Addressing Institutional Racism at the UWSA
Dear students and community members,
Over the last few months, we have gone through a significant learning experience that has led us to re-evaluate the way we work with and support students. In August 2020, two out of the three UWSA Executives resigned in the midst of a very difficult situation.
As the situation evolved in June, the UWSA asked the University of Winnipeg’s Human Rights and Diversity Office (HRDO) to conduct an investigation so that the UWSA Board could understand what had occurred from everyone’s perspective. The University was unable to investigate because the Policy does not allow for a complaint to be brought forward on behalf of another party, and because the issue fell beyond its jurisdiction. The UWSA Board recognized that it needed to address the issue at a deeper, organizational level and hired an external consultant to engage in a process which allowed the UWSA to examine its strengths and weaknesses.
All of this was happening in the midst of two global events: the COVID-19 pandemic and the mobilization of the Black Lives Matter movement. While every student has been impacted by both events, the experiences of Black, Racialized and Indigenous peoples have been profound.
A final report of the organizational process is in progress. However, some emerging conclusions are listed below:
- The UWSA exists to support students at the University of Winnipeg. The student body is diverse and representative of different social, cultural, and political identities. Honouring and respecting that diversity is fundamental to the UWSA in its work.
- To respect the diversity of the UWSA membership, we need to strengthen our platforms and spaces that promote dialogue and debate. We need safe spaces for disagreement, and to maintain respect for each student engaged in these conversations. When it comes to supporting racism, elections, and open discussions, the UWSA must, and can, do better.
- While social media has some value in raising issues, we were reminded that important social issues like addressing racism cannot be resolved solely through social media.
- We learned that the UWSA will need to find better ways to support Executives as they transition, particularly when they have very different ideological foundations or approaches. We are committed to establishing a change management strategy between Executives that honours both sets of student leaders – one group transitioning out and the other coming in.
- Most Executives have ambitious agendas that cannot be achieved in their one-year term. We need to engage students with UWSA initiatives and strategies that go beyond the annual election cycle and campaigns. Many of the issues that students want to see changed are systemic in nature and take longer than one year.
- We want the election process to be focused on the strengths that are our student leaders bring, instead of replicating systems and processes that are known to harm individuals. We want to get creative and constructive about our election process.
- The UWSA is committed to doing its part in ending all forms of discrimination, including Anti-Black and Indigenous racism. When accusations of racism came up, the UWSA Board took leadership to respond to the issue. As we moved forward throughout the past few months, we recognized that there are multiple strategies to address racism and many students put forward their thinking. This critical discussion deserves more platforms so that we, at the UWSA, can do better. We learned that doing harm to others does not address racism – holding people accountable through relationship is how we can all learn and change.
- We want to recognize the UWSA Board and Executive who respected the process to try and address this situation and find solutions. We would like to thank former Executives and board members who continue to participate in the process to make the UWSA a stronger organization.
- The UWSA Board is committed to moving forward and will be reviewing the final report from the consultant before the end of October. We will be preparing a plan of action before the end of the year that will be shared with the full student body.
- We have been reminded through these many difficult situations that relationships matter and when we work at having honest and respectful relationships we can get through any issue together.
In order to move forward, the UWSA Board agreed to invite the 2020-21 Vice-President Student Affairs, Melanie William, back to her position for the remainder of her elected term. The UWSA Board has established a Code of Conduct and is committed to creating a safe working and learning environment at the UWSA. In the spirit of reconciliation, the board and executives, including resigned members, have agreed to come together in a sharing circle to learn from our collective experience.
Yours in Solidarity,
University of Winnipeg Students’ Association’s Board of Directors and Staff, 2020-21