Critical conversations at a crucial time

- Jess Harvey

Opinion / editorial: student voices

For many of us, a dark shadow has been cast over the international political stage during the last few weeks. Following the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, not only American citizens, but the entire world felt a gloom cast by this shadow of intolerance, bigotry, xenophobia and misogyny.

During this time—now more than ever—I felt that I needed hope, a reminder that the greater percentage of people aren’t made up of one part Cheeto and two parts hate. With this thought in mind, I eagerly accepted an invitation to attend this year’s Provost’s Diversity Research Forum right here at UVic.

For 10 years, this conference has been promoting critical conversations about diversity and social justice topics.

The theme this year was “Re-Imagining Identities, Power and Privilege.” Like a light at the end of the tunnel, the conference was exactly what I needed for my post-inauguration hangover.  

The conference’s opening ceremony was held on January 26 in the First Peoples House and began with a prayer from both Elder May Sam (Tsartlip Nation) and Elder Skip Dick (Songhees Nation).  The message of every presenter held equal weight, yet the welcoming words of UVic President Jamie Cassels stuck with me most as he highlighted why conversations about diversity are necessary now more than ever. These conversations shape the country we become, and what we will not stand for, as we live alongside seven billion neighbours. Knowledge can never be correct without including the experience of everyone through an international, intercultural understanding. In the words of Jamie Cassels, “diversity is linked to excellence.”    

There were many fascinating sessions to attend on the second day of the conference, and my first was “Social Justice, Diversity and Advocacy.” This panel, moderated by Jo-Anne Lee (gender studies) reflected on politics of change, disability advocacy and digital media activism—all through an intersectional lens. With the current political climate in mind, panelist Nathalie Down (digital media studies) addressed social media, and its ability to give a voice to everyone—regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Down spoke on how the mobilizing force of social media has become the new civil rights movement. Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, and most recently the Women’s March­—each are grassroots movements that began with everyday people making a difference with the click of a button.

Dr. Adam Jonathan Con of UVic’s School of Music facilitated the last session I attended, on “Gender Bias and Music.” The presentation centered on the hidden gender and sex stereotypes that feed false perceptions and assumptions that reaffirm sexism in our education system. While I am not a music student nor could I pick up and play an instrument without destroying a listener’s eardrums, what I took away from the session was an awareness of a wider societal gender bias ingrained in all of us, even me. While most of us would like to assume society’s perspective on gender has progressed significantly by 2017, sexism persists. The only way to make sexism a thing of the past is to identify these problems and openly discuss them.

The Diversity Research Forum was a breath of fresh air in a civic environment that I feel has been recently and unexpectedly polluted by hateful rhetoric. The most important thing about the conference was that it gave a platform to talk about diversity. To be our best, we need an intercultural and intersectional understanding of the world. While difference can be hard to approach, let alone have a discussion about, an open dialogue is what we need to trump hate.    

Jess Harvey is a third-year political science student at UVic.

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Keywords: human rights, diversity, student life, community, political science

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