Episode 010

Leveraging Change to Support Racialized Students

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Leva Lee: Welcome to BCcampus Mixtape. This podcast is a remix of previous live recordings from BCcampus offerings such as the Lunchable Learning radio show, Open Knowledge Spectrums and more! My name is Leva Lee.

Helena Prins: And my name is Helena Prins. We are both on the Learning and Teaching team at BCcampus. If you love to learn, you’ve come to the right place… I am joining you from the beautiful homeland of the Lekwungen Speaking people, which includes the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.

Leva: And I’m joining you from where I live on the ancestral and unceded homelands of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh speaking peoples.

Helena: Today’s episode features conversations with some of our favorite people in the post-secondary sector in B.C.! We’ll be exploring the topic of anti-racism and inequity in post-secondary institutions and leveraging change to support racialized students. First, you’ll hear from Rohene Bouarjam, the associate director, Strategic Indigenous, Black and Persons of Colour Initiatives at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver where she provides strategic leadership and direction on embedding equity and inclusion and advancing anti-racism in policies, initiatives and programming for Indigenous, Black and Persons of Colour (IBPOC) students. Then you may recognize the voice of guest host, Olaolu Adeleye, who is a dear friend of BCcampus and who is currently with Deloitte Consulting.

Leva: You’ll also hear the powerful voice of Nadia Mallay, who completed her doctorate in Educational Leadership in Post-Secondary Institutions with a focus on institutional mechanisms and change management that can be leveraged for anti-racism work and is a postdoctoral fellow. And last, but certainly not the least, you’ll hear an excerpt from a conversation with Donneil McNab who is an associate faculty at Royal Roads University, the co-founder and lead consultant at Power of Discourse Consulting, an EDI consulting company, and also the founder of the Award for Diversity and Community Building at Royal Roads University.

Helena: Let’s listen in.

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Helena: Well, I’m very excited to welcome our guests today. Rohene Bouarjam, thank you so much for being here with us Rohene.

Rohene Bouarjam: Thank you so much for having me.

Helena: We are super excited. So first of all, congratulations on being one of the recipients of the 2021 UBC President Service Awards for Excellence. We just saw this news last week, so we’re so proud of you. How does that feel and what does that mean to you?

Rohene: Thank you so much Helena. Uh, you know, I’m truly honoured to receive this official form of recognition, and behind my gratitude is a deep appreciation for the people I’ve come in contact with students, colleagues, faculty, community members from both my personal and professional spheres. So whilst I accept this award, this is really, something that I share with many as a recognition of how far we’ve come together.

Helena: That’s just lovely. Thank you, Rohene, and you have a big title here. You are the associate director for Strategic Indigenous, Black and People of Colour at UBC and providing leadership and direction on embedding equity and inclusion and advancing anti-racism in policies, initiatives and programming for racialized students. How and why did you get into this work?

Rohene: That’s a great question. I won’t give you a snapshot of my resume, but perhaps what I’ll do is I’ll draw on two pivotal points. The first is my experience of being an immigrant. I have been in tough spaces where I’ve been the other or excluded. And felt like I didn’t belong reflecting on these experiences. I’m mindful of leaving a country, Zimbabwe, that was once colonized to seek a better life with my family as a settler in Canada. And so when I look at my career trajectory, I have sought roles that allow me to deepen this privilege with accountability and responsibility of creating belonging. The second point is I’ve always had a strong imagination and desire for justice, even at a young age. My career trajectory has placed me in roles where I could contribute questions like why not or how about we try something different and then be part of finding the right solution. Through the lens of both of these points, my roles, including my current one, which is a very long title, creates an opportunity to bridge risk, compassion, courage, and expansive imagination. It allows myself and the colleagues whom I work closely with to rewrite what success looks like for different types of students and crack open structures that create space between what has been historically and persistently tragic on what is possible and it’s really in this space that I find the most rewarding to work in as we add in big and important concepts like equity, inclusion and anti-racism.

Helena: Yes, those are big words, and that’s actually part of why we invited you here. Because we’ve read the article that you wrote for University Affairs in August and the article was about supporting racialized students from an equity perspective. And for our audience, we will share that article again in our show notes later. But you wrote that universities need people, policies and protocols that take into account how to support the success of racialized students from an equity and not equality perspective. So how would those two perspectives differ and how get there?

Rohene: Again it’s such a lovely question because I think it opens up so many opportunities for us to unpack which would likely take hours. So I hope I’ll do this question justice and saying equality means each individual student has access to and receives the same support services and opportunities, which is something that we all strive for to offer as educators and practitioners. However, when we take an equity perspective, we move away from an assumption that everyone has access in the first place. What you recognize is that each individual student has different circumstances, different starting points, different needs, different help-seeking behaviours, and it’s in the space of difference that we as higher education professionals have the ability to match out institutional structures, policies, procedures to level the space between meeting students where they are and where they want to be. You ask me how do we get there. It starts with asking questions like who is accessing our services, programs, and support and who isn’t and then moving to curiosity around why is this happening? What could be missing and how could an aligned approach that supports the success of a student be achieved? Whilst I focused on BIPOC students in my article. Because I believe that race is often excluded out of important conversations in higher education. There is value in also considering intersectionality.

Helena: Yes.

Rohene: Placing importance on equity and not equality moves us in the direction of creating fairness. Inviting students who normally would not have been in our institutions in and finally creating outcomes that address the systemic inequities that we see across so many sectors. But perhaps to begin with, who gets a certain type of supportive post-secondary education and who doesn’t?
Leva: Very thoughtful Rohene, so I’m really thrilled to have this opportunity to meet you. And I enjoyed reading your article and in that you acknowledged your experience as a racialized individual working in higher ed. And if there’s one thing you could share about what this means to you. What would that be?

Rohene: Thank you, Leva. That’s a great question. I think being a racialized staff member means being able to connect with members of the institutional community. A community who don’t see many people who look like me at most Canadian institutions. Whilst this feeling can feel like a daunting position to be in, I look at it as an opportunity to bridge my lived experience with the compassion and understanding in all interactions with students and colleagues, whether it’s sitting with a BIPOC student who relays that they’ve been subjected to racism, and saying, “I believe you.” To sitting with a colleague who shares that they didn’t intend any harm by saying what they said in a particular meeting and supporting them with an understanding of how they can do better. So, as I think about what it means to me, we all have a lot to learn, including myself and in a vibrant intellectual environment that values critical inquiry, change and growth. The one thing that I’m grateful for is that there’s space to have these types of conversations.

Leva: I also wanted to ask you the one thing there is a misleading line you say in job descriptions, so the “other duties as assigned”…so you refer to that. Could you tell us more? About why you think that changing that one line could be the one small step for systemic change?
Rohene: Yeah, it’s a small step, a really tiny one. But what it does is it symbolizes an awareness that certain goals have shifted over time in response to who is at our institution now. And with this awareness, we have the opportunity to rewrite this one-line sentence that reflects a much deeper understanding of the required skills or competence and experience that an institution needs to provide an equity-focus level of support for all students that aligns with who they are, what they bring and where they could be as a result of studying, living and growing at all of our institutions. So, the purpose of writing this article from the perspective of “other duties as assigned” was to give voice to the possibility of rewriting job descriptions that actually match the type of support that’s needed based on who comes to our institution in a different way than what has been. Historically been considered the outcomes of one person’s job.

Helena: That’s a very interesting take on it, and I think maybe that’s already one challenge for this sector is to have a look at our job descriptions and our job postings and make sure that that line gets clarified. We also ask our guests, Rohene, to provide a challenge to the listener, so I’m very curious. What challenge did you pick for our listeners today?

Rohene: I thought something was tangible and also hopefully something reasonable. So, my challenge to our listeners is what step do you commit to doing differently today in support of your fellow racialized students and staff?

Leva: It’s a great challenge and something I hope people will think about and take to action.

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Leva: Nadia is an educator, Canadian born of Guyanese ancestry and has just completed her doctorate in educational leadership in post-secondary institutions with a focus on institutional mechanisms and change management that can be leveraged for anti-racism work.

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Olaolu Adeleye: So, can you tell us a little bit about your journey of how you even arrived in education and what your role or roles, the many hats that you wear, what they mean to you, and the significance of your voice as a Black person working in this space?

Nadia Mallay: Yes, so I am the descendant first generation born Canadian of immigrant parents. So, this will be a common narrative: Education is important. Education is valued, education is just what you do and there’s no real questions about that. Uhm, going through the education system in Canada is a different experience than immigrants would have had in their own country and going through as a racialized person, as a Black person is different. Positives and negatives, I’m sure the common story is one of negative experiences, and I certainly had those. So, as I’m going through education and focus on you know the teacher, doctor, lawyer, teacher, doctor, lawyer. [laughs] The immigrant rotation. I really was into the sciences, but I was really in a supportive environment in terms of my family home life and following interest and passion and I kept gravitating towards education. I actually went into medical sciences in my undergraduate. A very competitive program, a very white program. I was one of in a huge number of students and I won’t name institutions. That institution has a documented history of excluding, in policy, Black individuals. You can imagine what that journey was that was only recently changed. So, I landed in education because I was having, I was constantly faced with issues of racism and systemic racism, so I went into the field of education. I love it. I started in K12 education, and I moved through to leadership roles and then into higher education, starting with a consultancy and doing quite extensive volunteer work for years. And I’ve just sort of stuck with it in different forms and am now involved in EDI, but not necessarily purely EDI. It’s looking at systems change; it’s looking at how we how we run our institutions.
Olaolu: And can you speak a bit about the consultancy? Is it also working in the same area?
Nadia: So Biophilic Consulting is my consultancy, and I can help with EDI work, and I’ve done EDI scans, but it’s also about change management, organizational efficiency, helping people with their resume writing, and learning to be strategic. As they go forward with their job search and career development.

Leva: That’s interesting, yeah. There’s such more awareness now and I know that EDI work is really taking prominence, and BCcampus is actually also undergoing some EDI audits for some our programs, so I’m looking forward to learning more of how we can do better. I think and put something, and implement something, in the program rather than that we’ve been doing a lot of learning and talking, but it is time for action. So, one of the questions we had been thinking about is with your experience in post-secondary, what is the one area that you believe that post-secondary institutions need to give more attention to?

Nadia: Only one? [laughs]

Leva: Most prominently.

Naida: So, it’s a system of inequity, right? That’s what I think of when I now hear post-secondary education. Um, B.C. in particular Metro Vancouver institutions in particular are really struggling with systems of inequity. I’ve seen really great change and met some phenomenal people who are doing exceptional work, of course. And of course, people have done so much work before, but it’s a system of privilege. It’s a privilege based on race, it’s colonialism, and it’s not being dismantled, and so even as we have all these advances in EDI work, and I don’t actually generally use acronyms, I don’t think acronyms are working for us. I don’t think we can speak in binaries. It’s more exclusionary than it is inclusive. And that’s the problem. If we’re going to get to authentic inclusion these binaries, these EDI frameworks and these EDI spaces aren’t working for us, so I guess my roundabout way is that if they are going to be inclusive spaces because of all the benefits that come behind inclusion and having multiple voices, then they really need to work at privileges and systems of inequity and how they’re upholding those for profit.

Olaolu: And so really, even as you speak about the binary elements of it, is part of the way forward, then opening the conversation so that the contributions and the feedback really about these systems are a lot more expansive. And if that is the case, what does that look like in practice?

Nadia: Yeah, so it can’t really be a siloed approach. It can’t just be we have an equity office and an equity group of people doing the work. That’s important, a lot of work has been done to have those spaces, but it needs to be a distributed model. Each individual needs to be aware of how they’re enacting their own privilege in sustaining a system of inequity. So, if I have an equity office, let’s say, are they developing resources, is it capacity building? Are they challenging what I know? If I’m an expert, do I have opportunities to go and facilitate change in other spaces? So that’s what I think needs to happen, is the more distributed model of equity, because I think it’s being tacked on rather than foundation up, and nothing will change unless it’s foundation up, which is, which is a lot of work and PSIs, like everyone, we are facing a lot of challenges with an unprecedented pandemic. Um, budget issues, everything that’s happening on with a complex space like Metro Vancouver, but it needs to be done properly if it’s going to be done.

Leva: And to be done in a way that can be sustainable, right? Not just tacked on. And then everybody gets fatigued over time. You don’t have the capacity to continue the work.

Nadia: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, hugely important. The sustainability.

Olaolu: These are all great points, especially as you talk about, you know if there’s an office versus whether or not it’s finding its way into curriculum, way into classrooms, way into the culture and the community on campus too.

Nadia: Yeah, but I wonder if students are coming in knowing more than the people delivering certain components of their education.

Olaolu: Right.

Nadia: Are we meeting, we’re always meeting the needs of students coming in, so are we meeting their needs? Are we meeting their abilities?

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Leva: Olaolu should we ask Nadia if she had a challenge? I think we asked if she had a challenge for our listeners. We often like our guests to give something that people can sort of focus on based on the topic of discussion, but did you have a challenge you’d like to invite our listeners to do?

Nadia: Just to stay with it, I know there’s been some great movement on anti-Black racism and if you have it within you, it doesn’t have to be every day, every moment. But when you can speak up and speak out and be supportive, really advocate. Advocate in all the spaces. If you’re in a retail space and you’re wondering if that person is receiving the same treatment and engagement that you are, ask. Not everything needs to be a confrontation and actually works best when it’s not, but just ask a question.

Olaolu: That’s great in personalizing it to really getting people to see the tangible and really actionable steps that they can take as individuals.

Nadia: Yes.

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Helena: So let’s start with some good news. One of our earlier guests on the show, Rohene Bouarjam, has been involved in an excellent new program, the Beyond Tomorrow Scholars Program. That’s a first of it’s kind initiative in Canada, and it provides both scholarships and a range of integrated institutional supports to help provide a pathway to success for black Canadian students at UBC. Olaolu, I’m very curious to know your take on the significance of this program for the post-secondary sector.

Olaolu: Yes, this is a great program. Great initiative, the Beyond Tomorrow Scholars Award it is something that offers an opportunity for people who perhaps don’t have the financial resources to get involved in post-secondary education. I hope it is something that other institutions will take into consideration, and they will follow suit in a similar vein. But I think what’s most significant about this is side, removing the financial barriers is a mentorship component. You know, none of us arrive where we are without some form of support or mentorship. And you know, there’s no one singular experience. So, giving students a wealth of resources or networks to tap into to ask questions to see modelled what it looks like, what it takes to be successful. I think that’s essential and especially important as we think about the representation of voices and students who are Black at Canadian post-secondary institutions.

Helena: Yes, that’s very exciting. I didn’t know about the mentorship piece. I think that’s really crucial.

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Helena: We are so pleased today to welcome the lovely Donneil McNab.

Donneil McNab: Hi, thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here and I look forward to our conversation today.

Olaolu: Pleasure to have you here Donneil and first off, congratulations on your new appointment as an associate faculty member at Royal Roads University. We want to begin by asking you to tell us a bit about yourself and we’ll start our conversation there.

Donneil: Yeah, most certainly. I think this is always the hardest question to answer, but anyways, I’ll still share a bit about myself. I was born in Jamaica. I came to Canada in 2018 to pursue graduate studies and I’ve been here ever since. A few things that I like to do: cook, I like to dance as well. I like to hang at the beach. Being somebody who grew up on a tropical island, of course, it’s not quite the same here in Canada, but I do. I do still try to hang at the beach with a good book when I can, and I also like to volunteer, which is really what brought me to quite a few of the roles that I’m in right now.
Olaolu: OK, everyone loves the beach obviously and hard to compare, yeah, the sands of Jamaica to the ones here in the Pacific Northwest, but I’m glad you’re by the water, nonetheless. Could you expand a bit more on your speaking about volunteering and the capacities and the roles that you’re currently undertaking? What are some of those roles?

Donneil: Yeah, most certainly so at Royal Roads, I do have two roles, my primary role being a student engagement coordinator in our student services department. And most recently, as you mentioned just now Olaolu, have also shifted into the academia side of things as associate faculty, and I initially got involved in higher education through volunteering. So as a student at Royal Roads University, I was looking for ways to be a bit more engaged in the university outside of the classroom setting and that’s when I started volunteering and through that, I started developing a liking for supporting students because most of my background is in hospitality, so working in hotels. So essentially customer service and I found that there are quite a few transferable skills that I have that could help support students in that space as well. So eventually I shifted to a student role, a casual student role, and when the opportunity came up for me to get a full-time permanent role, of course, I went after that opportunity. So, I really came into higher education by happenstance. Didn’t think I was going to be on the admin side of things. I’ve always wanted to be an instructor as long as I’ve known myself but not quite admin, but I find that being on both sides and being in this scholar-practitioner model really does help me to support students holistically because I do get to see both sides, and I find that really, really helps when I’m in the classroom or when I’m in the office supporting a student who has an issue. Also, for our Discourse Consulting, which is an equity diversity and inclusion consulting agency that I co-founded with two other amazing women. That also started through volunteering so my colleagues and we saw the need to reach out to educators and youth workers in Victoria and B.C. to hopefully provide them with training, which is what we eventually did. So, we created and facilitated workshops for free, for educators and youth workers, with the goal of helping them learn how to create safe spaces for all students, but specifically for BIPOC students as well. Because a lot of them don’t necessarily have the knowledge or the tools required to support students who are marginalized.

Olaolu: Right.

Donneil: So that’s the angle we came from, and we offered them for free because we do, we know that in some of these areas there are those financial barriers. So that was our angle in offering those for free and eventually, we just got to the stage where we wanted to be a little bit more official and branch out some more and support organizations as well. But we have not abandoned that volunteering piece and we do have an educational arm still within the company and we still offer free workshops to educators and youth workers who need that service but can’t necessarily say pay for that service or pay full price for that service.

Helena: You do amazing work and so many roles, so many hats and I wanted to keep all those roles and hats in mind with this next question because you know, we kind of want to just start conversations and we want to talk about what you, our guests, think we should be talking about. So, what is that area that you think post-secondary institutions need to give more attention to?

Donneil: I think there are quite a few areas that we can still give a little bit more attention to as we continue on our respective equity, diversity and inclusion journeys, but I think I’d say the one that stands out most to me or the one I’d like to highlight today is for post-secondary institutions walking the talk. So, we see many of them will have these grand statements on their websites or in job descriptions of where they think they are or where they want to be, but we’re not quite there as yet. And it comes across as being somewhat performative because even for some they’ve gone as far as to employ folks as directors of EDI or similar roles, but they want them to transform these organizations, but they’re not empowering them to transform the organization, and it can be frustrating. Because I imagine as somebody who is genuinely committed to the cause, being a role, regardless of how much you’re being paid, if you’re not able to do the work that you see that needs to be done, it is frustrating, and it’s also something that requires a lot of emotional labours. If you don’t have that support, then I can see why folks have been resigning lately from some of these roles because it is overwhelming. For a lot of institutions, you will interact with their stakeholders. They’re marginalized stakeholders and they think they’re doing something great. But when you talk to these stakeholders, they’re still experiencing systemic oppression, and they’re still very unhappy in these spaces. So, I think their institutions really need to be a bit more intentional about, you know, about the work that they say they’re doing. They need to be collaborative because you know no one knows what you go through like you do. So definitely it’s worth reaching out to those marginalized individuals in your community and seeing exactly what they’re going through and working with them and meeting them where they’re at, but I find that’s not exactly what many of us are doing, but I know it’s a journey. And I think a lot of institutions have started on that journey and I hope they do continue on that journey, but I think we can maybe pick up the pace a little bit.

Olaolu: These are all good points and just to mention the name of your consulting agency “Power of Discourse” cause you haven’t actually said it, but can you speak a bit too, you know you spoke about some of the motivation and the connections to the previous expansion previous desires.

Donneil: Yeah, most certainly, uh, so it’s Power of Discourse, most of what we’ve been doing as mentioned before, working with educators, but also going into organizations and seeing what their EDI goals are and again meeting them where they’re at. So, everybody starting at, we’re all at different places in this race, and it’s really important to not take a “one size fits all” approach when doing this work, but really seeing where individuals are at where companies are at collectively and individually. And providing the services and the resources and the knowledge they need from there. So, a lot of what we do includes EDI audits, for example, that’s a core way to really get an understanding of where organizations are in their journey and tailoring any support services to where they are at that point in time. Again, the goals are important. We try as best as possible to talk to not only management and leadership but also employees because management may say one thing and employees may feel another way. So, it’s important to get that perspective as well, which is what we do when we’re doing audits. So, the audits can include interviews. We also do policy audits and from there we start to develop that learning and development piece. So that could be workshops. We also have, because again, our name is Power of Discourse, so we believe in the power of discourse, so we do try to have spaces outside of our workshops as well. For individuals to really come together, think about what they’ve learned in these workshops and how they wish to apply it in their respective organizations. And also, just you know we provide activities for them to be able to do that are specific to their organizations or examples that are specific to what their situation is. So, the point is, once we are finished, you know doing these workshops or these sessions folks should be confident to address racism in the workplace when they see it, or any other isms, they should be very confident saying, you know, through our work or collaboration with Part C, which is what we call it, Part C, we were able to get this knowledge. This knowledge and these resources and these tools that can help us really elevate our organization and really be intentional about our EDI journey. And we do encourage folks, even if we’re not the ones that they are continuing that journey with, is to just be very focused on that continuity and not let it be something where you know. Part C comes in. We do three workshops and that’s it. Because as we all know, this is a lifelong journey. It is ongoing. It’s not something that you can do as a one-off and transform the organization. It’s something that needs to keep happening.

Olaolu: Absolutely, and I love the name because it really does speak to the importance and significance of that interaction and exchange.

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Helena: Thank you for joining us today. If you like this content, let us know. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn under @BCcampus and on Instagram at bccampus.ca.

Leva: Subscribe to our newsletter at bccampus.ca for the latest information and details on our offerings. You can also find more information about our podcast at BCcampusmixtape.com and tune in next week for the next episode of BCcampus mixtape.

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