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78th SLC discusses EDI advocacy and a possible VP Equity

By Enobong Ukpong and Sophia Lopez, March 22 2021—

The 78th Student Legislative Council (SLC) met on March 16 and had a discussion on equity and the possibility of creating a vice-president position in the Students’ Union (SU) that would handle issues of equity, diversity and inclusion. In addition to this, good news regarding COVID-19 vaccinations for medical and nursing students was made in this meeting by SU President Frank Finley.

“Medical and nursing students who are in practicum will now be included in the COVID Phase 2C vaccination cycle in Alberta in April,” said Finley. “This was not originally the case, but thanks to the Medical Students’ Association of Alberta and a number of other student organizations there’s been an eclectic push for this.” 

Finley makes sure to add that conversations are still being had in order to ensure that other practicums in different departments also receive vaccinations.

This year, Faculty of Arts representative Fayo Abdi discussed a possible interview series that will take place on International Transgender Day of Visibilty on March 31. In partnership with Faculty of Science representative Manpreet Sahota, Abdi wishes to “have some resources, some interviews and hopefully just a bunch of information going up on social media.” 

Sahota also adds that, “Transgender Day of Visibility was created to celebrate the trans community,” she said. “So this is councillor Abdi and I’s EDI work to bring this community to light.”

Although efforts have been made to advocate for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) by the SU, a discussion regarding EDI began when gallery member Sinit Abraha questioned why the anti-racism event held on March 15 — hosted by Dr. Malinda Smith, vice-president academic Semhar Abraha, vice-president student-life Assad Ali Bik and the EDI office — was mostly attended by BIPOC students and saw barely any SLC members present. 

Finley said that he and a number of others attended a similar session with Dr. William Yimbo and other SLC members had conflicts with their schedules. Sinit Abraha replied that each session is slightly different.    

Faculty of Engineering representative Juan Sanchez Higuerey echoed that the anti-racism event was a valuable experience. He emphasized that hearing about the initiative and work that was presented, while still pushing for more metrics, data and measurable steps of actions, was inspiring and that he wished more SLC members had attended. 

“It’s absolutely incredible, all the initiatives and everything that’s gone on just this year, and just seeing such a motivated group of people just putting the work in, and saying that we need to keep going,” said Sanchez.

Sakariye Mohamed, another gallery member, commented on how it seems that “equity” has become a buzzword, but he questioned what actions are being taken to change EDI from a political statement into actions and policies that promote equality. 

“What is holding U of C back from having something like a VP Equity position, like Ryerson has had for fifteen years?” Mohamed questioned.

Ali Bik said that he too wants a VP Equity, but that the infrastructure required to do so successfully has not been set up. They do not want to be setting up anyone in that position for failure. However, he did admit that a timeline does need to be implemented, and said he will bring this up to the EDI task force. 

“I love that you’re coming to SLC and advocating for this,” said Ali Bik, “because I’m inside of the SLC advocating for the same thing, and together we work, and we get the goal.”

Semhar Abraha said she did not believe that the SU is not equipped for a VP Equity position. She pointed out that the SU has existed for decades now, and if the SU is still not qualified to represent diverse students, it has not been doing the right thing since the beginning.

“We have done so much work already, but the point is that there is more to be done, and we should be open to doing more,” added VP Abraha.

Adding on to the discussion, Faculty of Arts representative Justin Gotta asked Ali Bik what infrastructure would be needed to support a VP Equity position. 

Ali Bik elaborated that the infrastructure missing is someone to support a VP Equity — not just someone who has lived experience as a minority, but who also understands the multi-faceted areas of equity, diversity and inclusion. Ali Bik also recommends turning the EDI task force into a committee, with a full, diverse portfolio, with a budget line that would be part of the organization permanently. His goal is to support a VP Equity. 

“I’m sure if you get someone in the position, the job will find itself, of course,” said Ali Bik. “The infrastructure that I’m talking about is who’s going to support them.” 

Gotta said that as someone who would be going into the 79th SLC, it would be good for the current SLC to start the implementation so that the next SLC can get the ball rolling.

Agendas, minutes and upcoming meetings for SLC can be found online.

In a previous edition of this article, Dr. Malinda Smith’s name was misspelled. We have corrected it. The Gauntlet apologizes to Dr. Smith.

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