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Serving Immigrants with Equity or Equality? Important Conversations at the Richmond Diversity Symposium

Submitted by on January 31, 2015 – 3:15 pmNo Comment | 1,897 views

On January 30, 2015, Michael and I conducted a one-hour workshop on Cultural Competencies at the Diversity Symposium organized by The City of Richmond. Over 45 city staff and staff from organizations serving immigrants attended the session. During the workshop we asked our participants to answer one big question: Should we serve immigrants according to universal Canadian standards or should we serve with cultural sensitivity and accommodation? in other words, do we serve with equality or equity? To make the task even more challenges we asked people to physically take sides: left or right sides of the room.

Of course, most of our participants wanted to be in the middle of the room and I am sure this is where they are in a real life. Yet, they were forced taking the sides. Just because these folks showed up for the Symposium on Diversity, I think, by default, they are in the middle: they appreciate the importance of accommodation and cultural sensitivity yet understand the reality of our mainstream service providers who, often, need to make “life and death” decisions or where safety overrides the need for cultural sensitivity (health authorities, firefighters, etc.) Interestingly enough the room got divided pretty equally. Approximately 2/5th of participants went to the left (equality) and 3/5th went to the right (equity).

We asked people to pick sides publicly on purpose. People visibly felt quite uncomfortable and were making statements like “I disagree with the question” or “If I chose equality, does it mean that I am culturally insensitive?” or “If it were up to me, I would have liked to provide service with more accommodation for newcomers, however, I have to follow the procedures and protocols set by my organization”. While I wish we had more time for debrief where everybody got a chance to explore and explain their views, I am glad we did this little exercise. It made people talking and not only those usual suspects who are always vocal about their views but even those folks who usually do not pick sides in public. The objective of this exercise was to start people talking and, sometimes, people need to feel uncomfortable to start uncomfortable but important conversations. After the session, many people came and thanks us for making them open up and speak out loud about what they think is right thing to do and what they have to do. Some folks said that this conversation made them feel more empowered to talk to their colleagues and even their managers about existing policies in their organizations.This was exactly what we had hoped to achieve. I would like to congratulate Alan Hill and the Symposium Organizing Committee for providing this opportunity for people to open up.

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