May 28: Nathalie Des Rosiers writes…
Another day at Congress – Listened to Justice Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella Lecture on the necessity of human rights and the way in which we have failed to integrate the three lessons from World War II : – indifference as the gound for intolerance, – that we should be known not for what one stands for, but for one stands up for, and that we need to see the world through the eyes of the vulnerable.
It was an eloquent, moving, fabulous lecture by one of the great treasures of our academy. I am so glad that a room full of people could live and experience this. Justice Abella is a child of survivors of the Holocaust and it is impossible not to have a sense of the miracle of being here that she evokes. There is a special aura around this wealth of talent that reads, searches and questions. It continues to irradiate the audience.
Listening to her reminded me of a comment that was made about her (when she was once proposed for an honour or to be the Governor General, I cannot remember) that “everyone that spoke to Rosie Abella came out happier”. I can now say that everyone that listens to Rosie Abella comes out wiser.
May 28: Steven Bruhm writes…
I come to Congress this year as the Past President of ACCUTE (the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English). I also come to Congress conscious that I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I see people I met 20 years ago, when we were tremulous graduate students wondering if we could ever survive in this profession, wondering what the academy of the future would look like, wondering where our intellectual lives would be 5, 10, 30 years down the road. It’s rather sobering to realize that many of us are now in the senior positions that I looked upon with envy when I first started to attend Congress (then off-puttingly called “The Learneds), and that we are those figures to whom current graduate students are looking with all the same questions, the same trepidations, (the same envy?) as we did in the early 90s. I only hope these students understand that we, the senior professoriate, are looking at them with equal interest, wondering where they will take the study of English literature and culture in the 21st century, what new fields they will furrow, how they might extend or even overturn the work we have been doing.
ACCUTE sessions began yesterday, with an excellent discussion of American fiction and its relation to Canadian space, given by Dr. David Jarroway from the University of Ottawa. The sessions I’ve attended have been stimulating, provocative, and downright smart. These sessions have included, among other thing, studies of late 19th-century imperialist fiction and women’s health, figurations of American landscape from the 1950s musical to recent post-science fiction, to dance and theatrical burlesque. I myself have participated in a very spirited discussion on the problem of procrastination in academic writing. This session, which comprised speakers from all levels of the profession, explored with both integrity and humor the act of writing, the shame that arises when writing doesn’t go well, and the “full space” that is the empty page of the procrastinated text.
As an added bonus, our papers were responded to by Dr. Timothy Pynchyl, a psychologist who is also the Director of the Procrastination Research Group here at Carleton University. I could tell by the size of the audience, the number of nodding heads, and the many knowing smiles that we were hitting on a topic both ubiquitous and debilitating. It’s no secret that our culture is built on productivity and that professors, who are now often referred to as “knowledge workers,” find themselves in a milieu that is often uncongenial to producing the best work. But this is why Congress is ultimately so important to me: everyone is here because they are driven by something urgent, by some fundamental human question that needs to be thought through carefully, rigorously, and in dialogue with others. We may not all agree—in fact, we shouldn’t—but it’s often in the spaces of those disagreements that we produce creative ideas that will become the staple of our teaching, our research and publication, and our presence in our communities.
Steven Bruhm is the Robert and Ruth Lumsden Professor of English at the University of Western Ontario. He is the author of Gothic Bodies: The Politics of Pain in Romantic Fiction, and Reflecting Narcissus: A Queer Aesthetic, as well as numerous articles on gothic culture and queer studies. He is the co-editor of Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children and on the advisory board of Gothic Studies and Horror Studies. His current work focuses on dance and the gothic, spiced up with some queerly theoretical questions of embodiment and temporality. He does this when he’s not writing about haunted cell phones, gay bears, or procrastination.
May 26: Malinda S. Smith writes…
Equity Issues and History’s Judgment
The day before the Equity Issues sessions at Congress began at Carleton University, I was flicking through the television channels and came across a re-run of Peter Mansbridge’s ‘One on One’ interview with the distinguished Aboriginal Justice Harry S. Laforme, the former Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Indian Residential Schools in Canada.1 Justice Laforme’s response to one question really struck a cord with me.
In response to a question about what he ‘hoped for’ with his work on truth-seeking, reconciliation and social justice he answered something like this: Ninety years ago his grandfather fought for justice and to do away with racism. His father, likewise, wanted the same thing; to combat racism and discrimination and for a more just world.
‘What do I want,’ Justice LaForme asked? His answer was ‘the same thing.’ Like his grandfather and father, he ‘wanted’ justice and to do away with racism and inequity. The ‘magic word,’ Justice Laforme argued, was ‘want’ because this dream of his grandfather and father had not yet been realized. The struggle for equity and social justice continues.
Justice LaForme’s reflections on the truth and reconciliation commission on residential schools offer a useful segue into the Equity Issues panels at Congress at Carleton University. These panels offer a retrospective on the status of equity on the 25th anniversary of the Royal Commission on Equality in Employment.3 The Commissioner on Equality and Employment was then Judge Rosalie Silberman Abella, who delivered her report in 1984. Justice Abella, now on the Supreme Court of Canada, called for ‘employment equity’ or policies, programs and strategies designed to ameliorate systemic discrimination experienced by four ‘designated groups’ in Canada – Aboriginal peoples, visible minorities (or racialized minorities), persons with disabilities and women.
The final Report of the Abella Commission found that proactive employment equity policies were needed because for the four designated groups, “the obstacles in their way are so formidable and self-perpetuating that they cannot be overcome without intervention. It is both intolerable and insensitive if we simply wait and hope that the barriers will disappear over time. Equality in employment will not happen unless we make it happen.”
Twenty-five years after this historic report, what is the status of employment equity in the Canadian academy? As vice-president for Equity Issues at the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, I decided to organize a series of four panels to explore the issues, achievements and ongoing challenges in Canadian universities.
As part of this week-long historic retrospective, seventeen renowned public intellectuals from a dozen Canadian universities located in six provinces will be offering their insights on equity issues. Speakers include May Al-Fartousi, Isabella C. Bakker; Marjorie Griffith Cohen; Shelagh Day; James Deaville; Joyce Green; Carl James; Rauna Kuokkanen; Darren Lund; Ashok Mathur; Judy Rebick; Dolana Mogadime; Aruna Srivastava; Joanne St. Lewis; Anthony Stewart; and Makere Stewart-Harawira.
The panels run each day from 10:00a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the Mintos Centre room 5050:
A More Equitable and Inclusive Academy? The Rhetoric and the Reality
Sunday, 24 May 2009, 10:00-11:30 a.m.
A Colour-Blind Academy? The Status and Experiences of ‘Visible’/‘Nonwhite’ Minority Scholars
Monday, 25 May 2009, 10:00-11:30 a.m.
Decolonizing the Academy? The Status of Indigenous Peoples and Scholarship
Tuesday, 26 May 2009, 10:00-11:30 a.m.
25 Years After: A Retrospective on the Abella Commission and Employment Equity
Wednesday, 27 May 2009, 10:00-12:00 noon
For the first time, equity Issues can also be experienced virtually: This year the Federation has introduced a range of exciting and leading-edge multimedia formats to expand the ways in which participants experience Congress. The day after each Equity Issues panel, the video will be made available for public education and awareness as well as teaching and learning on the ‘Experience Congress’ web site: www.fedcan.ca/experience.
We are delighted that these events will culminate with a Research in Society Lecture by Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella,4 who will be speaking on the topic, ‘Human Rights and History’s Judgement’ on Thursday, 24 May at 12:15p.m. in Tory Building Room 360. This lecture will be followed by a reception hosted by the Equity Issues Portfolio.
Over the course of her distinguished career, Justice Rosalie Abella has had an extraordinary impact on developing and shaping equality rights policy and jurisprudence in Canada,5 as well as international human rights law, policy and practice. It is thus apropos that this week of reflections by some of the social science and humanities’ best minds on what equity advocates ‘want’ – as Justice LaForme put it – will culminate in Justice Abella reflections on ‘Human Rights and History’s Judgement.’