Hosting their very first conference, the Black Graduate Students Association is hoping to dissect the extent to which equity, diversity, and inclusivity are actually practiced in academia.
The Black Graduate Students Association is hosting their first conference “Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in the Academy: Perspectives on Navigating Challenges and Opportunities,” aimed at providing a racialized perspective on how EDI is experienced at the University of Alberta.
The conference, taking place November 1 in the SUB Orion Room, consists of a morning session occurring at 9:00 a.m. and an afternoon session beginning at 12:00 p.m. The event is free, includes breakfast and lunch, and registration is open to anyone, including students from post-secondary institutions outside of the U of A.
For Black Graduate Students Association president Benjamin Denga, the conference aims to compare the claims of increased EDI at universities to the lived experiences of racialized students.
“In academia within Canada, there has been a lot of talk about inclusivity and diversity,” Denga said. “We wanted to look at [EDI] and discuss to what extent this equity has been advanced in the academy, especially in relation to racialized people.”
For the newly minted student group, they wanted their first conference to embody the reason they formed last year: to facilitate and create space for challenging conversations surrounding black students.
“Part of our mandate is to be an advocate for black and racialized students, so we feel like the onus is on us to have conversations that look at critical issues that are important in our community, that impact our well being,” Denga said. “[We want to] interrogate them, assess them to look at what the opportunities are, what the challenges are, what progress has been made, and where we can go from there.”
The morning session will begin with breakfast and opening remarks form Graduate Students’ Association president Fahed Elian and vice-president (student services) Chantal Labonté. After, a panel of three graduate students will focus on how their research “speaks to the intersections of equity.”
To finish off the morning session, a deep conversation session will be held to allow attending racialized students to speak about their personal experiences within academia and what they believe needs to be changed within the institution.
“This is where really going to interrogate where we are at and what we need to do going forward in terms of our experiences around equity, diversity, and inclusion,” Denga said.
“We will also expect participants to talk about what they would like to see stakeholders do, including ourselves, to move the agenda of equity, diversity, and inclusion forward.”
The afternoon session will begin with an African and Carribean lunch and will be followed by a panel titled “Advancing Equity Together: Dismantling barriers and Optimizing Opportunities at the Systemic and Individual Level.” The panel will be “mixed” in many senses, featuring both academic and non-academic staff at the university, as well as black and non-black individuals.
This panel will include law professor Ubaka Ogbogu, women’s and gender studies professor Shama Rangwala, U of A human resources EDI consultant Catherine Anley, and U of A EDI committee chairperson Lisa Dublin. For Denga, including non-racialized university staff on the panel is a necessary component of both allyship and creating tangible changes.
“At these types of events, it’s easy to talk about your perspective without looking at the entire picture,” he said. “Being consistent with good research and academic events, it’s important to give opportunities to different voices, but also to hear what the university has done historically, what they are doing now, and what they intend to do.”
Denga knows this conference is only one of the first steps towards addressing inequality in academia, but he hopes that the community understands that the Black Graduate Students Association’s work, such as this conference, is not only for the betterment of black students, but also the university overall.
“We just starting and we know that there is a lot of work,” Denga said. “Our work is not just in the interest of black or racialized students, but also for the entire community… We can uplift the entire university through the excellence that we have in our community.”
“We call on all supporters, friends, and allies to join hands with us in the work that is ahead.”