Rebuilding the Institution: Concrete Steps to Support BIPoC Scholars in the Academy

Rebuilding the Institution: Concrete Steps to Support BIPoC Scholars in the Academy

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Congress 2021 blog edition 

By Megan Perram, PhD Candidate in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta 

Congress 2021 is ending the way it began, with an intentional focus on engagement with justice and equity in academia. In “Beyond Equity Policy: Searching for Institutional Procedures and Practices that Support Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (Bipoc) Faculty” a panel of equity officers and academics shared insights on how to address racism and related issues that affect BIPoC faculty at Canadian universities.  

The robust panel included Jeff Denis, Associate Professor at McMaster University, Irene Shankar, Professor at Mount Royal University, Arig al Shaibah, Associate Vice-President, Equity and Inclusion and Adjunct Associate Professor at McMaster University, Aliyah Dosani, Professor at Mount Royal University, Claudine Bonner, Associate Professor at Acadia University, and Irfan Chaudhry, Equity Diversity and Inclusion Leader at MacEwan University. 

al Shaibah was first to take the stage and detailed a compelling study she conducted on perceptions and experiences of search processes among hiring committee members in the Faculty of Science at McMaster University. Through this study, al Shaibah was also looking at search outcomes in relation to compositional diversity of new hires. Her findings were surprising. al Shaibah explains that the committee members’ perceptions of efficacy in advancing inclusive excellence differed, and this difference fell among gendered lines: “Those who identified as male search committee members reported that they perceived the best practice interventions as less effective than what women identified search committee members reported objectively.” al Shaibah and her team are further exploring their findings. 

The second speaker of the panel, Dosani, discusses concrete strategies for retaining BIPoC scholars and employees in academia. Vital for Dosani is ensuring People of Colour are present at decision-making tables: “there needs to be a formal policy committee charter or an informal understanding that a proportion of the committee seats are reserved for BIPoC faculty.” If a committee is absent of diversity, Dosani lays out a series of important questions that committee members should ask themselves, including: “Does our evaluation rubric account for equity? Have all committee members received EDI training? Do we feel safe within various committees to discuss issues of racism and equity?” These are important questions that all higher institutions should forefront in the operation of their committee boards. 

“What this panel is telling me is that we need to build coalitions across Canada,” begins Claudine Bonner, Associate Professor at Acadia University. She is reflecting on the current panel and how she believes anti-racist organizing needs strong connections between BIPoC academics across the country. Bonner also reflects on the stark lack of diversity in her own faculty, and wonders what we can do to rectify this. She notes: “what we need is what many institutions have already been doing across the country and across the continent, which is cluster hires of tenure track faculty, as well as diverse hires in senior management.” Bonner follows this with a list of concrete suggestions for change which includes more mentorship programs, internal grants, and research support to compensate for increased committee work for emerging BIPoC scholars.   

In one of the most powerful moments of the panel, Dosani notes: “the message that I receive when I see the structures that do not represent the diversity that we see in general society is that this is a place where I am not welcome and my voice doesn't matter. This clearly needs to change.”