The University of Lethbridge Faculty Association's Gender and Diversity Caucus is looking to initiate a conversation about diversity and respect – and it wants everyone's voice to be heard.
The inaugural event, a week titled, Show Respect, Get Respect at Your U, will be held at the U of L from Mar. 7-11 as the caucus looks to get the campus thinking about how we interact with one another, in classrooms, meeting rooms and as we walk down the hallways.
"One of the things we've seen in the last 10 years is incredible growth here at the University," says Dr. Hester Jiskoot, Chair of the Gender and Diversity Caucus. "It's also grown in terms of diversity, and we thought this was a positive way to talk about that diversity. We want the conversation to focus not on tolerating one another but rather on respecting each other."
The U of L campus is fertile ground for academic debate, and such debates often result in academic discovery. However, when the debate is held in an atmosphere of disrespect, nobody benefits.
"Universities are places for academic freedom, but with that freedom comes a responsibility of making choices and accepting diversity of opinion," says Jiskoot. "You don't necessarily have to agree with someone exactly, but you still have to respect the other person's opinion, traditions, culture and lifestyle, just as much as you would your own."
She explains that although there have been cases of discrimination/disrespect on campus, they are not interested in highlighting these specific instances, but rather want to address a "general feeling" among faculty members about issues of disrespect in U of L classrooms and meeting rooms. To stem such behaviour, Jiskoot says we need only look at our own Strategic Plan for guidance.
"We want people to see this more as an opportunity to enrich their own lives through diversity. Our Strategic Plan speaks to promoting and enhancing diversity and to presenting students with a welcoming environment," she says. "Everybody should feel welcome and respected for being in the classroom, both students and professors."
Dr. Carly Adams is also on the caucus, and she has seen students intimidated in the classroom, something that undermines their educational experience and what she is trying to accomplish as a professor.
"It's constantly a challenge, especially in senior level classes, to make sure there's an atmosphere where everyone's voice is respected," says Adams.
While respect in the classroom is not a new concept, the initiative of establishing a week that celebrates respect and diversity through a series of events is unique. The caucus does not know what to expect from the week, but more than anything hopes it can open up a dialogue. The group would also like to make it a recurring event that will grow in future years and include activities and events organized by undergraduate and graduate student organizations and clubs.
"We're really trying to raise awareness about all of these issues," says Adams. "We want students talking to students about how classrooms could be more diverse and more respectful places, and at the same time we want colleagues talking to one another about these issues as well."
The Centre for the Advancement of Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CAETL) is on board with a Friday, Mar. 11 Talking About Teaching session that will address the topic of respectful teaching and respectful learning. Other events include the Monday, Mar. 7 Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group film screening and a Wednesday, Mar. 9 webinar workshop.
"We're hoping that by the end of the week, people are willing and open to talk about making this a much more diverse and respectable place to be, whether it's inside or outside the classroom," says Adams.
As Jiskoot adds, it all starts with initiating the conversation.
"I think the main goal is mutual respect, understanding and gaining an awareness," she says. "Even if people don't actually go to any of the activities, at least if they start talking about it, that's a beginning."
GET THE FACTS
• The CAETL Talking About Teaching seminar features panelists Dr. Suzanne Lenon (Women's Studies), Andrea Glover (Library/FNTP), Dr. Bruce MacKay (Liberal Education) and Dr. Sameer Deshpande (Management). The session is Friday, Mar. 11 from 2 to 4 p.m. in AH100.
• The LPIRG film screening of, The Experimental Eskimo, is Monday, Mar. 7 at 7 p.m., Galileo's Lounge (in the Student Union Building).
• The Wednesday, Mar. 9 webinar is titled, Diversity, Inclusivity, Civility, and runs from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in L1168.
• Gender and Diversity Caucus members include: Dr. Pamela Adams (Education), Dr. Carly Adams (Kinesiology and Physical Education), Ardis Anderson (Philosophy), Dr. Yale Belanger (Native American Studies), Don Gill (Art), Andrea Glover (Library), Dr. Hester Jiskoot (Geography), Dr. Rob Sutherland (Neuroscience), Dr. Janet Youngdahl (Music).
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