Change is a constant across higher education. Strategic enrolment planning based on student demographics and key data, the creation of new academic programs guided by labour market demands along with diverse research focus and innovative partnerships are just a few observable shifts. Alongside this, we have seen bold commitments to creating more inclusive, welcoming and anti-racist campuses as well as a revival of conversations that continue to demonstrate the importance of moving more from awareness to active allyship.
Renewed commitments to truth and reconciliation, equity, diversity and inclusion, anti-racism and decolonization permeate many discussions, conferences and strategic plans. At the same time, anyone working at a university or college is mindful of the polarization that exists nationally, the polycrisis of climate change as well as the compounding stress post-pandemic that impacts everyone. The resilience required by some to show up at work while facing yet another heinous incident affecting their community in Canada or abroad makes transformational change not only a priority, but a strategic imperative.
Yet, the faces that drive institutional change are not always at the forefront of a university’s media release or public announcement. The diversity gap in senior leadership roles still require intentional shifts of norms, knowledge and practices to recognize the benefits of diversity not yet actualized by the sector. A critical imbalance on what types of leadership are necessary for meaningful change across Canadian postsecondary institutions remains largely unexplored terrain.
Why this column was created
I am grateful to University Affairs for agreeing to support this new column: The Many Faces.
I have always believed that I never needed a formal title to lead, and for most of my 20-year career, this has held true.
I have been fortunate to work with countless colleagues on committees, communities of practice, teams and working groups. Our collective competence, lived experiences and creativity advances systemic change and meets institutional priorities and legislative mandates. A wide range of roles such as educators, practitioners, sessional, adjunct professors and students have contributed to many rich conversations and recommendations. However, these individuals cease to be named as signatories and instead, are placed under an overarching term of members of organizing/planning committees, caucuses or taskforces, thereby creating a layer of invisibility on who and what is driving national change.
This column is born out of shared convictions for revising policies, unearthing barriers within systems, holding accountability for institutional commitments towards equity, diversity and inclusion, and expanding the visibility of the diversity of who is behind institutional transformation. As the convener of this column, I hope that we spark interest, action and positive change on breaking down and breaking through systemic barriers, biases and inequities that hinder inclusion and innovation.
What to look forward to
This column is designed around a framework that centers values on safety, risk and truth to uncover root causes, analyze complex issues, embrace diverse representation and champion dynamic calls to action. I am deeply grateful to our community of writers for accepting the invitation to contribute to the first series of this column.
Each month, higher education leaders, professionals and practitioners will share their perspectives from real-life experiences, case studies and success stories. We invite readers to consider how they can contribute to leading change. Our aim is to foster critical thinking of higher education systems, deeply reflect on different points of view and empower readers to contribute to transforming universities and colleges for the better.
Institutional change is possible when we leverage positional power, ignite the solidarity of collective voices and embrace all that advocacy creates. This is particularly true when we consider the unfair and hidden labour that racialized staff carry as well as how they experience the burden of representation fraught with incidents of microaggressions and racism. While communities of care exist for racialized staff, their presence in postsecondary institutions is not always valued. Their career progression or compensation are not aligned with the pace of change they activate. Moreover, the work they are sometimes tasked to do falls outside their scope of influence or commonly resides with other duties as assigned. Sentiments like these along with a multitude of other experiences, are ones that I have both heard and empathized with in the many spaces I have been fortunate to serve on, including national advisory groups, national communities of practice, affinity groups, international-focused conferences and many one-on-one conversations.
Simply put – they are not the faces of leadership we see on the front page of a newspaper, media release or public announcement.
The Many Faces is more than just a column – it is call to action and an invitation to create a different and brighter future together. A future that reflects the duality of a vibrant academic community that requires deeper, action-oriented conversations, more racialized people at the table and a reimagining of possibilities by thinking about:
What role do we want higher education to play in shaping this future?
What inter-generational cycles do we want higher education to both break and redirect towards thriving?
Who do we need in leadership spaces to ensure the nuances, lived experiences and innovative approaches are articulated?
These reflective questions, as well as the ones offered by Candace Brunette-Debassiage elucidate the type of critical inquiry necessary for the changes that students expect from us. Unprecedented movements have ignited reconciliation, inclusion and systemic change as modes we have to live by and embody across all levels of postsecondary institutions; especially in leadership, with or without a title.
The next installment of this column will examine a critical issue that touches many of us directly and indirectly – health equity and the decade of impact of the Okanagan Charter in striking an important consideration: What needs to shift to redress the health disparities that continue to exist within historically and persistently marginalized student communities?