Annual Progress Reports; screenshot from UBCO Declaration of TRC Commitments

After an almost month-long hiatus, numerous UBC Committee’s reconvened back-to-back on April 7 and 8 to discuss several topics on their agenda. While there were many topics of discussion, notable topics included two progress reports: the UBC Okanagan Declaration of Truth & Reconciliation Commitments 2020 Annual Progress Report and the Equity & Inclusion Office Annual Report 2019-2021.

The UBC Declaration of Truth and Reconciliation Commitments report “details progress towards these commitments and celebrates achievements in Indigenous engagement and reconciliation at UBC Okanagan.” There are five commitments that are discussed in the report, but commitments (3) and (4) were talked about more extensively during this meeting. Commitment 3 is the commitment to “Develop and implement activities that support the revitalization of language fluency.” This progress is seen through the approval and development of the Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency on the Okanagan campus led by Dr. Jeannette Armstrong, the academic lead of the BNLF program and a professor of Indigenous Studies at UBCO. According to the report:

“The degree will respond to the urgent need to revitalize Indigenous languages and deliver language speakers at a high proficiency level through full immersion in their communities. Following approval from the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, the degree will be implemented in 2021. Community leadership is fundamental to the Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency, with courses taught in the community by Elders and native speakers, allowing for the full immersion of students.”

Commitment 4 was also discussed during the progress report. This commitment seeks to “Advance Indigenous teaching and research through positive incentives and strategies...” A part of this commitment is the “Land-based learning and teaching spaces, such as an outdoor classroom and nature interpretation in the Okanagan language.” Within the progress report, it was detailed that developing land-based learning and teaching spaces is a work in progress.

According to the report:

“In the fall of 2019, Campus Planning retained the architectural services of Formline Architecture, an award winning Aboriginally owned architectural practices firm, to work with the university to generate a concept plan for an outdoor gathering space and classroom. Through a series of workshops, a draft concept design has been created that reflects both the tule mat house and winter home architecture utilized by the Syilx Okanagan people.”

In addition to the UBC Okanagan Declaration of Truth & Reconciliation Commitments 2020 Annual Progress Report, there was a presentation on the Equity & Inclusion Office (EIO) Annual Report 2019-2021. As the annual progress report states:

“UBC Equity & Inclusion Office focuses on building capacity of students, faculty, & staff to advance inclusion, & catalyze whole system efforts to advance inclusion.”

The progress report covered the success of two affinity groups that were initiated as a means of creating a more inclusive environment. These affinity groups include the IBPOC Connections program, a group made up of faculty and staff who identify as being Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour. The second affinity group that was developed was the Disability Affinity Group for faculty and staff. “The Disability Affinity Group provides an opportunity for faculty and staff living with disabilities to regularly meet and build a community of support, learning, and solidarity.”

Some other system changes that were reported upon within the progress report were the launching of the Trans, Two-Spirit, and Gender Diversity Task Force as well as a “university-wide audit of gender diversity inclusion.”

Another notable change made was:

“Following the repeal of Policy 65: Religious Accommodations, and at the direction of Vice-Presidential Strategic Implementation Committee on Equity and Diversity (VPSICED), coordinated a Religious, Spiritual, and Cultural (RSC) Accommodation working group. The working group comprised of university-wide representation, provided recommendations to VPISCED on best practices for ensuring a welcoming and inclusive space for religious, cultural, and spiritual observances.”

The presentation also stated one weakness which was a significant increase in human rights complaints in the past year. There was about a 300% increase in concerns raised about race and harassment and discrimination related to race. However, it was also stated that this could be seen as a good sign as people are engaging with the office more and using resources and services available to them to raise their concerns.

“Many of the concerns that are coming are historic and people may have had experiences with discrimination and harassment in the past and were not able to bring those forward are now seeing that they do feel able to bring them forward and that their is also an ongoing willingness to seek information and resources from the office related to ongoing situations of exclusion,” says Dr. Sara-Jane Finlay, Associate Vice-President, Equity and Inclusion.

While the university still has a long way to go in regards to creating a more inclusive, supportive, and engaging campus environment, this is definitely a small step in the right direction.