University removes deadline for community feedback on their Equity, Diversity and Inclusion plan after pushback from the CSU

The CSU criticized the university’s limited deadline and consultation process with student associations

Concordia University removed the due date for community feedback on their Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) plan after a Concordia Student Union (CSU) press release deplored the university’s limited time span for outsider input.

The EDI plan is a three-phase process that is aimed at implementing equitable hiring practices, increasing diversity, and fostering an inclusive environment on campus.

Phase two of the EDI plan ran from Sept. 2019 to Oct. 2020, culminating in a 32-page report recommending how the plan should be implemented. The report was published by the EDI Working Group, a group mostly consisting of Concordia staff members.

The Working Group released the report for community input on Sept. 10, as part of the last step in phase two before proceeding to the third phase in November.

Initially the university gave a 10-day limit for community input on the recommendations made by the Working Group. This was planned to run from Sept. 10 to 20, which the CSU called an “exclusionary and flawed process.”

“There has been little publicity on this important process,” read the release, published on Sept. 16.

According to Concordia University spokesperson Vannina Maestracci, the deadline was removed around Sept. 17.

Following the press release, the CSU met with Lisa Ostiguy, Chair of the Advisory Group on EDI and Special Advisor to the Provost on Campus Life.

Ostiguy said the intention behind the limited deadline was not to limit feedback, but had to do with the pre-set due date of the EDI’s plan, which is next month.

She said she heard the CSU’s concerns with the EDI plan and process during their meeting together. She said, “we would continue to welcome any feedback, and if the Working Group finalizes their work, it doesn’t mean that the feedback would be lost.”

Any input on the EDI made after the report is complete would be passed along to the third-phase steering committee.

Ostiguy said the university did include student associations’ input throughout the EDI process.

During the second phase, over 40 student groups were contacted by the Working Group and invited to a three-step consultation process in August, which included a video-call information session, a questionnaire, and small group consultation sessions from Aug. 13 to 26.

She also mentioned that Kajol Pasha, a CSU student representative, was a part of the EDI phase one’s Advisory Group and phase two’s Working Group. Both groups had other students in the members list as well.

But according to the CSU and the CSU Legal Information Clinic, more needed to be done to include feedback from student associations.

General Coordinator of the CSU Isaiah Joyner told The Concordian he felt it was problematic that the CSU and other student associations were not heavily involved in the consultation process for the EDI plan.

Joyner said the Working Group did not reach out in a substantial way to centres like the CSU Student Advocacy Centre and the Legal Information Clinic, which “deal with these issues [of racism and discrimination] on the front lines.”

Walter Chi-yan Tom, manager at the Legal Information Clinic, said he is a “frontline worker” in helping students and faculty with issues relating to racism and discrimination.

Tom told The Concordian that the majority of the discrimination complaints he deals with are made by university employees on issues they face in the university workplace.

“Thousands of files we have gone through over the past ten years, they don’t even see that we are important enough to be interviewed as a stakeholder?”

The Legal Information Clinic was not included in the list of 40 student groups that were invited to the three-step consultation process in August.

He says throughout the entire EDI process there was minimal contact to get his input, or for any student associations’ input, compared to the input faculty had on the plan.

Last year’s Advisory Group report states that student associations were “contacted” for input; Tom said what the Advisory Group’s report means by “contacted” is that an email was sent.

“Bottom line, there wasn’t any real consultation or communication,” said Tom.

As the EDI moves into its third-phase — implementation — Tom questioned the report’s general recommendations.

“They are more recommendations on the principles, not necessarily the specific measure[s] for implementation.”

The CSU’s press release listed what they see as “serious flaws” in the Working Group’s report, including no reference to Quebec’s Act of respecting equal access to employment in public bodies, “which requires, among other things, Concordia, like all other universities, to identify and remove systemic barriers to equitable representation of women, Indigenous people, visible minorities, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities in different job categories.”

The press release also stated “that a quick search of the term ‘systemic racism’ or ‘systemic discrimination’ in the report produces no results.”

However, on the report it does state, “We commit to dismantling systemic historic and continued discrimination and inequities at Concordia University.”

In a statement to The Concordian, Maestracci said, “Over the two years, the extensive community consultation opportunities included a survey completed by 700 students, information sessions and six days of consultations in small groups as recently as this August and which included students.”

“The opportunities to take part in the EDI conversation were communicated widely to the Concordia community,” said Maestracci. 



Visuals courtesy of Concordia University

Student Life

Steps towards trans-affirmative health care

Concordia and McGill groups address the need for LGBTQ+ patient-physician allyship

Universal health care is a core value and a major source of pride amongst Canadians. Canada’s medical institutions are expected to meet the needs of a diverse population, yet the conversation around understanding and delivering quality care to meet trans-specific health needs is full of holes, if not entirely absent.

At the end of February, a panel of experts convened at McGill to discuss the ways public health systems perpetuate outdated practices and institutionalized discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. Healthy McGill and the Nursing Peer Mentorship Program facilitated this safe space and invited audience members to bring the potentially offensive, random, or menial questions they might otherwise be afraid to ask about queer and trans health.

Simple things like asking a patient’s pronouns and prefacing potentially sensitive questions can make a huge and lasting difference, said Wong. The willingness of health care workers to learn and use LGBTQ+ friendly language signifies allyship, which is crucial in building the trust needed to give and receive quality care.

For many of the future health care providers in the room, it was their first opportunity to address health care in an LGBTQ+ context with experts working in the field. For others, it was a chance to gain a better understanding of the barriers trans people face when seeking health care in Montreal and beyond.

In A (Not So) Short Introduction to LGBTQIA2S+ Language, bioethicist and trans activist Florence Ashley defines transgender, often shortened to “trans” as, “a person whose gender identity differs from the gender they were assigned at birth.” They point out, “being trans is independent of one’s choice to take hormones or undergo surgeries.” It is not a sexual orientation, nor is it premised on anatomical criteria.

“For health care providers there’s often the confusion between sex (assigned at birth) and gender,” said panelist Kimberly Wong, a youth sexual health educator at AIDS Community Care Montreal. “When we’re talking about sex, we’re really talking about anatomy. Gender is really a self-feeling kind of thing.”

Health care providers often conflate the two, resulting in the frustrating experience of being repeatedly misgendered, interrogated about one’s transition, or forced to bear the burden of educating the physician about transgender realities in general. A strained patient-physician relationship can inhibit one’s willingness to disclose pertinent medical information, or lead to broad assumptions premised on misinformation. “As soon as you start assuming, things go wrong really quickly. So many people end up with substandard care,” said Ashley.

Simple things like asking a patient’s pronouns and prefacing potentially sensitive questions can make a huge and lasting difference, said Wong. The willingness of health care workers to learn and use LGBTQ+ friendly language signifies allyship, which is crucial in building the trust needed to give and receive quality care.

The process of unlearning outdated terms and practices written into medical literature is still in its early stages, and in the meantime trans people have had to seek out resources and services elsewhere. “Trans people are often very good advocates for themselves because they have to be,” said Eve Finley, an equity facilitator at McGill. “That often translates into these very interesting networks of knowledge sharing that happen online and in person.”

The Centre for Gender Advocacy (CGA), based out of Concordia, is one such network for trans people in Montreal. “A lot of people reach out to us or to other trans organizations and we provide them with such important information,” said D.T., trans advocate and public educator at the CGA. “The role of the center is to provide guidance and resources to people, whether Concordia students or not.”

“Change comes from people advocating for their rights to exist,” said  D.T. “That advocacy creates the pressure that cannot be repressed, and it leads to change in policy.”

In collaboration with Concordia Health Services, the CGA reached out to experts in trans health care and organized the opportunity for health services staff to receive training in trans-affirmative care. Concordia is the only university in Quebec to have done so, said D.T, “and they also use the latest approaches to transitioning, namely the informed consent model, where we accompany the person (throughout the process) and validate and affirm their decisions regarding their own body and self.”

Despite the progress made at Concordia, the public system in Montreal is still rife with hostile spaces and ill-informed doctors unable or unwilling to provide trans-competent care. “Outside Concordia, it’s hit or miss.” said D.T. “If you don’t know who the trans-friendly doctors are, you might end up in the wrong place with someone who will not help you affirm your gender and would rather discourage you from being who you are, which is sad in 2019.” To help avoid these pitfalls, the CGA provides an interactive map of health care providers who have denied services to patients on the basis of their trans identities.

“It’s really difficult to find non-judgemental health providers,” said Wong. “There are so many situations where people will not talk to their doctors or seek care because they fear judgement.” When they do, the reported medical problems are often minimized, dismissed, or blamed on unrelated factors. D.T. called it “trans broken arm syndrome,” which refers to the tendency of health care professionals to blame medical problems that someone might have on their trans status. “It still happens a lot, and many trans people choose not to go to the hospital,” said D.T.

The syndrome is not an isolated phenomena, and it’s one with significant repercussions. A 2012 study of trans people’s medical experiences in Ontario found that over half of respondents had negative experiences in clinical settings, and 21 per cent opted not to seek emergency care due to fear of being mistreated. The Twitter hashtag #transhealthfail is an online repository for first-person accounts of such encounters, offering a glimpse at incidents ranging from careless misgendering to outright denials of service from health care providers.

With so few capable physicians in the Montreal area, even those who do manage to seek them out end up waiting weeks or months for an appointment. “We know from research and from people’s personal experiences [that] that time between discovering, affirming to yourself that you are trans and starting transitioning is the time when people go through the most distress,” added D.T. “The longer they wait, the longer they experience dysphoria.”

While the gains made at Concordia signify positive change, D.T said there is still a long way to go to reach a trans-affirmative standard of care in Montreal and beyond. “We know very well that the trans health care field evolves very quickly. There are new needs, new approaches, and so the trainings [Concordia Health Services] did should be ongoing.”

A belief in universal health care is a belief in offering accessible care to meet the unique health needs of all Canadians, and trans-affirmative care is no exception. Of all the things that can be done to improve the quality of services for trans people on a local level, D.T. said it starts with education and advocacy. “Change comes from people advocating for their rights to exist. That advocacy creates the pressure that cannot be repressed, and it leads to change in policy.”

Feature graphic by Mackenzie Lad

Article updated on Jan. 31. 2024 – One of the sources of this article has come forth and requested to be anonymous.

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