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‘We want to create real possibilities for access, inclusion and belonging’

Concordia’s Critical Feminist Activism and Research project offers a road map for equity work on and off campus
October 18, 2017
By Kimberley Manning

Just a few of the faculty and students involved in the work of C-FAR (rear to front): Rosemary Reilly, Meghan Gagliardi, Kimberley Manning, Karen Herland, Eldad Tsabary, Hilary Rose, Adeela Arshad-Ayaz and Ayaz Naseem. Just a few of the faculty and students involved in the work of C-FAR (rear to front): Rosemary Reilly, Meghan Gagliardi, Kimberley Manning, Karen Herland, Eldad Tsabary, Hilary Rose, Adeela Arshad-Ayaz, Ayaz Naseem.

Kimberley Manning is principal of Concordia’s
Simone de Beauvoir Institute and associate professor of political science in the Faculty of Arts and Science.

Across Canada, universities are at a turning point.

The three major Canadian granting agencies recently stipulated that all universities must include a diversity plan when they submit proposals for Canada Research Chairs. The time has finally come for the academy to focus on inclusivity within its long-exclusive ranks.

Here at Concordia, we are poised to embrace that challenge, thanks in part to a long history of equity activism and to an exciting new chapter of social innovation in the shape of the Critical Feminist Activism and Research (C-FAR) project.

Funded by Concordia’s Faculty of Arts and Science as an integral part of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, C-FAR is a community-building, research and training initiative emerging from an intersectional feminist framework. At the project’s core are anti-racist and anti-oppressive approaches to equity, inclusion and representation on campus and across communities.

Those of us working on C-FAR are trying to address the challenges of a higher education system in flux. Based upon a year of consultation and an extensive review of the literature, we are exploring different methodologies to realize new possibilities for disruptive change both inside and outside of the university. 

‘Equity work must be rewarded, collective and sustainable’

Our growing team of faculty, staff, students and community partners are developing innovative projects to address, among other needs: anti-racist curriculum in elementary schools and communities, support for gender and sexuality alliances in high schools, and workshops geared toward teenagers that combine developing skills in a specific field — such as electroacoustics — with feminist, anti-oppressive learning. 

C-FAR’s approach to institutional transformation recognizes that the challenges of racism and sexism neither begin nor end with the university. But we believe a feminist institution can serve as a fulcrum through which solutions to these challenges, and many other forms of exclusion, can be realized. 

Of course, equity work such as this is not new. Scholars — and particularly women of colour — have been proposing systemic approaches to institutional transformation for nearly three decades. In order for the work to be effective, they argue, it must be rewarded, collective and sustainable.

Indeed, the goal is not just to increase diversity amongst the professoriate, but to ensure that everyone involved is able to add equity work into their pre-existing commitments.

‘Real possibilities for access, inclusion and belonging’

If we have learned one thing during C-FAR’s first year of consultations, it is that when equity work is the responsibility of those who are the most impacted by inequities, it becomes a burden.

To this end, we are running the first-ever “Feminist University” seminar with the philosophy that everyone who participates and contributes to the course must benefit in tangible ways. 

Specifically, undergraduate students who complete the class will earn six credits, graduate student research assistants will be paid for their time, faculty mentors will advance their research and community partners will deepen their impact. 

Building off of Karen Herland’s pioneering teaching on feminism, activism, and social justice, our team has crafted a course that creates multiple opportunities for embedded learning, research, and social change. 

We are also working closely with the administration to support new efforts to diversify Concordia’s hiring practices. The recent decision to hire Mark Villacorta as the university’s first senior lead of Equity and Diversity is a crucial step in the right direction, as is the establishment of the Indigenous Directions Leadership Group

In the coming weeks and months, we hope more members of the Concordia community will join in the work of creating real possibilities for access, inclusion and belonging — whether through C-FAR or other initiatives under way on campus.

On October 20 and 27, attend one of Concordia’s Critical Feminist Activism and Research (C-FAR) project-launch and community call-in events. 
Register today or sign up for the C-FAR mailing list to learn more.


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