Equity Champion: Treena Orchard

UWOFA’s Equity Committee has developed a series of profiles highlighting the perspectives and contributions related to equity among UWOFA members. They are also designed to help facilitate conversations about the ‘everyday’ nature of equity, and inequity, among our members. The profiles will be featured in Faculty Times and on this website.

1.What role does equity play in your work and/or everyday life?

Equity plays a key role in every aspect of my life, whether in the classroom, doing fieldwork, or at yoga- we all need to have a place that’s safe, cared for, and our own. It structures how I put together my courses, all of which engage with different issues that impact the lives of people who are relegated to society’s margins. It is vital for our students, and colleagues who might not delve into these issues very often, to consider how inequity and equity impact the everyday realities of different groups of people. We’re all connected, and not just in a happy social media kind of way, but in a fundamental, messy way that has to do with power, privilege, and the need to speak out and to be heard. Equity streams into all aspects of life, including the yoga studio because it is connected with safe engagement and respecting our respective journeys, mistakes, and desires.

2. Where did your interest in these issues stem from?

Where everything stems from: childhood! My mom was always very caring and mindful of the needs of certain family members who didn’t always get a fair go at life. It was the same with animals- especially cats. Civil rights, the voices of women, and others who had experienced trauma were among the issues she supported and still does. The circles I entered into while spending time with my dad were also very influential and they included women, artists, and Indigenous activists, and feminists from many camps. I also had the opportunity to spend time with kids from diverse socio- racial groups, which was a formative learning experience about how different- and often similar- our lives are.

3. Is Western a supportive environment for equity work/issues?

I have consistently felt supported in my research and teaching about various equity/inequity issues, however, as a white woman with tenure I speak from a very privileged position. Western hasn’t always been as consistently supportive to other faculty, service staff, and administrative members, which isn’t a surprise because like any political institution the university is an extension of the stratified society in which it is situated. However, Western has been more responsive to issues of race and diversity thanks in part to the Black Lives Matter movement and the long-overdue acknowledgment that racism exists on our campus. This is reflected in the formation of the President’s Anti-Racism Working group and Anti-Racism Taskforces in the Faculty of Health Sciences as well as the Social Sciences.

4. What are some of the equity-related accomplishments you’re most proud of?

I’m proud to help reconfigure the discourse about women in sex work, not only in terms of the health risks and structural violence they experience but also their subjectivities as unique people in the world. Understanding how they see their lives is critical to unraveling stereotypes and harmful stigmas. These insights guide my research, activism, teaching, professional interactions, and discussions with family, friends and all people, really! Tracing the career paths of my former students and seeing them become increasingly political and established in jobs where they use some of the things I taught them is particularly special.

5. How about disappointments or unforeseen challenges in your equity work?

The reluctance among certain Civic administrators to support my research with women in sex work and acknowledge its relevance to local social and health policies was frustrating. This has since changed, but for many years I was engaged in emotionally challenging, vital research that was recognized globally and nationally, but not in the city where it matters most. Another thing that’s disappointing is when equity work is seen as sexy, trendy or as something perfunctory or mandatory to include in policy or programmatic initiatives. Framing the lives of the marginalized in these ways can reproduce the conditions in which inequities flourish and make the researchers engaged in this work feel like tokens in a game of institutional chess.

Treena Orchard is co-chair of UWOFA’s Equity Committee and an associate professor in the School of Health Studies.