The McGill Reporter announced on Aug. 9 that McGill’s Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) Office is being restructured to prioritize equity issues on campus. Toward the end of the 2017-18 academic year, students responded to these changes negatively and criticized the administration for proceeding without consulting the student body, prompting the administration to hold upcoming consultations on Feb. 12.
The SEDE office opened its doors in the fall of 2005 as a result of discussion among students, administration, and other community members on issues of harassment and discrimination on campus. Since then, SEDE has run various projects that focus on community engagement and equity in education, including Homework Help at Kahnawá:ke Survival School, Black History Month, and Indigenous Awareness Week.
“Basically, what we’re trying to do is take the different functions […of] the SEDE office and [put] them in locations where they’re going to be strengthened,” Fabrice Labeau, interim deputy provost (Student Life & Learning), said. “Among the things we’ve done is relocate some people from the office of the Provost and […] created a few additional jobs within these offices. Some of the other activities of SEDE are moving to student services, so the portion that has to do with the family care coordinator is now going to be integrated in the new [Rossy Student Wellness Hub].”
The changes include moving equity education and employment programs to the Office of the Provost as well as moving outreach and community services programs to the Enrollment Services building.
A student-run Facebook campaign called “McGill Needs SEDE” was created in early December to protest the restructuring. The campaign’s open letter to Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policies) Angela Campbell, urging the administration to stop the SEDE office from closing, garnered over 250 signatures from students and alumni.The letter stated that the decision to restructure SEDE put funding for community engagement projects at risk.
“[I eventually] read [the letter], but it was never sent to me,” Campbell said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “I read a version that was online in December. Someone sent it to me, but the people who drafted the letter never sent it to me.”
Campbell responded to student inquiries regarding the closure of SEDE in an article in the Reporter, stating that SEDE was not closing, as the student open-letter had suggested. She clarified that SEDE would likely not exist at its current location, 3610 McTavish, and that the community engagement work will continue through Enrollment Services.
“There was never a communication that anything was going to be discontinued or even scaled back,” Campbell said. “In fact, the resources, both financial and human, that have been put into equity and community engagement have been made much more robust in the last two years.”
The specifics of SEDE’s continuing operations remain unclear.
“I’ve been told nothing is going to be lost,” Jacob Shapiro, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) vice-president (VP) University Affairs, said. “I think that’s something students will be on board with even though the question becomes […] where is the space where people will feel included? And are there going to be more or less of them?”
Funding to SEDE has previously been an issue. In 2014, SEDE office workers were anxious about having to potentially reduce programming following provincial budget cuts the previous winter.
“One of my main concerns is that students who have been part of these programs, who have benefitted from these programs, were never consulted about what the future of these programs should be,” Ananya Nair, Arts Undergraduate Society’s community engagement commissioner, said.
For the upcoming consultations on Feb. 12, Campbell intends to meet with student associations, particularly underrepresented groups on campus, to gather input from students on current and future equity initiatives.
“We heard you didn’t feel consulted about these changes in SEDE,” Campbell said. “We really regret that. We want to have an opportunity to hear from you.”