Survey sheds light on needs of equity-seeking members

A recent survey of UWOFA members provides a clearer picture of equity-seeking groups on campus.

UWOFA surveyed members in November to gather anonymized data on equity-seeking groups with which members may identify. The responses highlighted potential barriers to employment opportunities that may be experienced by groups beyond those already designated by the federal Employment Equity Act (women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and people of colour). The data will be used to inform recommendations on how to update the university’s Employment Equity Guide.

Wendy Pearson, a women’s studies professor, is one of UWOFA’s representatives on the Joint Employment Equity Committee, which is working on updating the guide. Pearson said it is important that the terminology in the guide be updated to specifically mention equity-seeking groups that go beyond the four federally protected categories. For example, in terms of gender, two survey respondents identified as non-binary or agender; one person identified as two-spirit; and one identified as a transgender man.

“That means there are people in the Ontario Human Rights Code protected category around gender identity and gender expression. But because we focus so heavily on the four federally mandated groups, we don’t actually know who else is around who deserves equity and should be being protected in terms of equity,” Pearson explained.

Terminology emerged as a notable issue in the survey for Treena Orchard, co-chair of UWOFA’s Equity Committee which worked with Pearson on the survey. The vast majority of the 226 respondents did not answer the question “What terminology do you prefer when referring to yourself?” Only 30 people indicated their preference, while 196 skipped ahead to the next question.

“Very often people might want to use more than one terminology,” Orchard said. “Many equity-seeking groups often feel like they are being forced to choose, to fit in a box, or just check other, which is beyond vague and really oppressive and it really makes them not included and contributes to the process of erasure.”

Respondents were also asked about disability, chronic health and mental health conditions. Of those who have a disability or health condition, 24 said the condition emerged or changed since the start of their career at Western.

The updated Employment Equity Guide is expected to be available in July for the 2021-2022 academic year. It is Pearson’s hope that everyone will be able to find themselves in it for appointments and tenure and promotion processes. Pearson is also using the survey responses to inform her work on the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) subgroup of Western’s next Strategic Plan.

“The survey is just a small step towards thinking about how we might find out the answers that we need to know if we’re actually going to deal with EDI in a knowledgeable fashion, not just an aspirational fashion, but in terms of actually knowing who’s here and what they need,” Pearson said.

“I think there’s a lot of promise for taking (the data) to another level – maybe doing a qualitative component,” Orchard added. “There are a lot of different ways that we can use this as a springboard to enrich our understanding of these really important issues.”

Join Queer Caucus at Western

The Queer Caucus at Western was founded in 2008 by Greta Bauer (Epidemiology and Biostatistics), Susan Knabe (FIMS and Women’s Studies) and WG Pearson (Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies).

Its purpose is to provide an intellectual and social community for LGBTQ2I people at Western, with emphasis on academic work, primarily. However, it has also functioned as a social space, including “Purple Pansy Teas” at the Pride Library and “Beers for Queers” at the Grad Club. Members who wish to organize social events are welcome to do so, but the primary work of the Queer Caucus is to promote relevant talks and events dealing with queer and trans issues and, in concert with the Sexuality and Gender Research Group, to organize and run Queer Research Day, which takes place on the third Wednesday of April every year. 2021 should be the twelfth QRD, but the pandemic meant that QRD 2020 had to be cancelled. We have in the past also sponsored talks at Western with visiting speakers from as far afield as the University of Wollongong in Australia.  

The Queer Caucus, like the Western Caucus on Women’s Issues, is an unofficial group that has no funding or official space on campus and is run entirely by volunteers. It is open to faculty, staff, and graduate students and membership is free. Anyone interested in joining the group can do so by emailing queer-caucus [at] uwo [dot] ca