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  • The Equity Myth: Racialization and Indigeneity at Canadian Universities by Frances Henry et al.
  • Natchee Blu Barnd (bio)
The Equity Myth: Racialization and Indigeneity at Canadian Universities by Frances Henry, Enakshi Dua, Carl E. James, Audrey Kobayashi, Peter Li, Howard Ramos, and Malinda S. Smith. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2018, 374 pp., $75.00 hardcover, $37.95 paper.

This book tackles the seeming contradiction of why equity has either stagnated or noticeably declined when university equity policies have become standard and ubiquitous. More of a collection than a multi-authored text, it comprehensively maps out the ways that race and indigeneity operate in Canadian universities, presenting original data derived from individual faculty experiences as well as statistical and discursive analyses. This book offers quite a bit more than the standard collection of essays, which often struggles to sustain a clear trajectory throughout. The Equity Myth results from a coordinated national research “report” on barriers for racialized and indigenous faculty in Canadian universities, which means the chapters have clear and important relationships to one another as well as an evident analytical arc.

Failures abound in training, curriculum, recruitment and hiring, retention, tenure and promotion, scholarship and more. We are offered quantitative analyses of faculty “representation” and comparable earning disparities in chapters 2 and 3. These nicely dispatch anticipated critiques about “data,” and also offer nice anchor points for later chapters. Others draw mostly on qualitative research or discourse analysis techniques in order to flesh out the processes. Chapter 6, for example, uses original interviews and narrative analysis to provide a more nuanced picture of how faculty of color and indigenous faculty experience, navigate, and interpret their institutions.

In chapter 9, we are offered a snapshot of Canadian university equity structures via interviews with administrators and equity office staff and by examining the infrastructure designs. Seeing how staffing, reporting, and mandates have shifted and are unevenly or ineffectively assembled, we better understand the weaknesses of those units as they have often moved toward “managing” racism as individual conflicts. Most importantly, we see how these offices (and much of the university) operate through a “performativity of ineffectiveness” (drawing from Ahmed). In short, articulations of equity only gesture toward and thus in effect actually preclude equity practices. Chapter 10 looks closely at a single discipline, political science, as a case study in order to quantify and otherwise illustrate the ways that racism and indigeneity are rendered invisible and disempowered via hiring practices, curriculum choices, and the outcome of the core disciplinary publication channels. Using both statistical and narrative data, the authors leave readers with a disappointing conclusion that “many political science students can graduate from a degree program and never grapple with issues of diversity [End Page 165] and decolonization . . . [and] that such subjects are not seen as ‘core’ knowledge constitutive of the modern discipline of political science” (261–62).

Most of the findings are not necessarily new or unexpected. Indeed, the research presented here is prompted mostly by the need to more fully and strategically document what has long been observed and implicitly understood among faculty of color and indigenous faculty. The value here, thus, is in giving those findings concrete data and gathering them together; in effect, generating a research-based handbook on the true nature and scope of the equity challenges for Western universities (Canadian or otherwise), as well the persistent contradictions and inherent failure points.

In the introduction and conclusion, the authors effectively and properly frame the findings of the individual chapters in terms of two important contexts. The first is the relationship between the current equity practices and the institutional responses to the antisexual harassment/human rights/antidiscrimination activism of the 1980s. The second is the larger frame of neoliberalism, which impacts universities in multiple troubling ways, but with particularly devastating outcomes for issues of equity.

Focusing on the impact on racialized (or “visible minorities,” in Canada) and indigenous faculty, multiple points in the text convey how earlier feminist interventions in the form of discrimination and sexual harassment policies have been ineffectively extended and adapted to deal with race and indigeneity. These reminders are valuable lessons for those wanting to understand the complex relationship between...


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pp. 165-167
Launched on MUSE
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