As academics, we cherish the fall for the opportunity to meet new students and to reconnect with old colleagues. This semester, however, a distinct heaviness weighs on our return to the university — questions about safety raised by the chilling University of Waterloo attack last June. This horrific event highlighted the need to be proactive to ensure staff and students who undertake our university’s own important work on gender studies are protected. These concerns remain top of mind for AASUA this fall.
So too does the rising trend of extremism targeting gender studies and anti-racism in academic study. In the United States, we have witnessed legislation changes in Florida targeting Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) initiatives, as well as Gender Studies and African American Studies. This legislation poses a substantial threat to the ability of academic staff to exercise our academic freedom, and sets a dangerous precedent for political interference in the governance of North American post-secondary institutions.
The connections between the UWaterloo attack and the fearmongering surrounding Gender Studies, critical race theory, and intersectional theory that fueled this legislation are undeniable. What will be critical in our mission as educators and researchers going forward is ensuring that we contribute in every way we can to the dismantling of fear and instead uphold what’s dear to us: the pursuit of knowledge and inquiry.
Our membership is not a monolith — we hold different employment types, political views, and belong to many demographics. These differences arguably make us stronger as we speak with one voice in support of high-quality education in Alberta. Fostering a culture where academic freedom cannot be eroded by alarmism and hate is paramount to upholding our work as academics.
In the wake of the June attack, there has been important discussion on the immediate work university administrations across Canada can undertake to best support those who learn and teach within their walls. One measure some academic staff unions are calling for is the removal of publicly posted location information of classes related to gender, sexuality, and critical race studies. Last June, Interim Provost and Vice-President (Academic) Verna Yiu said this is among the measures the Employer was exploring, including “collaborating with those who teach and research in these areas to identify actions, and advancing conversations around restorative practices.”
Indeed, the best way forward remains one where the Employer stays accountable to AASUA members. As a union, I want you to see AASUA as a forum to amplify our voices so they can effectively shape the direction the Employer takes going forward. Equally, I want you to know our union is a place where these conversations centred on building a safe university can take place. Ultimately, we are the union, and our power is that we can build shared understandings that result in collective action. As with all issues, members are welcome to message me directly, or bring an item of discussion before council (as outlined in Article 4.6.10 of our Bylaws).
As we are in a bargaining year, the centrality of union work and collective action in pursuit of positive change is especially tangible. This September, our Bargaining Planning Committee, composed of our seven Constituency Directors, will review all the bargaining priorities we drafted through consultation last year. Then, pending approval from Council, and Executive approving the bargaining mandate, we will be off to the races. This means ramping up our strike preparedness to ensure we are ready for any outcome.
With these manifold challenges of improving our working conditions ahead of us, I want us to boldly imagine the way our university could be when are voices are consistently front and centre. There is a safer, more equitable university we can achieve together, and union solidarity is a cornerstone of getting to the finish line.