Hosted by the Equity and Inclusion Office and sponsored by Access & Diversity and Human Resources, The Value of Freedom: Academics VS. Expression panel discussion was part of Rule Out Racism Week, aiming to cultivate intercultural fluency amongst the multicultural UBC population.
Held in recognition of the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21, the event sought to examine the intersection of academic freedom, personal expression and racism through series of moderated discussions.
Regarding its current efforts at intercultural literacy, "UBC can do a lot better," said panelist Annette Henry, a UBC Professor of Language and Literacy.
"There's work that can be done within the curriculum to encourage people to adopt different ways of thinking, and different ways of understanding. There's work that can be done with clubs, societies and student organizations. There's work that can be done to help our faculty understand how to include more intercultural approaches or transcultural approaches to their teaching and scholarship," said Equity and Inclusion Associate Vice-President Sara-Jane Finlay.
When asked about the measures she would take in promoting intercultural awareness, Finlay said that, besides structural improvements, interpersonal emphasis could be a solution.
Panelist Urooba Jamal, fifth-year international relations student and co-founder of UBC's alternative student press The Talon, expressed concerns that "white supremacy [is] being reproduced in classrooms."
"[My co-founders and I] wanted a space for [social justice] conversations to happen; we wanted the space to establish these necessary critiques that are being silenced and repressed.... Through The Talon, we have, hopefully, been able to create that forum on campus for those conversations that were obviously taking place ... having a centralized place where these different segments could come together and be presented to the student body, but also, at the same time, to invite those that aren't thinking about these issues ... into the conversation."
The panel discussion focused on race and racism and the responsibility academics have to be informed, academic and respectful.
"You know there's responsibility when we speak, and so the responsibility to be respectful to those who are around us; there's a responsibility to reflect on who we are, and the responsibility to recognize the complexity of issues -- that it's not simply an 'us vs. them' or 'my issue is more important than your issue' but [that these issues] are ... within a whole range of power differentials," said Finlay.
The panel discussion struck a note of optimism about the prospects of race literacy, acknowledging that we have come a long way from being hushed at, to anger-driven discussions, to the present -- when open dialogues are encouraged and people are more willing to share their histories and cultures to find their differences and commonalities, and eventually to build solidarity.