
History of Post-Secondary Education in Canada
Formal post-secondary education began in what is now Canada in 1663. The number of post-secondary institutions has greatly expanded in the subsequent 350 years. By the time of Confederation in 1867, there were 18 universities, and as of 2021, there are approximately 280 post-secondary institutions across the country. When thinking about university EDI goals, however, numbers are not the part of post-secondary history that most matter. Instead, it is critical to understand the original purpose of post-secondary education in Canada: the advancement of Christian, colonial ideology. The original post-secondary institutions in Canada were built by white6 settlers to advance the goals of different Christian religious sects (e.g., Baptist, Methodist, Anglican; formally, this is known as sectarianism). The religious nature of Canadian post-secondary institutions continued for a number of centuries, and Canada did not see the founding of fully secular universities until the early twentieth century. This Christian history ties in with the second key piece of Canada’s post-secondary history, advancing colonization. As described by Sheehan (1985), “recent work on the history of education in the public systems [in Canada] suggests that English-only classes, British content and the stress on virtues like obedience, respect for authority, acceptance of one’s place in life and hard work at the elementary level and a strong academic program at the secondary effectively controlled who would be Canada’s leaders” (p. 34).7 Thus, historically, post-secondary education in Canada was primarily accessible to white, Christian, wealthy, predominately male (women could apply, but were in the minority) individuals with a goal of advancing Canada’s settler-colonial ideals. Further, these institutions were not generally available or accessible to Indigenous peoples. Indeed, it was not until 1969 that the first Native Studies program at a Canadian university was established and Indigenous-run colleges did not open until the 1970s.
Together, this history is critical to understanding the foundations of post-secondary education in Canada (i.e., a focus on advancing the success of white, heterosexual, cisgender, Western, Christian, male, able-bodied people). It is thus key that we continue to challenge and critique this history as we work towards creating more equitable and inclusive post-secondary institutions.
Indeed, the history of post-secondary education in Canada has influenced many of our current policies, practices and procedures for hiring and admittance, promotions and building relationships with our communities. However, as we begin to move towards change and implement strategies that address the needs of more diverse populations, it is crucial to start with a foundation based on equitable and socially just principles. Beginning with these principles ensures that we are not further perpetuating discrimination and exclusion.
Initiatives and policies built on principles of equity and inclusion require thoughtful planning and informed decisions based on data. However, during this stage, we must also ask ourselves as leaders and change agents how our worldviews, attitudes, and perceptions influence our approaches to inform such initiatives. For example, academic institutions commonly strive for ‘excellence’ (e.g., UCalgary’s goal to be a Top 5 research university). Yet, excellence tends to be defined by individuals in positions of power (which, given the history of post-secondary described above, tend to be white men8). As these standards are accepted as ‘normal’, we fail to recognize how such measures push communities with a history of social exclusion further into the margins. With this in mind, it is time that we begin to carefully critique initiatives that impact the well-being and livelihood of both our internal (e.g., students, faculty, administration and staff) and external (e.g., broader community) stakeholders through a critical lens.
Strategies that are meant to improve the success and excellence of our academic institution must constantly center equity and social justice principles in order to stop the institutionalization of inequality that impacts all society. While institutional partnership with communities can be a great avenue to improve excellence and success, and build meaningful relationships that could benefit the institution, leadership must consider how the community's needs are being met. It is essential that we include the viewpoints and evaluation of success from the community's perspective.8 As affiliates of the institution, we must recognize that we are entering these partnerships with motivations and agendas that are linked to our professions, worldviews, and particular disciplines,9 and as such, our privilege can blind us to the consideration of the community and how we treat them (i.e., as subjects rather than partners). Thus, it is important to collect data from a broad coalition of community stakeholders on how they view these partnerships.
In sum, to be truly excellent and successful in our initiatives, we must begin with the questions: 1) how does our positionality (and the historical positionality of postsecondary institutions) impact the relationships we want to build, 2) how does our definition of excellence impact all stakeholders (e.g., internal and external), and 3) what strategies can we use to ensure that our standards do not benefit a selected few but all stakeholders?
In addition to historical context, it is also important to consider our current context as it pertains to EDI. In particular, we feel there are three key pieces of current context to note: 1) the COVID-19 pandemic; 2) provincial funding; and 3) global anti-racism movements. In terms of COVID-19, while we are hopefully towards the end of the pandemic, it has nonetheless laid bare the disproportionate burdens (e.g., in terms of social determinants of health, caregiving, income) faced by historically excluded students, staff and faculty. The university has worked to support these individuals during the pandemic (e.g., increasing accessibility through online programming, additional financial supports). As we return to ‘normal’ this coming fall, it is critical we continue inclusive initiatives that were COVID-19 specific (e.g., going forward, all meetings should have a Zoom option, with closed captioning available). The second issue is the troubling provincial de-funding of post-secondary education, as well as emerging provincial expectations and metrics around performance-based funding. These funding issues are innately tied to numerous EDI initiatives (e.g., trainee pay, tuition increases for international students, student food insecurity, etc.). Finally, since May 2020, we have seen widespread social involvement in anti-racism movements, such as Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate. As these broader social movements were a key part of the EDI action taken by the university over the past year, we need to find ways to keep up the momentum.
As part of our committee’s commitment to support the Leadership Team in addressing the above areas of improvement, we suggest the following action steps be taken in the immediate future:
1. Re-examine and incorporate equitable frameworks into policy/procedure development and review.
As indicated on the University’s Legal Services website, institutional policies or procedures are: i) written and revised in accordance with an approved Policy/Procedure Development Plan (PDP); ii) formally approved by an officer or official body of the University; and iii) published on the University website. To date, there are 90 institutional policies and procedures listed on the website. The existing form for developing a PDP outlines the following purposes:
- Specify the objective and operational impact of the new or revised policy/procedure;
- Specify the process timeline for the development or revision of the policy/procedure;
- Identify the drafting team and consultation groups; and,
- Specify the communication strategy and training requirements for the new or revised policy/procedure.
What appears to be missing from this existing framework is the incorporation of EDI into all university policy/procedure development and review. To address this issue, we suggest that all policy/procedures should be reviewed through a rigorous EDI framework, such as Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+). GBA+ is a framework that examines the impacts of a policy, program, or initiative on different stakeholder groups (e.g., women and non-binary people). Recommendations and information on applying GBA+ can be found at these resources: Women and Gender Equality Canada and Government of Canada Treasury Board Submissions.
Additional considerations for incorporating EDI into existing policy/procedure development and review include requiring community and stakeholder involvement in all development. Although the PDP includes the identification of a drafting team and consultation group(s), it is unclear who these constituents are. Although these constituents may differ depending on the objectives of each policy, consultation with groups most likely to be affected by the policy should be explicitly stated in the form and be a criterion for evaluation. As such, revisions to the existing framework and forms are necessary and should be applied to policies related to curriculum, admissions, and hiring, as well as institutional strategic initiatives such as Eyes High and Growth Through Focus.
2. Compile a list of all EDI committees or organizations across campus (department and faculty).
In addition to the Leadership Team’s work in implementing policy changes at the broader university-level, we recognize that EDI-related initiatives have been instigated or are underway within some faculties and departments throughout the University. These efforts may be readily visible through the work of established departmental or faculty EDI committees (e.g., the Department of Psychology’s EDI Committee and Faculty of Arts EDI Committee, respectively). Although each discipline, degree program, and specialization may need to improve their EDI policies and practices in various ways, there is ample opportunity to learn from, network, and collaborate across fields. Having a dedicated space (e.g., on the EDI Dashboard) where university partners and community members can see all EDI-related organizations can allow them to easily examine initiatives that have been done (or are being done) throughout the University, which may aid different groups in more effectively implementing their own work (i.e., promoting and utilizing existing resources/events). This is especially important as EDI-related work is often done by grassroots organizations or small groups of individuals not formally recognized at the department or faculty level. Given that much of EDI work involves emotional labour and is often not recognized nor included in formal evaluations, it is critical to connect these people and resources to aid their initiatives (and vice versa). Lastly, this list can serve as a mechanism for departments and faculties to provide regular updates on how their unit is advancing EDI. For instance, committees and organizations can provide semester updates on their progress (e.g., types and number of initiatives underway, deliverables, etc.). Overall, greater transparency will support the university, faculties, and departments in making progress towards creating a more equitable and inclusive environment for all.
3. Explicitly state the institutional action plan timeline and details.
On March 22, 2021, President Ed McCauley shared a reflection on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In this reflection, it was announced that Dr. Malinda Smith (Vice-Provost of EDI) and Dr. Michael Hart (Vice-Provost of the Indigenous Strategy) would develop an institutional action plan to combat racism and racial discrimination. Understandably, an action plan of this magnitude takes time and great consideration to develop. We suggest that the university provide a clear outline of the process for developing this plan, including the planned completion date, the framework(s) being used, and whether community partners are involved. In the plan itself, timelines and specific details for all action items should be made transparent to the greater university community. Such details should include (but are not limited to):
- Date the plan will be implemented.
- The implementation process and time frame to enact each previously recommended action item outlined in last year’s Open Letter and Community Feedback Letter (refer to beginning of letter for this list), including a description of resources/supports to ensure the sustainability of these initiatives.
- How EDI-related initiatives (including those beyond those listed above) and proposals are factored into the university’s budget and policies (i.e., allocation of university funding to EDI initiatives relative to other components of the budget).
- How the impact of COVID-19 on university resources and accessibility will be factored into the action plan to ensure appropriate supports are in place for those most affected.
4. Provide a report on the EDI feedback and data collected by the University, which clearly indicates how it is being used to inform the institutional action plan.
On June 24, 2020 in a message to the campus community, President Ed McCauley announced that a form had been set up to anonymously submit thoughts and suggestions on how the university can address racism. It is stated in this message that the President’s Office and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Protected Disclosure (ODEPD) “will work on the input”. We urge the Leadership Team and ODEPD to provide a report (e.g., executive summary) on the feedback (i.e., key themes) collected by the university and detail how these data are being used to inform and promote the institutional action plan. Following the principles of integrated knowledge translation, it is imperative to include stakeholders and equity-deserving groups in every step of the change process, not just information gathering; moreover, we must value and honour their contributions, by acknowledging them and clearly communicating how their input is being used.
In December 2020, the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion launched the COVID-19 Equity, Diversity and Inclusion survey to understand the impact of the pandemic on diverse members of the community and to inform targeted support and policy changes. For transparency and accountability, we ask the University to clearly indicate an integrated knowledge translation plan for these data, including a timeline for the analyses and dissemination of results. Again, we strongly encourage the University to widely share an accessible report of the aggregated data which clearly outlines how it will be used (e.g., action items).
5. Improve accessibility and communication of information on the EDI dashboard.
The EDI dashboard is an important step for sharing information, however, it is not currently designed nor functioning based on knowledge translation principles (i.e., written and organized to serve the reader; providing accurate and evidenced-based content; indicating actionable materials and interventions, etc.) or best practices in science communication (e.g., clear, concise, and consistent messaging). Whereas there is a breadth of information, it is not currently structured in a way that is easy to navigate or understand for members of the university or broader community. The EDI dashboard could be an ideal platform to identify goals (e.g., generate awareness, share knowledge, inform decision making, facilitate policy change and public action) and track progress (e.g., clearly defined and measurable short- and long-term outcomes) of the University’s EDI action plan. We strongly recommend that the EDI Dashboard be redesigned in collaboration with diverse knowledge users.
As mentioned in the president’s reflection, “statements are just the beginning”. Although important work has started throughout the institution, including faculty, staff, and student-led initiatives, we call on the Leadership Team to provide an update on their progress and address the actionable steps outlined above. We hope to see the University’s ongoing commitment to improving and uniting its community.
Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Department of Psychology, University of Calgary
Elaine Jane Atay (she/her), Masters Student, Industrial-Organizational Psychology
Joshua Bourdage (he/his), Associate Professor, Department of Psychology
Deinera Exner-Cortens (she/her), Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology
Laura Hernandez (she/her), Research Assistant, Department of Critical Care Medicine
Cara MacInnis (she/her), Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology
Anna MacKinnon (she/her), Postdoc, Department of Psychology
Joshua Madsen (he/his), Senior Instructor, Department of Psychology
Brae Anne McArthur (she/her), Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Psychology
Chelsie Miko Hart (she/them), PhD Student, Experimental Psychology
Camille Mori (she/her), PhD candidate, Clinical Psychology
Emiko Muraki (she/her), PhD Student, Experimental Psychology
Kristin von Ranson (she/her), Professor, Clinical Psychology
Frances Sterzer (she/her), Masters Student, Experimental Psychology
Michaela Patton (she/her), PhD candidate, Clinical Psychology
Shelley Wind (she/her), Manager, Department Operations, Department of Psychology
Derya Sargin (she/her), Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology
Lianne Tomfohr-Madsen (she/her), Associate Professor, Department of Psychology
Lorena Solis (she/her), PhD Candidate, Department of Psychology
Nicole Racine (she/her), Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Psychology
6 We explicitly use the word “white” in this document. It is lower case as the capitalization of this word is linked to its use by white supremacists (https://blog.ap.org/announcements/why-we-will-lowercase-white). We use white and not European descent so as not to erase the critical role of whiteness – and white supremacy – in shaping Canada as we know it today.
7 Sheehan, N. M. (1985). History of higher education in Canada. The Canadian Journal of Higher Education, XV-1, 25-38
8 Ghosh, R. (2012). Diversity and excellence in higher education: is there a conflict?. Comparative Education Review, 56(3), 349-365.
9 Ferman, B., & Hill, T. L. (2004). The challenges of agenda conflict in higher-education-community research partnerships: Views from the community side. Journal of Urban Affairs, 26(2), 241-257.