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Faculty of Information students release report calling for diversity in course content, mandatory equity training

Dean Wendy Duff advocates for more “holistic” approach to change
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The Faculty of Information. CAROLINE BELLAMY/THE VARSITY
The Faculty of Information. CAROLINE BELLAMY/THE VARSITY

In September, the Diversity Working Group (DWG) — a network of Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) and ally students and alumni in the Faculty of Information — released a report outlining the results of a survey on equity and diversity within the faculty, alongside the Museum Professionals of Colour, the Accessibility Interests Working Group, the Doctoral Student Association Indigenous Connections Working Group, the Master of Information Student Council, and the Master of Museum Studies Association. The survey aimed to evaluate the experiences of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students, as well as students who are disabled.

The results show that many Faculty of Information community members are unsatisfied with the representation of marginalized groups in course content, the lack of appropriate conversations on marginalized communities, and a lack of equity and diversity training. The report includes a list of goals in the short, medium, and long term to eliminate the “culture of white supremacy” at the faculty and make it more inclusive.

Survey results and report demands

Survey questions pertained to class content, discussion facilitation, diversity training, and overall experience and suggestions. It was completed by 130 respondents, 51.2 per cent of whom identified as white. Among the respondents, the most represented programs were the User Experience Design program, then the Library & Information Sciences program, followed by the Archives and Records Management and Master of Museum Studies programs.

The results showed that many students want more diverse content to be taught, with 52 per cent agreeing that the status quo is insufficient. They also wanted to avoid “token weeks” — specific weeks dedicated to certain topics that are not discussed in the rest of the class — by both creating new classes to address content on marginalized communities and integrating it into current classes. 

Students noted that it was important for them to learn about marginalized communities since they would be serving a diverse population in the public sphere. Courses on user accessibility, systemic racism in technology and media, diverse LGBTQ+ perspectives, and mental health were suggested by the report as steps toward achieving more inclusivity.

Moreover, only 27 per cent of respondents reported feeling supported by staff, and less than one per cent were confident in how discussions on marginalized communities were facilitated. Some also recounted experiences of racism, homophobia, and ableism in their classes.

Without discussions and training on equity and diversity, some students reported feeling unprepared for the workplace. Alongside training, the need for a more diverse faculty and admissions process were also heavily emphasized by students. 

The report’s demands include the institution of paid notetakers; mandatory recordings of all classes; the elimination of municipal and campus police involvement in crisis and safety intervention; and mandatory cultural competency training for faculty, staff, and students.

Conflicts and cooperation between students and faculty

In June, Faculty of Information Dean Wendy Duff hired three research assistants to investigate inclusivity initiatives at the faculty. The report claims that when they asked her to release a statement in solidarity with the Black community, she refused to do so and responded with an “all lives matter sentiment,” even when told it was inherently anti-Black. 

Duff eventually released a statement condemning anti-Black racism that same month and, when contacted by The Varsity, a spokesperson noted that she has “a different understanding of the events in question.”

However, the DWG and several other groups were unsatisfied with the “disingenuous statement and the general lack of action” by the faculty. Following the June statement, many student groups at the Faculty of Information organized the survey and released a petition outlining more pressing issues, which had 557 signatures as of August.

In an email to The Varsity, Dominica Tang, an author of the report, wrote that while the faculty had taken some steps to fulfill demands, “The Dean and senior management were apprehensive to write up an action plan for the organizational level of the ischool, which speaks volumes about where the faculty of information stands.”

Jace Harrison, another author of the report and a member of the DWG, took a more grim view of communication between students and faculty. “We have asked that the faculty update students on progress regarding our initial, and updated, asks/recommendations. But, we have been repeatedly told to wait and see what the response will be. Or, that things are more complicated than we understand,” Harrison wrote in an email to The Varsity.

Both the report and Harrison also point out the burden put on students to continuously push for change. “It really shocks me when white faculty members tell us that we ‘need to understand that these changes take time,’ and that they ‘already have a large workload,’ [or] that they’ve already gone to one training session and are suddenly woke,” wrote Harrison. “I think that we know more about patience, and reluctantly taking on labour, than a lot of white faculty will ever know.”

“We don’t expect to change hearts overnight, but we do expect common decency, respect, and acknowledgement of the invisible labour, emotion, time and spirt that we have had to put into this.”

Changes within the faculty 

Initiatives that the faculty has instituted include creating a scholarship for Black and Indigenous students; creating a staff position for a diversity, equity, and inclusion officer; and hiring more students to work on diversity and equity issues. Duff also sent an email to all Faculty of Information students thanking them for conducting the survey, analyzing the results, and providing feedback.

In response to a question on how the faculty will institute change, Duff argued that the problem was structural and that it would take more than changing reading lists to solve it. “As much as I acknowledge and appreciate the work the students have done… my approach is more holistic and involves looking at curricula, content integration, and culturally responsive pedagogy as a whole,” she wrote.

She added that an expectation of perfection should not become a barrier to creating a more inclusive environment. “That this will be a long and arduous process and not a quick fix is no doubt frustrating to some, but changing structures that have been in place for decades takes time,” concluded Duff.

Editor’s note (October 27): This article has been updated to properly credit the student groups behind the report and to correct the context of Harrison’s quote.