A wealth of critical conversations — 2016 Provost's Diversity Research Forum

- Joanne McGachie

As Grace Wong Sneddon works on final details of the upcoming Provost’s Diversity Research Forum, (Jan. 21–22) she marvels at where the time has gone. “It’s hard to believe this will be the ninth forum we’ve held,” she says. “Each year I think we can’t top the last, and each year I’m proven wrong.”

The 2008 inaugural forum, simply titled Critical Conversations about Diversity, was conceived from the desire to bring together UVic faculty, staff and students to explore, discuss and participate in how research can benefit the social justice movement in areas such as gender, race, faith, sexuality and Indigenous culture.

“We put that first conference together on a wing and a prayer,” recalls Advisor to the Provost on Equity and Diversity Wong Sneddon, who has chaired the forum’s committee from the beginning. “But the feedback was incredibly positive. People within and outside of UVic wanted to know more about how our research can, and does, benefit the broader community, as well as making our campus more welcoming and inclusive.”

Preparations for the annual conference begin several months in advance, and the first challenge is to identify a theme.  Working with as broad a canvas as “diversity,” there is never a lack of options. Past conferences have focused on such themes as living social justice; privilege and prejudice in the learning environment; and arts, allies and activism.

“We want a theme that ties the conference together,” Wong Sneddon says, “but we ensure the theme is then discussed within the contexts of gender, race, spirituality, sexuality and Indigenous culture. That’s where the conversations come to life.”

The planning committee didn’t have to look too far for the theme of this year’s conference. The recent release of the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission report provided the obvious springboard to explore the relationships between people of different cultures and backgrounds.

“This year, the ‘critical conversation’ of our forum is ‘Reconciliation and Resurgence.’ The focus will be on creating an engaging space to learn more about our relationships with each other as settlers, international students, immigrants, refugees, visitors and Indigenous people,” Wong Sneddon says. 

The forum begins on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 21 in First Peoples House, with keynote speaker UVic Chancellor Shelagh Rogers, a committed advocate for reconciliation between Canada’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, and an Honorary Witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The Chancellor’s speech will be followed by the Victoria premiere of Mia’—a short animated film that challenges the format of conventional documentaries, presenting Indigenous oral traditions as truth rather than legend.

The evening will also feature the presentation of the Provost’s Advocacy and Activism Award, followed by the presentation of awards and readings from the Diversity Writing contest. Lastly, the winning entries of the Diversity Spoken Word contest will be performed.

The following day kicks off with the opening plenary: a discussion, critique and analysis of reconciliation and resurgence, from the perspectives, experiences and knowledge of key players within a post-secondary framework.

Over lunch, participants will be invited to view a collection of decades-old artwork from the Port Alberni Residential School Art project, led by UVic anthropologist Andrea Walsh and residential school survivor Wally Samuel.

Other sessions include:

  • Applying Theatre to the University Classroom and Beyond
  • Decolonizing Pedagogies
  • Global and Indigenous Perspective on Mental Health
  • Beyond Allyship: Solidarity in Action

Wong Sneddon loves the depth and range of the sessions and the passion of the presenters.  “Each speaker gives us a gift of understanding and learning from their perspective. It’s quite amazing.”

Every year, the conference inspires and impacts the people who attend, as well as those who plan it. One committee member, Paula Ceroni, manager of UVic’s homestay program, has been involved in the forum since 2010. As a one-time international student herself, she knows the challenges faced by many students of diverse backgrounds, and the importance of finding places to meet people, share with others and feel welcomed. 

“The diversity conference provides an inclusive space for international students and helps them feel they are not alone,” Ceroni says. “It allows them to have encounters with like-minded people and helps them identify allies on campus. It’s amazing for making those needed connections.” (Read more about Ceroni in this month’s Day in the Life column on page 8.)

Register for the Provost’s Diversity Research Forum at uvic.ca/diversityforum (open to everyone and free of charge). 

In this story

Keywords: community, inclusion, diversity, research

People: Grace Wong Sneddon

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