Diversity conference raises the bar on critical engagement

Diversity Conference
Closing of the third annual diversity conference in the Ceremonial Hall of First Peoples House. Photo: UVic Photo Services

“The feedback I have been hearing is that the first conference was good, last year’s was better, and this year’s was the best ever,” says Grace Wong Sneddon, adviser on diversity and equity and chair of the organizing committee of the third annual diversity research forum. Students, staff, faculty and community members gathered Feb. 11 and 12 for Critical Conversations III: International, Indigenous, Intersectional to share research, engage in dialogue, recognize research achievements and share critical pedagogy.

The event featured stirring keynote addresses from UVic’s Budd Hall, Lorna Williams and Christine O’Bonsawin, and an unprecedented range of panel sessions.

CindyAnn Rose-Redwood (geography) reflected on the session International Global Mixing: Building Diverse Social Connections at UVic, which she facilitated. “I had the opportunity to work with five amazing international students,” she says. “For some of them, UVic was indeed a place they felt welcomed. Two of the students talked about playing sports and getting involved with different organizations on campus, which allowed them to diversify their friendships and build social connections across national lines. For others, however, negative experiences with respect to racism and uncomfortable encounters made them steer away from interacting with the predominantly Canadian student body. Socially interacting with other students of the same nationality was a social support system for some who did not feel as welcome on campus. The session was quite provocative and it accomplished what it was intended to do—engage in critical conversations. The panel reinforced the idea that both the individual and the institution need to communicate and be proactive in making UVic a diverse space that fosters academic and social connections.”

Janine Mayers, an undergraduate admissions clerk and first-time conference volunteer, reflected on the session Intergenerational and Intercultural Conversations: Elders and Youth, facilitated by Jin-Sun Yoon and Maxine Matilpi. “What made the discussion most interesting was the juxtaposition of youthful enthusiasm with the calm reflection of the elders,” she explains. “Elder Marie Cooper (Tsartlip Nation) gave a heartfelt account of her life as a young child and her struggles with segregation in the school system. Her stories about the forced move into and out of the residential school system showed first-hand how difficult it was to keep one’s identity. What was most interesting was how her stories from the past connected so well with those of Rakiya Larkin, the youngest member of the panel at 17, and her present struggles in the school system. They both shared their sadness about the loss of the language of their ancestors because their families were forced not to speak it. The panel showed how important it is for all of us to engage in conversations with different peoples, especially those who may be younger or older than ourselves.”

“My impression is that the UVic community is ready for action and to move diversity, equity and inclusion to the next level,” says Wong Sneddon. “I would like to see the university take on the diversity conference as one of the signature conferences for UVic and the broader community.”

If you are interested in joining the organizing committee for next year’s conference, contact Wong Sneddon at multi@uvic.ca or 250-721-6143.

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