I attended the President’s Speakers Series featuring Desmond Cole on Tuesday, January 24, 2023. During his lecture, he spoke about EDIAD which stands for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Accessibility, and Decolonization. He asked several questions pertaining to this. What do the words mean? Why is it so fashionable in our universities and institutions? What kind of commitments and activities does EDIAD encompass? Lastly, who and what is being left out? The issue with EDIAD is that it is used as a symbol instead of words. Cole cited a report titled “How far have we come?” where the researchers looked at 15 of Canada’s big research universities that all have numerous reports for EDIAD and what they were saying about policies and practices in their institutions regarding this new regime. It was discovered that there was a tendency across institutional policies to treat all equity, diversity, and inclusion issues as one and to consistently compile all objectives together, overlooking the detailed complexities of each word. While many barriers still remain and new ones emerge, the analysis of the study shows that Canadian universities are gradually taking a proactive approach to create a broader awareness of and alleviate the issues related to EDIAD.
Cole stated that we should be skeptical about this proactive approach because the language of the policies is messy. EDIAD intentionally breezes by the uncomfortable work of telling us what is wrong and goes immediately to ideals and solutions. In addition, the weight of the language and the ongoing history leaves out imperialism, genocide, ableism, colonialism, white supremacy, transphobia, the patriarchy, homophobia, and more. Another reason for skepticism is that the federal government announced an action plan on equity, diversity, and inclusion in May of 2017. All institutions with five or more Canada Research Chair (CRC) posts must now prepare and publish institutional EDIAD action plans in order to obtain research funding from the CRCs programme. This helps to explain why EDIAD has grown so institutionalised since it assists universities in receiving funding. We should also be sceptical that universities have our best interests at heart, because institutions in Canada preach about decolonization while still controlling vast amounts of unceded Indigenous land. They talk about equity and promote diversity while charging international students double and triple the tuition, and evidence reveals that it is still a largely white-dominant leadership. Representation politics are a deception. The presence of persons of colour in specific positions while injustices prevail is a deliberate misdirection. In addition, Cole also discussed the inequities with tuition. Students are in debt, homeless, and working long hours to pay for tuition while going without sleep. To make tuition more equitable, the federal government should fully subsidise tuition. This would regard postsecondary education as a public good rather than an individual endeavour. Also, because financing varies greatly between provinces in Canada, there are many discrepancies within the same country. In Ontario, for example, college tuition has increased more than three times the rate of inflation, while university tuition has increased more than five times. As a result, the term equity in this context does not capture the magnitude of the issues. Furthermore, international students struggle to secure housing accommodations due to the excessive cost of rent and the University’s increasing intake of international students without a plan or the means to accommodate them. This is exploitation because they work just as hard as or harder than others but do not enjoy the same benefits of being in this country as domestic students.
As a Black international student, I have always shown my concern about Mount Allison University’s EDI advisor, especially how this position replaced the Black student advisor. I believe that one position cannot cover something as vague and ambiguous as EDI. That means this position must cover queer students and other marginalized groups such as Black, East, South Asian students, and more, which I do not find effective or feasible. Cole solidified this belief by stating that EDIAD is institutional and not exactly having our (international and marginalised students) best interests at heart. Also, what resonated with me the most is how desensitised I am to the inequities of tuition for international students. I have found myself complaining about how expensive university is, but I have never questioned why it is so expensive for specifically international students because we all receive the same education and do the same labour. My mindset has always been, I am in another man’s country so I must accept the burdens that come with immigrating for a better life. However, in the words of Cole, “Why does equity stop at the border?”