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Exploring equity at McGill

AUS Equity Commissioners discuss equity with The Daily

On March 20, 2013, the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) adopted its Equity Policy, which allowed for the creation of an AUS Equity Committee. Nearly a year later, on February 22, the AUS Equity Committee held its first ever workshop-based conference on equity.

Despite featuring workshops based on sustainability, Indigenous feminisms and anti-capitalism, and transitioning, the conference, entitled “Mythbusting,” did not have a high turnout, with around 15 attendees.

Speaking to The Daily in an interview, Equity Commissioner Hannah Sinclair tied the low turnout to the fact that it was the Equity Committee’s first year in action.

“But we had really fantastic speakers, and people who did come really enjoyed it,” Sinclair added. “We had great discussions.”

The Mythbusting conference is not the only thing the Equity Committee has done over the course of the past year. According to Sinclair, the Committee’s main goal has been trying to get off the ground this year.

“Not a lot of people know about us. It’s definitely about getting the word out that we are a resource, that we are available to people,” Sinclair explained. “We’d love for somebody to come and ask us for help or for information.”

AUS Equity Commissioner Josh Falek told The Daily, “We’re really just trying to institutionalize equity within the AUS, so that later other Equity Commissioners don’t have to be facing the same kind of barriers that we necessarily are.”

One such attempt at institutionalizing equity was a motion adopted on February 12 that aimed to increase equity presence at AUS events. The Equity Policy was amended so that Equity Officers could attend AUS-affiliated events, such as student orientations, without expense to the Commissioners.

Both Falek and Sinclair agreed that the main function of the Equity Committee is to create a culture of knowledge around what equity is supposed to be.

“The best thing to do when we discuss equity is to compare it to equality, because that’s the term most people understand. And equality is usually making everything fifty-fifty; putting everyone on the same level,” Falek explained. “Equity really is understanding the context, in which different people are coming from, and so it means that different people need different things.”

Falek further explained that most students on campus do not know how equity processes work in various student associations. According to him, it became especially visible through Students’ Society of McGill University VP Internal Brian Farnan’s apology, which sparked campus-wide criticism.

“It’s definitely as a result of all of the issues that we’ve been having on campus that people feel like they are being infringed upon, but it’s a false impression,” Sinclair said.

Sinclair explained, “There is a difference between freedom of speech and hate speech. You’re not going to go ahead and say something horrible to a person, right? You want to remember the context that you’re in, whom you’re speaking to.” Sinclair continued, “What we are trying to do is to remind people of what their context is, and where they’re speaking, and to whom they are reaching, and any issues that might bring about.”

“To be fair, though, we’re not calling for censorship,” Falek said. “But we think that it is preferably in line with SSMU and University guidelines, to feel that there are certain words and sentiments that should not be shared on campus.”

“At least in an official capacity,” added Sinclair.

Falek and Sinclair both agreed that if people have complaints about, or do not completely understand, equity, they should be more willing to seek information.

“I always think that the best thing the people can do for equity, if they want to get involved, they want that kind of information, is to contact us, contact SSMU Equity, contact [Engineering Undergraduate Society] Equity, if they want to have a talk, if they want to deal with what they have complaints about, if they want to deal with what they feel is not happening,” Falek explained.

“We have to understand that equity is a process,” Sinclair said. “So we have to see ourselves as being parts of that process, right now. Things, I hope, will continue to improve, and will continue to be more accountable, more transparent, and more equitable.”