Copyright © 2020 Federation of Students, University of Waterloo operating as Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association
A look behind and ahead
Over the summer, we asked you to tell us how we could do better. It was important that the commitments we made to this work were directly informed by the experiences of Black students. As a result, we promised to address the systemic issues within our organization and advocate for changes at the university. We committed to transparency as we work together toward a safer, more racially equitable environment.
Much of what we do day-to-day is working to get these changes into effect. We’re sharing this fall term update to show you what we’ve been up to behind the screens, as promised in our commitment to transparency. As your student association and student reps, ensuring the University of Waterloo is a safe and inclusive environment for everyone is our most important pursuit. Below are some updates to the ways we’ve committed to carry that out and what’s been done so far.
We first promised you transparency. We committed to share our timelines, successes, and updates with a section on our website dedicated specifically to our advocacy efforts against anti-Black and Indigenous racism. While we work toward that larger web update to our advocacy section, we will share progress on this work in termly updates on our news page and socials, and celebrate bigger milestones with you here as they happen
We committed to keep listening and advocating. The latter here doesn’t exist without the former. We can’t advocate for you without hearing from you first. In the many emails we’ve received at firstname.lastname@example.org and through student reps from our services and other student groups, you’ve shared your stories with us. We thank you. Please continue to reach out to us for advocacy support and make use of our Incident Reporting Form, where you can confidentially share your experience.
Students have continuously shown how race-based data must be collected by the university to inform how UWaterloo supports the specific needs of racialized students. We have partnered with the Equity Office on the Equity Data Advisory Group to assist the whole campus in better understanding and addressing equity at Waterloo through a centralized equity data strategy.
We have continued to raise our concerns with the Presidents Anti-Racism Taskforce (PART) and brought forward student concerns to President Hamdullahpur and Dr. Charmaine Dean, interim chair of PART.
As part of our commitment to bring forward these issues to the tables at which we sit, we wrote a letter to the provincial government, asking that they prioritize funding for community supports over policing. Other student associations across the province and local groups signed on to support the asks in our letter, using their platforms to continue advancing our reach.
This week, Abbie and Megan are attending the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) Student Advocacy Conference to discuss and advocate for their collective priorities with MPPs across Ontario. These include training and research to support racial equity (direct excerpts in quotes below).
“The provincial government should mandate universities establish a baseline, minimum standard level of training to provide faculty and student-facing staff with inclusive educational tools and sensitivity training and principles.”
“The provincial government should develop a common standard for universities to collect demographic data for the purposes of furthering the goals of a comprehensive access strategy.”
We offered ongoing support with continued peer-to-peer counselling through our student-run services, finding ways to stay connected as we adjusted to online learning and working from home. Our Glow Centre, Women’s Centre, RAISE, MATES and OCC are still offering on-campus support, while many others are available via Skype or Teams video chat. As part of this commitment, we also pledged $8k for student groups to support Anti-Black Racism initiatives. Students can apply for these funds available through the Student Life and Endowment Fund (SLEF) on our webpage.
We have heard and see the additional labour BIPOC and marginalized students take on outside of the already demanding student schedule. This additional work is either self-initiated based on seeing the need (like collecting race-based data, or creating spaces like cultural clubs to find a sense of belonging), or being asked/expected to represent the group in which they belong (like sitting on various committees, panels, consulting, presenting in lectures, etc.). This work is almost always unpaid and can often be emotionally exhaustive and time consuming.
As a first step, WUSA has ensured compensation for the students we have worked with throughout this process. We have advocated the university do the same and have only agreed to support efforts where student representatives will not only be compensated and acknowledged for their work, but also where their safety is intentionally prioritized.
Internally, we’ve also heard from the coordinators in our student-run service, RAISE. Their honesty in sharing their experience both with us and the campus at large have helped us understand where we, as an organization, need to do better. They have done a tremendous amount of work and extended themselves well beyond what anyone would expect. We’ll be sharing more on that in an upcoming spotlight, to really acknowledge and show our appreciation for that work.
We acknowledged the need for – and committed to – an org-wide internal review. WUSA’s President and AVP Equity have hired a knowledgeable and experienced consultant, who will begin working with us in January. It was important that we find the right person and while there were many to choose from, we wanted someone from the region who has an understanding of how the University of Waterloo and our students connect to the greater community. Check back here on our news page for a proper introduction in the new year.
By 2021 all full-time staff will undergo mandatory and continuous racial equity training. Equity and anti-oppression training will be built into all transitions for governance including all future Executive, Board, and Students' Council members. Although this training is not yet in place, our Senior Leadership at WUSA have been further educating themselves and working to ensure diversity and inclusivity is being brought into all conversations at the decision-making level to ensure it plays an intentional part in all that we do, including hiring and recruitment.
As part of our ongoing commitment to planning, we recently released our 2020-2021 Annual Plan, which includes Institutional Racial Equity Reform among our top priorities. This plan outlines our commitments to students through some of our main projects. We’re hoping to introduce an equity fund and are working out those logistics now. Nada is reconstructing our equity policy to better reflect the needs of our students and their current reality. The Equity Fund will support equity initiatives that our students and student groups organize throughout the year. We are working on making the application process for this fund as accessible as possible. The idea of this is to designate a fund that will support our students with equity-related events, conferences and initiatives. In addition, Nada is developing a Volunteer Retention Program, where students will be credited for their volunteer and advocacy work.
And more planning. The Long-Range Plan (or LRP, as we call it) provides a glimpse at the strategies and principles which will guide WUSA for the next five years. Racial equity is imperative to our success in reaching many of them and is built into each pillar of the LRP. Want to learn more? Reach out to email@example.com. The final draft will be available for students’ review within the next two weeks. Stay tuned!
We stand to address the very real concerns of our BIPOC students. We stand on what will be the foundation from which these goals will grow into the future. We stand so future students at the University of Waterloo can stand in a better place.
We stand together.