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Visionary Conversations delves into diversity, inclusion, respect

May 18, 2016 — 

In front of an engaged audience at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on Wednesday, President and Vice-Chancellor David T. Barnard and a panel of community leaders tackled the topic of what more can Manitoba’s “most powerful” do to open the door to diversity.

The event on May 18 marked the final Visionary Conversations in the Community for the academic year.

President Barnard welcomed the crowd and opened the conversation on privilege, power and inclusion, with the panel covering a range of views.

“Diverse perspectives really benefit us all,” said Melanie D. Janzen, associate dean (undergraduate programs) for the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.

Sharon Harrald, vice president of human resources at Investors Group, compared the  positive aspects of diversity to the depth of an iceberg.

“The richness of diversity is below the waterline,” said Harrald.

Education and training were areas that multiple panelists stressed as crucial for curbing discrimination.

“There should be training on all forms of diversity and inclusion,” said Mary Jane Loustel, national Aboriginal program executive at IBM. From her perspective on some industries, she spoke on seeing “tremendous gaps” for access for women, for people with disabilities, for people with mental wellness considerations, and for Indigenous people. “The gaps that need to be closed are significant,” said Loustel. “We need to look at where the barriers are.”

She also spoke on how youths are “part of the solution” and discussed the diversity of many current kindergarten classes, citing the importance of starting education on inclusion and respect at that young age.

“Let’s get that right at that level and we’ll see the transition,” said Loustel.

Janzen said people also need to look critically at education, making sure it doesn’t uphold systems of privilege. She also spoke on findings from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on how years of systemic, legislated policies and procedures disadvantaged Indigenous people.

Janice Y. Lederman, president of Innovate Manitoba, and other members of the panel stressed the need to address systemic issues to trigger positive change.

“There does have to be a conversation about people giving up their privilege,” she said.

The panel also addressed ways Manitoba needs to improve access for newcomers.

Reis Pagtakhan, immigration lawyer and partner at Aikins Law, talked of the need to provide opportunities to newcomers to Manitoba.

He also spoke to the need for personal responsibility in taking action and said there are things people can do “individually to change the channel.”

The panel debated the role of the individual and larger groups.

“There are things that can be done by individuals,” said President Barnard. “And then there are things that we need to do systemically,” he said, adding governments and other organizations can help.

President Barnard closed by remarking on how impressive it is to witness the patience and endurance of people who pursue positive social change.

Follow the conversation on Twitter using #umvisionary

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