Fall 2020 issue

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newsletter for faculty and staff | fall 2020

How are we doing so far?

» Sheila Ager, Dean of Arts

So here we are with the fall edition of Inside Arts, the last for this year. This piece is a bit lengthy, but I did want to say some things to you all as we anticipate the end of 2020. The holiday season is just a few weeks away, and I think we’re all looking forward desperately to getting a break, staff, faculty, and students alike.

When I sent my last update to the Faculty on November 8, you may recall that I suggested people could send me their thoughts on just what the sorest pressure points are for them this year. Recognizing that we’re all stressed, it’s also true that people’s individual life circumstances can make a big difference in how that stress plays itself out and where it has the greatest impact. A lot of people responded to my invitation, and I thought it might be of some help to share some of what they had to say (anonymized, of course!). While it’s true that individual life circumstances create individual situations, it’s also true that we share a lot of those circumstances, and maybe it’s a bit of a relief to know that others are experiencing the same thing(s).

Working from home brings with it the (impossible?) challenge of trying to keep our work lives and home lives separate. Being at work and being at home can each provide a respite from the other under ordinary circumstances, but the current situation doesn’t allow for that. And this is probably most conspicuous for those of us with family responsibilities.

And even with a high comfort level with the technology, there is still the sheer time that needs to go into remote teaching prep that we normally don’t need to do for the “live” experience. And I’m cognizant too of the different teaching loads that instructors (tenure-line and lecturer) in the Faculty carry: for some, the regular annual load is as low as three courses, for others, it’s as high as seven. For individuals teaching in all three terms, there have been no breathers at all, and I know that they have been working flat-out without a break.

Many of our tenure-line faculty have been able to adjust to the heightened teaching demands by pushing research obligations temporarily to the side, but here too there’s a great deal of unevenness. Some research programs can be put on hiatus more easily than others (in spite of certain deadlines and obligations, for example, I recognize that I’m fortunate to be in a position where I can hit the pause button for the time being). Moreover, I know that our probationary faculty are particularly uneasy about the immediate and the knock-on effects that interruption of their research program can have on their tenure applications down the line. This is an opportunity to remind folks that tenure-track faculty will have the opportunity to delay their tenure application for a year because of COVID, but I’m well aware that this provision does not remove all the anxiety. I also know from personal experience that it’s not easy to just pick up the threads of a research project after one has had to set it aside for a time – I always thought of it as a need to “rebuild the mental architecture” of the project, and that was always time-consuming.

And on a personal level – well, we’re all just missing people. But some of us are more isolated than others. Again, it comes down to a combination of personal life circumstances and the nature of our jobs. Someone with no close family living nearby and with a job that doesn’t require a great deal of interaction may be feeling far lonelier than those who are living with family or, like me, have so many meetings that there is no chance for a bio-break between them.

There’s more that people shared and that I’d like to say on this front, and I want to come back to this topic in future updates (and I welcome suggestions for ways to mitigate our challenges). I’m aware, however, that this piece is at least three times as long as it’s supposed to be, so I need to wind up. I’m sharing these thoughts in part so that people will know that others may be facing the same challenges. But another important reason for sharing is so that all of us can be aware that others may be going through all kinds of things that we don’t know about. So compassion and flexibility are in order, as well as an acknowledgement that COVID has struck us all, as it has society in general, unevenly – and I believe that this is really important for those of us in managerial roles to keep in mind.

A word to those of you feeling anxieties about the upcoming performance assessment season: no one can possibly expect you to have been as “productive” during this year as you might normally be. I know that people are anxious as performance review time approaches, and I want to remind you that, for both staff and faculty, we’ll be taking a different approach this year. And to remind you also that if you choose not to be evaluated on this or that aspect of your work during 2020, no one has the right to ask you to justify your reasons.

Sheila Ager

Whether it’s childcare or eldercare – or both – the balancing act is strenuous and unrelenting. As one of the more, ahem, senior members of the Faculty, I don’t personally have either childcare or eldercare responsibilities these days, and I still feel like I’m constantly scrambling to keep up with work. For those with family care obligations – and given the age range of most of our faculty and staff, that’s probably the majority of you – it can be absolutely exhausting, and I know it has been for many.

It isn’t just the nature of our personal and family circumstances that has an effect on the impact of the pandemic on each of us, it’s also the nature of our individual jobs. For instance, I know that those of you engaged in student advising, both faculty and staff, have seen the demands on your time skyrocket with the pandemic. Not only have your actual duties expanded to embrace the management of many different aspects of the pandemic, you’re also faced with far more one-on-one communication with students, many of whom are experiencing levels of mental and emotional strain they’re unaccustomed to dealing with. You’re in these roles because you care about students, and helping people deal with mental stressors certainly has the capacity to drive up our own levels of emotional distress.

As for the demands of teaching, well, they’ve been immense for everyone this year. Still, here too, I think COVID has struck unevenly, even though it’s true that for all of us there are only 24 hours in the day (though it’s beginning to feel as though there are at least 17 days in the week as I lurch from one weekend to the next). Some are more accustomed to remote teaching and the positive opportunities it can offer, while for others it’s been a harder adjustment to do the “pivot”.

As always, I feel the need to include a somewhat lighter note, and dang, but I just can’t seem to keep away from the felines. I love cats, as you have probably gathered by now, but I do like to think I’m not sentimental about them. Unlike a friend of mine who consistently addresses her cats with the words “Do you love me more than life itself?” I’ve always thought that she’s just begging for disappointment on that one.

My own (if I can call her “mine”) may look innocent and helpful as she perches on a pile of work on top of my desk (she’s perfected the art of sleeping sitting up), but she also spends significant amounts of her time under my desk attacking my ankles. I presume that the behaviour is intended both to capture my attention (“Notice me!”) and to punish me for failing to do so. So what I wanted to share with you is that cats can be real jerks. And I’d include a picture of my ankle too, but it’s a bit too gruesome.

Cat sitting on top of a large pile of books and papers

I truly hope that you all have the opportunity to take a breather when the holidays come – in fact, I’m telling you that I want you to make it a priority, even if it feels you are leaving other things left undone. Our next edition of Inside Arts won’t appear till the new year, so I leave you with one of the best versions of Auld Lang Syne ever.

Q and A with Dr. Christopher Taylor, Black Equity Strategist and Anti-Racism Advisor, and professor of history

Christopher Taylor was appointed Black Equity Strategist and Anti-Racism Advisor in the Faculty of Arts by Dean Sheila Ager this fall. The position was established in response to urgent calls for the University and the Faculty to take action against racism, and particularly in this context, anti-Black racism.

Christopher Taylor

Tell us about your dual role as Black Equity Strategist and Anti-Racism Advisor?

First of all, working on equity and anti-racism are two different but parallel things. The anti-racism piece is looking at the system, changing it, confronting it, challenging it. The race equity piece is about what we’re doing for the Black students already in the weeds of the system.

On the Black Equity Strategist side, I’m focused on Black students and how we make their experience much better. Specifically, what can I — who identify as a cishet (cisgender and heterosexual), able-bodied, Black male — do to help these students? How do we ensure they have an experience that is much more fruitful and beneficial for them? For example, if they want to get into co-op or have mentorship opportunities, what kind of conversations are we having about what we can offer them? What can I do to help them graduate and prepare for a future beyond UW?

Anti-racism is fundamentally about challenging and changing structures and systems, including policies, practices and procedures. For example, how do we shift away from how we currently present curricula? How do we shift away from euro-centric epistemologies? How, and whom, we hire?

How are you collaborating with and supporting Black students in Arts?

First, I have to give credit to a Black student for even bringing me into this space. She came to my office when I’d been at Waterloo for just a week to talk to me about what’s happening. I found that if you have a connection with students, if you have a good working relationship with them, you can really get the pulse of what’s happening in a particular institution.

One of the big things I do with students is expose them to the system, particularly the Black students in my classes. And I say to them, look, I’m not going to tell you how you should be, but I do want you to see how the system works and how you can decide what you want to do to navigate it, accept it, or change it. That’s what I want to do with Black students: support them academically and professionally.

In another area, I would say that, unfortunately, we have is a lack of resources for supporting the mental health of Black students —particularly when incidents happen on campus and they feel they have nowhere else to go. So, they come to me or the handful of other Black faculty on campus. I’ve pretty much been the Black Equity Strategist for a while, and now it’s been formalized.

What are the current ideas regarding anti-racism curricular changes?

We’re still working out the particulars, but when it comes to developing a Black Studies program, Dr. Kathy Hogarth at Renison and Dr. Vershawn Young in Communication Arts are leading that project. This curricular development does fall under my purview in this role.

But it does need to be said that just because there will be a Black Studies program doesn’t mean there does not need to be a review of curricula across departments. We need to ask: What are we doing to engage more with Black topics? For example, I come from the History department: How do we examine how we teach global history? How do we reframe and include the Transatlantic Slave Trade within global history? Every major European country had a role to play in the Trade, so why is this not a part of European History? When we teach the French Revolution, where is Toussaint and Dessalines? Where is Guadeloupe in Canadian History? Do our texts include Black philosophers, theorists, and thinkers such as Baldwin and Fanon? Do we think of transnational law by including what happened in Rwanda? How do we think of Blackness beyond African Americans? Are we considering Blackness in Brazil, for instance, where there is the largest population of Black people outside of the African continent? So, when we look at curricula across Arts, we need to ask if we’re including Blackness as an add-on or as integral to human history, which it is.

What kinds of changes to course content can be made right now?

I think we canreally focus on anti-racist pedagogy and anti-racist language. And these are things that we can do in our syllabi right now. For example, if we’re engaging with the term BIPOC in the classroom, do we know if everyone knows what it means to say Black, Indigenous and People of Colour? Do we know that this BIPOC term in fact reinforces anti-Black racism and perpetuates the lateral violence of settler colonialism? Are we really engaging with the land acknowledgement and understand what it means that our university is on the Haldimand Tract? Do we know what decolonization means as opposed to anti-colonization? Are the courses we teach drawing connections between systems of oppression, climate change, patriarchy? Are we articulating how these systems of oppression are tied to white supremacy?

Please expand on how the term BIPOC reinforces racism.

When we use the term “BIPOC” it is an essentialist reduction of all “non-white” people as one homogenous group. It is effectively the 2020 version of the term “visible minority.”

As it relates to anti-Black racism, we have seen over the course of the summer and fall, folks and institutions adopting the term BIPOC in an attempt to confront anti-Black racism. What happens is Blackness, and Black people, get subsumed under this “BIPOC” umbrella without actually addressing the specific and unique factors that support and perpetuate anti-Black racism. If we have too few Black faculty on campus, why do we need a strategy to hire more BIPOC faculty? If Black people are being killed by the police, why do we need a strategy to address how BIPOC folks are treated by the police? If we need a Black Studies Program, why do we need a BIPOC-focused program? It’s a form of lateral violence. It’s an Oppression Olympics of pitting “non-white” peoples against each other for limited resources. The oppressor has coopted the language of the oppressed in an attempt to pretend that anti-Black racism, or anti-Indigenous racism, or Islamophobia can be fixed with an acronym.

Can we really say that BIPOC is different than saying All Lives Matter?

Tell us a bit about the Black Faculty Collective.

The Black Faculty Collective came out of centuries of collective struggles against white supremacy, but was galvanized by the events of spring 2020 and the shifts happening globally. We have about 13 Black faculty in campus, and only two are full professors. Here is our vision statement: “The Black Faculty Collective envisions an equitable learning, working, research and teaching environment at the University of Waterloo.” Our mission is: “By centering Blackness, our mission is to transform our institutions by and confronting, challenging and dismantling white supremacy within our policies, structures, teaching and communities.”

The Black Faculty Collective is also a community space so we can come together and unpack our challenges. Pretty much anything that is happening in the EDI-R (equity, diversity, inclusivity, and anti-racism) space, the collective is there.

How can white faculty and staff, in our particular roles, support Black equity and anti-racism?

We all have spheres of influence, and we need to recognize that we can influence interactions with Black and Indigenous folx and other People of Colour on campus. So that might mean to pause before acting, to catch micro-aggressions that can actually impact how a student does on an exam, for example. We all need to be mindful and introspective, be aware of our positionality and the power that we have.

To address a problem, institutions often say, Let’s form a committee. But why? We need to re-think these outdated and euro-centric models of change that just end up being MWPs (Make Work Projects) that placate demands for action. It’s really about what you as individuals in the system are going to do to make a difference. Yes, there are structural things that we need to understand and change, but that can also make us flip off our personal responsibilities. Racism, and particularly white supremacy, is all of our problem.

Also, engage with me in this role: check in with me if you have questions about what you are doing.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I want faculty and staff to know that I’m not here to demonize white people. I’m not scary! Don’t listen to false narratives. Demanding and advocating for change, staying firm on your beliefs, and living with integrity, does not make you the ‘Angry Black person.’ Nor does it make you difficult to work with. I think when people see the title Black Equity Strategist and Anti-Racism Advisor, it might appear that Christopher is anti-white. No. I’m anti-oppression, I’m anti-racism and I’m anti-white supremacy as a system.

One other thing I’d like to advocate to whomever is reading this is to understand that white supremacy is actually a detriment to white people too. So, if we are making this environment —A. much more equitable for Black students, B. much more anti-oppressive and anti-racist for all — it’s going to benefit every single person on campus, whether you’re white, Black, or purple.

One of the parallels I want people to think about is connecting white supremacy with other forms of oppression like patriarchy and rape culture. That’s a key piece of the Black Equity Strategist: I’m not just here for Black men or Black women; I’m here for all the intersections of Blackness. The non-binary, the non-conformist. And when we talk about the Anti-Racism Advisor, I’m advocating for all students, faculty and staff — everyone.

Support the Student Success Pivot Fund this Giving Tuesday

» Phoebe Wong, Senior Alumni Engagement Officer, Arts Advancement

Why is Doug Peers sparing with Porcellino, trying to out-write Shakespeare and picking a fight with the Pickle Forks?

Remote video URL

About the Student Success Pivot Fund

The global pandemic has made it abundantly clear that the ability to pivot resources is a vital part to our unwavering commitment to academic excellence. That’s why we’ve established the Student Success Pivot Fund, a flexible, unrestricted fund to help ensure students in all our programs reach their full potential, no matter what the future throws their way.

December 1 is Giving Tuesday – a day when we invite Arts faculty and staff to join with alumni in celebrating the Faculty’s 60th anniversary by supporting our Student Success Pivot Fund.

This year, when we reach 60 donors making a gift to the Student Success Pivot fund, an extra $3,000 gift donated by former Dean, Douglas Peers, will be unlocked.

If you are a position to make a gift, we would be deeply grateful. Your contribution, no matter the size, will help us leverage Doug’s matching funds. If giving isn’t an option currently, I encourage you to view and share our Giving Tuesday message with your social circles.

I’m proud to make a gift to this fund and I invite you to join our alumni and me and make a gift on December 1st.

How are they doing? Student perspectives

» Kimberly Shpeer, Arts and Business Co-op, ACO Technical Writer

As 2019 ended many people couldn’t wait for a fresh start, a clean slate or a new beginning promised by a new year. Eleven months in, we have faced a pandemic, natural disasters, and economic downturns leading many to say, 2020 is the worst year ever.

The Coronavirus pandemic brought a harsh new reality that all of us have to face. Thousands of small businesses have shutdown, millions of people lost their jobs, people began self-isolating, and wearing mandatory masks as COVID-19 rules were enforced, and schools had to relocate to online teaching.

Three Waterloo Arts students, including myself, the author of this article, have shared our thoughts on working remotely during co-op and study terms while living through a pandemic.

Tarannom Haghighi is a 3A Arts and Business student who cannot wait for the day the pandemic is over and she can finally go back to living a normal life. During the spring, Tarannom had her first online study term. Did she enjoy learning from home? It was bearable, to say the least. Tarannom lives at home with her parents and younger brother and had to adapt to studying in a home environment with constant distractions. “My parents love spending time with my brother and I, which is why I used to spend my whole day on campus to get work done. It became harder to focus on schoolwork as I had to adjust to a new way of learning. And the reality of living through a pandemic did not help.” Once her spring term ended and her fall work term started, Tarannom had a better grasp on managing a “work from home” lifestyle, but still felt the isolation compared to working alongside your co-workers. However, she enjoys the short commute to work which includes two steps from her bed to her desk.

Stefania (Stef) Stachura is a 4A Arts and Business student and Arts Ambassador who took an optimistic approach to handling work and school during a pandemic. Stef worked two back-to-back co-op terms with the Arts Undergraduate Office as a Special Events, Marketing, and Social Media Associate. She was able to work in the office until March then had to suddenly switch to working from home. Sharing a workspace with her mother was a bigger adjustment than switching to online work. After eight months of not being in class, Stef came face to face with the daunting fall study term. Going from co-op to a study term is an adjustment in itself. Now adding a pandemic and doing online schooling for the first time, the transition is even more difficult. “As an Arts Ambassador we tell high school students that 80% of the work is done on our own time and 20% is in class. Now 100% is done on our own time, meaning you have to have total self-reliance and be an expert at time management.” As the fall term comes to an end, Stef feels like she is ready to conquer another online term in January.

Kimberly Shpeer

Last but not least, me, Kimberly Shpeer. I am in my 3A term as an Arts and Business student. As much as I miss being on campus and working in person, I don’t mind the new work from home approach. I was on a study term during the spring, which at first felt like a nightmare as the thought of remote work through a pandemic seemed nearly impossible, but after a month in, it was actually very manageable. I enjoyed the relative freedom I had not going to classes and replacing that with more time spent at the cottage up north. My classes were easy to follow online and my professors were very understanding of the situation we were all dealing with. I can happily say the same about my work term. A large portion of my job as a Technical Writer for the Arts Computing Office (ACO) can be done online, making working from home a rather easy transition. I am hopeful that 2021 will bring us some good news, and hopefully I’ll be able to attend an in-person class one more time before I graduate.

It’s only uphill from here! As the fall term winds down and 2020 comes to a gracious end, we can only anticipate what the new year will bring.

Royal Society of Canada: two new members from Arts

In case you missed this happy fall announcement, two Arts faculty members are among the Royal Society of Canada’s Class of 2020. Professor Imre Szeman (Communication Arts) was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC), one of Canada’s most distinguished scholarly honours. Professor Jay Dolmage (English) was named to the RSC’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, representing top mid-career leaders in Canada.

Imre Szeman is an internationally-acclaimed cultural theorist. His landmark research establishes the shaping influence of fossil-fuel dependency on modern society. Szeman’s work propelled a new discipline – ‘energy humanities’ – which grapples with the cultural transformations required for a global shift to sustainable and renewable forms of energy. A highly collaborative, interdisciplinary and public-facing scholar, he is the co-founder of the Petrocultures Research Group and numerous initiatives advocating for energy transition.

Jay Dolmage is the Founding Editor of the highly impactful Canadian Journal of Disability Studies. Winner of the 2015 PROSE award, Dolmage’s work brings together rhetoric, disability studies, and critical pedagogy, in an accessible yet ground-breaking body of articles, talks, and workshops. A fierce advocate for disability rights, Dolmage is committed to publishing Open Access and accessible material and helped to author the international guidelines for accessible electronic books.

Imre Szeman
Jay Dolmage
close up of coronavirus molecules

ARTS 490: Pandemic

Could it be more topical? This winter term’s Global Engagement Seminar (ARTS 490) will focus on the pandemic through multiple lenses. Entering its fourth year, the Seminar is a senior undergraduate course that brings together students from across the University with experts and mentors to tackle contemporary global problems.

The 2021 course instructors are professors Shana MacDonald (Department of Communication Arts) and Shannon Majowicz (School of Public Health and Health Systems). The Jarislowsky Fellows this year include Pam Palmater, Indigenous scholar and lawyer, Tim O’Shea, infectious diseases expert, and Joan Donovan, Harvard expert in internet and technology studies.

If you work with upper-year students who might be interested in ARTS 490, please suggest they check out the Global Engagement Seminar website and enroll.

Humans and... Arts and Advancement 2020-21 series

This academic year, the Faculty of Arts is collaborating with central Advancement to present a panel series that focuses on the human being at the centre of some of today’s most compelling issues and challenges.

The first of these events, Humans and Health, took place this month and was moderated by Arts alumnus Stacey Daub (MA ’99) with panelists Professor Heather MacDougall (Department of History), Professor Emmanuelle Piérard (Department of Economics), and Dr. Cornelia (Nel) Wieman (MSc ’91), alumnus of Applied Health Sciences.

In the winter term, we look forward to Humans and Work, and Humans and Climate (the latter to be moderated by Professor Imre Szeman, Department of Communication Arts). Visit the Humans and... event page.

Watch the Humans and Health panel

On November 19, UWaterloo alumni and friends across North America were invited to join this experts’ panel discussion focused on the Human at the centre of Health in Canada – what we have learned, what we know, and what we need.

Remote video URL


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Inside Arts is published each term. Comments, ideas, and submissions are always welcome. Please contact Wendy Philpott.