This blog post was part of the coursework for the Ethnographic Practicum course, “Ethnography of the University 2021: Focus on Diversity.” It was originally posted in the category “Doing Diversity Work.”
Diversity is a diversion from what is normal. One student leader described the University of Toronto to be a very “white space”. As such, diversity work can take the form of creating spaces within the University that divert from such white spaces. In this post, I examine how student led groups and administratively led groups work to create these “non-white” spaces within the University. While they both have the same aim of increasing diversity, the structures, advantages, and disadvantages of each of these groups greatly differ.
Vic BLVCK is a student-led group within Victoria College that aims to build connections between incoming and current Black students, and to connect Black students to the vast array of resources offered by Victoria college. I received an invitation to attend one of the executive meetings of the group.
Upon logging into the zoom meeting, I noticed 5 other boxes on the screen of my computer. Each of them was filled with the face of one the student executive members of the group. The ambience of the meeting was very informal. There was a lot of laughter and joyful conversation before the President of the group called order to the meeting. While this was a short check-in meeting, the first item on the agenda was a discussion about funding. Since it had been a struggle to garner enough funding in the previous year, the possibility of having more than enough funding in the current school year was a source of excitement for everyone present. As one of the executive members proclaimed, “You can go wild on Black History Month”! The events the group can organize, and how many Black students they can reach, are limited by how much money they can obtain from Victoria College.
Administrator-led student groups also work to increase diversity but they differ in several ways. This was seen in my observation of the Black Student Experience (BSE) working group within Innis College. In the BSE Black students are encouraged to share their experiences and challenges with administrators and faculty members. The hope is to use the experiences and recommendations of Black students to increase diversity within the college.
Upon logging into the BSE Microsoft Teams meeting, I noticed the faces of familiar administrators on my screen. Like me, the students who trickled in kept their cameras off. The atmosphere was neither tense nor uncomfortable as the administrative members conversed with each other. After a few minutes, the secretary of the group- another administrative member- called the meeting to order. One important point on the agenda was a discussion of a scholarship. The principal of the college wanted to give every incoming Black student some money. One student present at the meeting expressed her concern that such a scholarship did not seem sustainable. In response, an administrative member informed her that it was the College’s job to worry about money. The College makes several decisions about where to spend their money; this was something they could easily work out.
In comparison to the student led groups, the administrative led group was more formal. There was also a clear sense of hierarchy between administrators and students. The administrator- led group had more funding so money was hardly discussed. In spite of their differences both groups were committed to improving the experience of Black students within the University of Toronto.