Ultra Vires


Student Consultation on EDI Statement

A student consultation meeting was held at lunch on Wednesday, January 29 as part of the effort to update the Faculty of Law’s equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) statement. The faculty’s Gender, Accessibility and Diversity (GAD) Committee has been charged by Dean Edward Iaccobucci to review and provide recommendations on the law school’s current EDI statement. Assistant Dean Alexis Archbold, who is the current GAD Committee chair, also chaired the consultation, and said that a lot has changed since the implementation of the current statement, including the style of EDI statements as well as the Faculty of Law as an institution. 

Assistant Dean Archbold said the current statement was written about 15 years ago. It reads: 

“Diversity at the law school will mean the creation of an environment that is welcoming to all, with particular sensitivity to women, visible minority students, Indigenous students, socio-economically disadvantaged students, disabled persons, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students, mature students, students who are parents, immigrant students and students from various ethnic, cultural, linguistic and/or religious backgrounds, students from various regions of Canada and students from a wide range of academic backgrounds” 

The GAD Committee formed an EDI statement sub-committee following Dean Iacobucci’s mandate letter. It is composed of students, staff, and faculty, and is also chaired by Assistant Dean Archbold. The sub-committee looked closely at the current statement and surveyed statements at other law schools, faculties, and post-secondary institutions.  

The student consultation was held to gain feedback on how the selected themes and language resonated with students, ahead of drafting a new EDI statement. These themes included: commitment to equity, diversity of people, diversity of ideas and opinions, diversity and our location in Toronto, inclusive learning environments, law as a force for good, and humility. 

In the week leading up to the consultation, Assistant Dean Archbold had sent out two emails to the JD student body inviting all to attend and provide input “on this important project,” promising sandwiches. Students who were unable to attend were given the option to contact the Student Law Society representatives on the GAD sub-committee.

The consultation was held in the John Willis Classroom. Despite the importance of the project and the incentive of free sandwiches, there were only 16 attendees. A number of participants were sub-committee members, and the majority of student attendees were members of equity-seeking student groups at the faculty. 

Participants were provided with an eight-page package containing the current EDI statement, the proposed themes, and excerpts of EDI materials from other universities, as well as the entirety of the University of Toronto’s overarching “Statement on Equity, Diversity, and Excellence.” 

Of the 19 excerpts included, only three were from Canadian schools. They comprised two from U of T and one from Ryerson University. 16 were from American schools: six of the excerpts came from Stanford University (three from their law school and three from their provost) and four excerpts were from the University of Chicago Law School. Harvard and Duke were also among the institutions included. Participants were asked to review the materials and to share their thoughts. 

A participant* asked for the reason behind drawing inspiration from such a limited range of elite schools, likening this process to looking to Queen’s University for a diversity statement. A sub-committee member replied, saying that they had collected statements broadly and that the excerpts that remained were those that skillfully represented the selected themes.

Another participant asked about the purpose that such a statement would serve, whether it would be used as a recruitment tool, aspirational statement or a multi-purpose instrument. She also asked whether there would be other activities, training, and education that would accompany the statement. 

Assistant Dean Archbold replied saying that the EDI statement will reflect the values of the Faculty of Law as an institution—“who we are now, and who we think we should be.” She also said that a new page of the law school website would be built to house the statement, as well as links to equity and outreach initiatives at the law school, and demographic survey results. A participant said she would want the statement to be not only aspirational but also a tool for education and awareness for the law school community. 

The privilege of attending law school was mentioned, as well as the corollary professional responsibilities of lawyering, and even the responsibilities of law students as future practitioners. There was discussion of “lawyers for good,” analogized to doctors serving to confer benefits to society. One participant pointed out that the statement would have to be applicable to everyone in the law school community, including those who are not involved in practicing law.

A participant suggested that the statement should communicate a responsibility for everyone to work together regarding equity, diversity, and inclusion. Another participant pointed out the need to avoid placing the onus of making improvements on marginalized communities. 

A participant said that it is not enough to just bring in diverse groups of students, but to also cultivate allyship. One participant said that there were some politics around the terminology of “allyship” but that the idea of support by the broader community is helpful. Another participant said that “it would be great to see some straight white dudes here,” at the consultation table, “because we have quite a few of them” at the law school. 

There was also discussion of whether or not “equity,” “diversity” and “inclusion” should be defined in the statement, and the need to operationalize the statement. One of the EDI themes was “diversity of ideas and opinions” and the materials included an excerpt about free expression from Stanford University’s Provost. A participant said that the words “free expression” are politically charged and should not be used in the law school’s statement. Another participant suggested substituting it with “respectful discourse.” It was pointed out that the University of Toronto uses “free expression” regarding diversity in its statement. Assistant Dean Archbold said that the law school’s statement would be complementary to U of T’s statement, being particular to the law school while not conflicting with broader university-stated commitments.

Mental health, tuition as a barrier to accessibility, and humility were also brought up in the discussion. 

A few participants still had hands raised with comments to make when Assistant Dean Archbold drew the consultation to an end, having to leave promptly for another meeting.

The GAD Committee hopes to complete a draft EDI statement for presentation to the Faculty Council for input in March. The implementation of a new statement will not require a vote. 
*Ultra Vires has been requested to not name participants, to allow for free and honest exchange of ideas in such consultations.

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