Student Success Office and AccessAbility Services Anti-Racism Initiatives (SAARI)

In mid-2020, alongside horrific events like George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, global dialogue around anti-racism, anti-black racism, and the Black Lives Matter movement entered prominent mainstream conversation. Simultaneously, voices across campus began to call for specific anti-racist changes at the University of Waterloo. In this context, the senior leadership teams in the Student Success Office (SSO) and AccessAbility Services (AAS) began to reflect on gaps in our own work and committed to an anti-racist culture change across the units [1].

Within the team’s conversations, we recognized a few things:

  • the staff of these units does not, in most ways, reflect the racial, ethnic or cultural diversity of the student body that the units serve[2].  As we consider how to bridge this gap, we need to ensure we are equipped to support the diverse UWaterloo student body on issues related to race and anti-racism.
  • we need to be intentional about this work and to create space and time to be thoughtful about it. With this in mind, we are leveraging the deep subject matter expertise and lived experience of Sacha Geer, manager, international mobility and intercultural learning in the SSO. Sacha holds a PhD in Cultural Anthropology and will assist in guiding this work.
  • in order to be successful, this work needs also to be intersectional. This means being mindful of the ways that experiences of racism can be compounded by other social identities like gender, sexual orientation, and class.
  • there are issues of systemic racism that are beyond our scope to fully remedy within our units, but we have a responsibility to act where and how we can and to collaborate with others across the University to maximize our impact. This includes addressing and remedying individual, institutional and systemic forms of racism within our scope.
  • this is a living strategy. We understand that goals, terms we use, and approaches to this work will shift and change over time as we continue to learn and deepen our practice.

Feedback on our approach was solicited, received and incorporated from various groups on campus, including UWaterloo’s Equity Office and Indigenous Initiatives Office, the Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association and the Graduate Student Association. Solicitation of feedback and formal consultation on this work will be ongoing and will include UWaterloo students and others as needed in a respectful manner.

This work is anti-racist in focus, but the framework and guiding principles may be used to support other equity-deserving groups on campus as we continue to expand our practice.

[1] It bears mentioning that this lack of diversity relative to the student body is also true to varying degrees when considering other markers of diversity within the unit such as age, gender, gender expression, and sexuality.

[2] Here we define ‘anti-racist’ or anti-racism as an active and consistent process of change to eliminate individual, institutional, and systemic racism within the scope of our work.

[3] We understand that this guiding principle is difficult to enact fully at present, given how few Black, Indigenous and other people of colour work within and with the SSO and AAS. One of our strengths is our ability to make decisions collaboratively, but we recognize that there is a lack of diversity around our tables which means that important perspectives are unavailable or underrepresented. Until we are more broadly inclusive, we understand this guiding principle to mean that we need to seek out these perspectives intentionally, respectfully and meaningfully.