Questions over equity and inclusion in academics, following SACADI dissolution

On July 22, the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Academic Diversity and Inclusion (SACADI) presented its final report to the rest of Senate. The report recommended the implementation of a structure within Senate to address equity and inclusion, among other action items.

Originally formed in 2018, SACADI aimed to “understand and report on the diversity and inclusion landscape within the academic realm at UBC.”

With the Inclusion Action Plan (IAP) as a guiding framework, the committee solicited feedback from different Senate committees on limitations and possibilities for incorporating elements of academic diversity and inclusion into their work.

Julia Burnham, SACADI chair, was one of two student senators on the committee.

“The strongest recommendation … is the recommendation to create a structural organization or committee [in Senate] that can more permanently address the academic diversity and inclusion and continue the work of SACADI because we are such a short-lived committee,” said Burnham.

The report also recommended that the Senate and Board of Governors release a joint statement on UBC’s values of equity, diversity and inclusion as well as that Senate committee members endorse the IAP in Senate operations.

In addition to recommendations made, the committee also presented several findings. The committee analyzed campus survey data and engaged with Senate committees to arrive at the following conclusions: that “students, staff and faculty with disabilities encounter consistently less satisfactory experiences and feelings of belonging than those who do not report disabilities,” that “issues of equity, diversity and inclusion are broad and complex,” and that there is limited data on historically marginalized groups and on graduate student experiences.

Dr. Paul Harrison, chair of the Senate academic policy committee, was concerned about adopting the framework of the IAP.

“It’s not confusion, but it’s my concern that what SACADI asked the Senate to approve — and Senate did approve — is in contradiction in many places with the IAP and that leaves me wondering what Senate … is actually approving or has approved,” Harrison said.

Burnham noted that the framework for the IAP simply serves as a jumping-off point for Senate to consider issues of equity work which pertain to their own jurisdictions.

“Where the Senate can come in is identifying how specifically they can address these issues within the contexts of microlevels in committees,” said Burnham. “I’m hopeful that with this permanent structure … that we can create, that we can have richer conversation with Senate committees and be able to identify proper action plans for achieving all these institutional goals.”

Moving from recommendations to actions

As Senate works on a three-year cycle, Burnham said that one challenge the committee faced was limited time.

“By the time I had joined the committee last summer, we were really looking at [a] time crunch … so we weren’t able to have these individualized, specific answers to the problems in different standing committees because we ran out of time or resources to be able to properly consult and make those changes,” said Burnham.

With SACADI now being formally disbanded, the next nominating committee — which will convene again in August or September — will be tasked with readdressing the work done by the committee.

Alex Gonzalez, student senator and vice-chair of SACADI, said there are two ways the implementation of the recommendations could happen.

“Senators could either just sit back and wait for the nominating committee to put something out there, or we can be a bit more proactive and we can write up a proposal and send it to the new nominating committee,” Gonzalez said.

Burnham is optimistic that the report is an important first step, considering how long it has taken to reach this point.

“Even in trying to create this ad hoc committee, all of that work was done by student senators ... that’s been years in the making,” said Burnham.

“I’m hopeful that the long-term security that these recommendations can provide will allow us to have a space that is more conductive to being able to address these issues with the resources, time and serious thought that they deserve.”