Guest Post: Sundeep Hans, Beginning the Journey to Equity and Anti-Oppression

It’s springtime. A time of renewal. Quite fitting, I think, to begin my journey with the University of the Fraser Valley as the inaugural Director, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

My first week at UFV has been an interesting one. For one thing, I’m not “at” UFV yet. Like many of you I have been working remotely, and like some of you (students especially I think) I have been working remotely from outside of British Columbia. I’ll be heading over in the summer, but the desire to “be here” now has crept in sooner than I had imagined.

I have spent the past week meeting with my colleagues and just listening really. It has been incredibly helpful and valuable to me. They’ve helped me realize super quickly that my plans of “hitting the ground running” needed to be reworked because there is both literally no ground I can actually hit from here in Ontario, and figuratively, I don’t actually know what the ground of UFV as a post-secondary space looks like. Every conversation has given me a little more ‘ground’ so to speak.

This listening and learning is crucial right now because it helps me situate myself, understand my positionality before I jump into anything. Know thyself and all that jazz!

It hasn’t been lost on me either that this aligns nicely with the overall EDI approach, which is collaborative. The work of equity and anti-oppression is a self-reflexive and continuous process. It’s a journey that requires input from diverse voices as new issues emerge, and this sharing of lived experiences in turn helps to inform our individual and institutional action.

I want to let you in on a secret my friends: While having a dedicated portfolio (yours truly, reporting for duty!) and staff people (the EDI task force, the different advisory groups) is important in order to meaningfully build and strengthen EDI frameworks and embed EDI principles into the fabric of UFV…there are no equity experts! The scope is far too broad for any one person or one portfolio to have all the answers.

This year, and the last, have been imbued by unprecedented global events that have really driven this point home. No one group, organization, or country has all the answers. We have witnessed monumental moments, including a global pandemic and the global anti-racism movement with worldwide protests and ongoing activism around the world. The pandemic has laid bare and exacerbated existing inequities created by systems that are by their very design, both exclusionary and inaccessible.

Anti-Black racism, Anti-Indigenous racism, Anti-Asian racism, transphobia, homophobia, and xenophobia (all of these are compounded for individuals with intersecting identities), aren’t events or moments that happen once or twice, or happen somewhere else. These are symptoms of longstanding and deep-rooted systemic inequities and discrimination that exist here as well as across the world, and all of this require a serious, collective, and continuous commitment to action in order to be reconciled.

One of my favourite EDI strategists, Lily Zheng, recently said that they’ve stopped using the phrase “you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable” and instead asks folks to “use their discomfort to learn”. This slight shift frames projects and practices, not in guilt or shame, but in action.

What I have learned so far about UFV in particular, and the Fraser Valley in general is that it is home to a diverse and dynamic community of people. There is a shared commitment towards equity, anti-oppression, and reconciliation and a real desire to know better so we can do better.

Folks have also told me that they are excited that I’m here, and for me this speaks to this collective desire to DO the work. This excitement, I think, stems from the hope that there will be action and shared accountability towards this work. This work needs to be an iterative and responsive process, which will require dedication from all of us to examine, reconcile, and mitigate existing processes of exclusion so that we can be more inclusive and just.

And I am here for it!

Sundeep Hans (she/her)
Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion