Historically, not all contributions and voices have been acknowledged equally or adequately. Some groups have had to struggle to have their contributions acknowledged, be treated fairly, and be allowed full participation and equality of opportunity. Entire populations of people have been oppressed as a part of Canada’s history, something important for Canadians and people living in Canada to confront and acknowledge. Diversity refers to differences in the human experience. As different groups have gained in number and influence, our definition of diversity has evolved to embrace many variables that reflect a multitude of different backgrounds, experiences, and points of view, not just race and gender. Diversity incudes age, socioeconomic factors, ability (such as sight, hearing, and mobility), race, ethnicity, country of origin, language, sexual orientation, religion, sex, and other factors.
The Manitoba Human Rights Code recognizes 13 specific “protected characteristics.” This list recognizes groups that have been marginalized, negatively impacted, and/or persecuted based on their belonging to one of these groups:
- Ancestry, including colour and perceived race.
- Nationality or national origin.
- Ethnic background or origin.
- Religion or creed, religious belief, religious association, or activity.
- Sex, including sex-determined characteristics such as pregnancy.
- Gender identity.
- Sexual orientation.
- Marital or family status.
- Source of income.
- Political belief.
- Disability (physical, mental, or related circumstances).
- Social disadvantage.
Everyone “fits” into each of the above characteristics in some way, but not everyone experiences negative consequences or barriers because they belong to a particular group. For example, women, because of their sex, had to fight for the right to vote, own property, and receive equal wages. Men did not have to do so in order to have these rights and privileges. Indigenous peoples (both men and women) had to fight for their right to vote and were only allowed to vote and keep their treaty status starting in 1960.
At one time or another, people who were marginalized based on their identities have had to make petitions to the government for equal treatment under the law and appeals to society for respect. Safeguarding these groups’ hard-won rights and public regard maintains diversity and its two closely related factors, equity and inclusion.
Our rights and protections are often acquired through awareness, effort, and advocacy.
Choose one of the above groups identified in The Manitoba Human Rights Code and do a quick search on advocacy or efforts members of the group have taken to secure their rights. To expand your knowledge, choose a group that you’re not already familiar with.
The Role of Equity and Inclusion
Equity plays a major part in achieving fairness in a diverse landscape. Equity gives everyone equal access to opportunity and success. For example, you may have seen interpreters for Deaf or hearing-impaired people in situations where a public official is making an announcement about a weather emergency. Providing immediate translation into sign language means that there is no gap between what the public official is saying and all people receiving the information they need. Simultaneous sign language provides equity. Similarly, many students have learning differences that require accommodations in the classroom. For example, a student with special needs relating to a learning or cognitive disability might be given more time to complete tests or writing assignments. The extra time granted takes into account that students have these needs because they may process information differently because of their disability. If a student with a learning difference is given more time than other students to complete a test, that is a form of reasonable accommodation that reduces barriers and creates equity. The student is not being given an advantage. The extra time gives them an equal chance at success.
When equity is properly considered, there is also inclusion. Inclusion means that there are a multiplicity of voices, skills, and interests represented in any given situation. Inclusion has played a major role in education, especially in terms of creating inclusive classrooms and inclusive curricula. In an inclusive classroom, students of different skill levels, backgrounds, and perspectives study together. For example, students with and without disabilities study in the same classroom. Students benefit from seeing how others learn. In an inclusive curriculum, a course includes content and perspectives from underrepresented groups. For example, a college course in psychology might include consideration of different contexts such as immigration, incarceration, or unemployment. Inclusion means that these voices of varied background and experience are integrated into discussions, research, and assignments.
Educational institutions like colleges and school divisions are critically important spaces for equity and inclusion, and debates around them remain challenging. LGBTQI2S (lesbian, gay, trans, queer, inquiring, two-spirited) students report feeling unsafe at school (Egale, 2019). Many of these students miss school or experience significant stress, which usually has a negative impact on their grades, participation, and overall success (GLSEN, 2019). This creates inequality. How can the circumstances improve for LGBTQI2S students? In other societal changes throughout our nation’s history, court decisions, new legislation, protests, and general public opinion combined to right past wrongs and provide justice and protection for people who have been subjected to systemic discrimination (discrimination that is built into societal systems, such as same sex couples not being able to legally marry) and personally harassed. Proponents of gay marriage faced fervent arguments against their position based on religion and culture; like other minority groups, they were confronted with name-calling, job insecurity, family division, religious isolation, and physical confrontation. Legalizing same-sex marriage in Canada was achieved through successful human rights complaints and advocacy and legal action (CBC, 2012).
Debates: Civility vs. Incivility
Healthy debate is a desirable part of a community. In a healthy debate, people are given room to explain their point of view. In a healthy airing of differences, people on opposing sides of an argument can reach common ground and compromise or even agree to disagree and move on. However, incivility occurs when people are not culturally competent. An individual who is not culturally competent might make negative assumptions about others’ values, lack an open mindset, or be inflexible in thinking. Instead of being tolerant of different points of view, they may try to shut down communication by not listening or by keeping someone with a different point of view from being heard at all. Out of frustration, a person who is uncivil may resort to name-calling or discrediting another person only with the intention of causing confusion and division within a community. Incivility can also propagate violence. Such uncivil reaction to difficult issues is what makes many people avoid certain topics at all costs. Instead of seeking out diverse communities, people retreat to safe spaces where they will not be challenged to hear opposing opinions or have their beliefs contested.
Debates on difficult or divisive topics surrounding diversity, especially those promoting orchestrated change, are often passionate. People on each side may base their positions on deeply held beliefs, family traditions, personal experience, academic expertise, and a desire to orchestrate change. With such a strong foundation, emotions can be intense, and debates can become uncivil. Even when the disagreement is based on information rather than personal feelings, discussions can quickly turn to arguments. For example, in academic environments, it’s common to find extremely well-informed arguments in direct opposition to one another. Two well-known economics faculty members from your college could debate for hours on financial policies, with each professor’s position backed by data, research, and publications. Each person could feel very strongly that they are right and the other person is wrong. They may even feel that the approach proposed by their opponent would actually do damage to the country or to certain groups of people. But for this debate — whether it occurs over lunch or on an auditorium stage — to remain civil, the participants need to maintain certain standards of behaviour.
Civility is a valued practice that takes advantage of cultural and political systems we have in place to work through disagreements while maintaining respect for others’ points of view. Civil behaviour allows for a respectful airing of grievances. The benefit of civil discussion is that members of a community can hear different sides of an argument, weigh evidence, and decide for themselves which side to support. You have probably witnessed or taken part in debates in your courses, at social events, or even at family gatherings. What makes people so passionate about certain issues? First, some may have a personal stake in an issue, such as abortion rights. Convincing other people to share their beliefs may be intended to create a community that will protect their rights. Second, others may have beliefs based on faith or cultural practices. They argue based on deeply held moral and ethical beliefs. Third, others may be limited in their background knowledge about an issue but are able to speak from a “script” of conventional points of view. They may not want to stray from the script because they do not have enough information to extend an argument.
While discussing differing perspectives and ideas is encouraged, ideology that spreads hate or encourages harm to others is not civil and may be considered hate speech.
The Internet is the watershed innovation of our time. It provides incredible access to information and resources, helping us to connect in ways inconceivable just a few decades ago. But it also presents risks, and these risks seem to be changing and increasing at the same rate as technology itself. Because of our regular access to the Internet, it’s important to create a safe, healthy, and enjoyable online space. Digital civility is the practice of leading with empathy and kindness in all online interactions and treating each other with respect and dignity. This type of civility requires users to fully understand and appreciate potential harms and to follow the new rules of the digital road.
- Live the Golden Rule and treat other people with respect and dignity both online and in person. The Golden Rule is when you treat other people how you want to be treated.
- Kick it up a notch and live the Platinum Rule by treating people the way they want to be treated.
- Respect differences of culture, geography, and opinion, and when disagreements surface, engage thoughtfully.
- Pause before replying to comments or posts you disagree with and make sure your responses are considerate and free of name-calling and abuse.
- Stand up for yourself and others if it’s safe and prudent to do so.
- Remember that anything posted online is not private. If you would not show or say something to your parent, grandparent, employer, or child, you might want to think about sharing it online.