President Speaker Series: How Much EDIA Do We Need by Desmond Cole

On January 24, a President’s Speaker Series presentation featuring Desmond Cole took place in the Crabtree auditorium. This hour-long talk was well attended, with a substantial audience both online and in-person, and was incredibly educational. Cole discussed police brutality at length, both from his own experience and across Canada, as well as how universities should support and accommodate Black students’ mental health. He also discussed the advantages of hiring more Black staff and scholars to foster a sense of community.

Cole explained that his parents had immigrated to Canada from Freetown, Sierra Leone in West Africa. He stated that growing up in Canada, he had experienced police discrimination, which is an act of unjust violence, intimidation, and dominance over people of a particular group due to prejudice and racism. When Cole enrolled at Queen’s University in Ontario, police officers continued to discriminate against him, and it was not a pleasant feeling. The police harassed him for working on his college campus and went as far as following him around town while he was driving his car. The expression on his face while revealing these stories left the audience speechless.

Although he said it was not the police’s fault that he unenrolled from the university after two years, they were “a major factor” in his anxiety and insecurity on campus and throughout the town. As a journalist, he currently reads and hears about university students in Canada who experience similar treatment. In a moving speech, he praised the student activists who are going above and beyond to fight for equity across Canada.

In Canada, the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (EDIA) initiative, made to address discrimination in institutions, has begun with reflection and data gathering. Universities and other organizations have been discussing the initiative for a while, but not much information has been acquired so far. Most of the time, individuals do not feel comfortable providing data because their data from previous census collections has been misused.

He concluded by remarking that one of the main issues facing the world today is capitalism, and until this issue is addressed, discussions on diversity and inclusion will continue to go in circles. He called the conflict we are in a “war against imperialism,” a struggle against capitalism, a struggle against racism, and “a struggle for our very existence.”

One of the academics present at the speaker series asked: “What can we as professors do to help students who have experienced discrimination?” He replied by expressing that it is difficult for individuals to take on the work, and he is impressed by the teachers who go “above and beyond” to support and assist their pupils. He claimed that the pressure of high grading standards makes learning more difficult for students and alters their behavior.

Another question that was asked was, “What do you think about the cost of tuition for international students and the claims that it costs more money to enroll foreign students? ” The federal government offers financial support to some Canadian students, but does not offer financial support to international students. Cole claimed that the argument for significantly higher international tuition being a result of increased costs related to hosting international students is a trap that instills in people the idea that they must take care of themselves before they can care for others. This creates a sense of separation, a feeling that it’s “us and them.” It also fails to acknowledge that universities benefit from broadcasting the presence of international students as a way to prove their campus’ diversity. Cole proposed that the greatest solution is to pass legislation making tuition affordable for everyone worldwide. After attending this speaker series, I now want to attend more because it was thought-provoking and educational. There is a lot of awareness and education happening in the speaker series, since many people with different mindsets and experiences come and share their thoughts.

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