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School of Social Work Ratifies New Equity Initiative

Students concerned that their mental health is “pushed to the back burner”

The School of Social Work’s School Council ratified the new Equity Diversity Decolonization Indigenization Initiative (EDDII) at their first formal meeting this semester on October 28. Structured as an open initiative rather than a closed committee, the newly operational EDDII will address five key areas as part of its strategic plan: research, pedagogy, student engagement, governance, and community. At the meeting, students from across the School voiced their concerns with the current state of Social Work at McGill, presenting suggestions to the faculty and EDDII to make the School safer and more inclusive of BIPOC students.

Social Work Professors Katherine Maurer and Wanda Gabriel presented the EDDII Strategic Plan to the Council, outlining how the Plan would improve the School’s curricula and governance to meet the needs of racialized students. Soon after the presentation, U2 Social Work student Jo Roy proposed an amendment to the Strategic Plan written by Social Work student Mina Pingol – among other measures, Pingol’s amendment includes the demand to consult with more racialized students in creating curricula, and to have racialized professors teach the school’s Anti-Oppression courses. Roy expressed concern that without the steps outlined in the amendment, racialized students would continue suffering traumatization at school. “There have been no resources so far. These teachers are not being held accountable and neither are these students,” they said. “Some students, through all this traumatization and victimization and violence, may die as a result of your inaction.”

After Roy proposed the amendment, School of Social Work Director Nico Trocmé suggested that the Council vote on the ratification of the Strategic Plan at a later date, explaining that he did not “see how [the Council could] manage this amendment at this stage of the strategic plan,” without further deliberation. U2 Social Work student Maya Malik pointed out that students had attempted to bring up the same issues during the open meeting on October 26, and students’ concerns had been deferred for later discussion during that meeting as well. Malik claimed that the School’s administration had kept students’ criticisms “pushed to the back burner,” and emphasized the urgency of creating a safer environment for racialized students in the School of Social Work. “Sometimes I feel like I’m dying… I’m so unwell. I don’t know if you understand that,” they said. “I’m just tired of this. It’s really important, it’s not like something to implement in three years.”

Trocmé responded that creating an actionable plan to address these issues would take time, and reiterated that he did not believe it would be possible to incorporate all of the items in Pingol’s amendment into the plan. Other members of the faculty indicated disagreement with elements of the plan, particularly the demand that anti-oppression classes be taught by racialized professors. Pingol countered this, maintaining that previous town halls had not been accessible to students, and that the mental health issues students have been experiencing were too urgent to not be addressed by the Strategic Plan. “The actionable items for the rest of the semester is that racialized students need our mental health to be preserved,” she said, explaining that the school should prioritize its students’ mental health. “I don’t think someone should die for us to look at what’s being talked about.”

Administrators ultimately decided to vote on the Strategic Plan without the amendment, but said that some elements of Pingol’s amendment may be added to the plan later. The Council unanimously voted in favor of implementing the Plan.

While Roy expressed some frustration that the Council hesitated in adopting the motion, they said that students have “set up a good foundation to move forward.” They emphasized that now that racialized students have expressed their demands, it is up to the faculty to meet their needs: “moving forward it is for [teachers] to keep their word and work with us to bring about the pedagogical and policy shifts needed to make the school of social work a safer place for BIPOC students.”

Codey Martin, a Social Work student who has been at the forefront of pushing the School to support and stand with its students, told the Daily that the results of the Council meeting are “the tip of the iceberg.” “It feels like a step towards something better, even though there’s a lot of work left.” Martin explained that he and other students – especially marginalized students and students of colour – have been putting in long hours behind the scenes, and expressed appreciation for the broad support he and his peers have received. To him, the Council’s motion means that the School “can’t go back on” their commitments to speak up for students. Though the meeting was encouraging, he says, “Now the real work starts.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed this amendment to Jo Roy; the original author of the amendment is Mina Pingol. The Daily regrets this error.