On Friday, Sept. 7, Wilfrid Laurier University released a statement about the changes to be implemented at the Diversity & Equity Office (DEO).
The initial statement was released via email by CPAM (communications, public affairs, and marketing) and was followed up by a letter from the DEO in Waterloo.
The email states that a new approach to enhancing diversity and promoting a culture of inclusion “will shift from a centralized Diversity & Equity Office to a model where DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] areas of responsibility and expertise are embedded within functional units throughout Laurier”.
These changes are to be applied across both the Brantford and Waterloo campuses.
What this means is that Laurier will be hiring three new staff members on each campus to support and work on a multi-campus mandate that will further diversity, equity and inclusion.
But students who work at and are supported by the DEO have concerns about the university’s plans for decentralization.
“I think my main concern in this initiative is that decentralizing the DEO radically de-politicizes them,” said Laurier student, Maxwell Beckett.
Decentralization presents other challenges as well, on top of the de-politicization of its values. It turns diversity to be more about numerics than about the types of values it holds, and presents the problem of who will be placed in these positions.
Beckett and other students that work out of the DEO were not made aware of such changes beforehand. “Everyone who got the email was made aware of this the day-of, or at least the students were. We were all really shocked; there was no indication of these changes beforehand,” said Beckett.
Education and Inclusion Coordinator Lauren Burrows ensures that these changes will not change the work that the student groups are doing.
“They’re still going to be connected to the role that I am in now and they will still be able to do their education and peer support work within a student diversity-focused office,” said Burrows.
Students and faculty who do work through the DEO will report up through student affairs and through dean of students Adam Lawrence.
They will in turn be working with the Students’ Union and the Grad Students Association to ensure that the priorities of the students are represented in the diversity work that’s being done.
According to the email, Pamela Cant, assistant vice-president of human resources, will momentarily “take on an expanded role within finance and administration of assistant vice-president: human resources and equity. Employment equity will fall under the responsibility of human resources, including the roles of employment equity & AODA officer and employment equity coordinator”.
A senior DEI advisor will be appointed from within the faculty to advise the university on DEI issues.
The email also states: “a new diversity, equity and inclusion curriculum specialist role will be created. This position will support all faculties in developing course content and pedagogy related to diversity, equity and inclusion and collaborates with accessibility experts to ensure best practices in teaching, learning and physical design.”
“Depending on which staff they appoint to these roles there could definitely be some concern,” said Beckett. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Beckett and other students feel that in spite of these changes, they will still act in solidarity with each other and with the needs of marginalized groups within the DEO.