University has learned the lessons of diversity

The events that led to the 1969 Computer Riot forced university administrators to re-evaluate internal procedures.

Student representation on university decision-making bodies was firmly established and university procedures and policies were revamped.

In April 1971, Sir George Williams adopted University Regulations on Rights and Responsibilities, and the Ombuds Office was established. By December 1977, Concordia University approved a university-wide Code of Conduct and new terms of reference for the Ombuds Office.

Over the past two decades, many academic and support programs have sprung up at Concordia to explore and celebrate human diversity.

Professor Clarence Bayne is director of the Minority Entrepreneurship Institute, which provides management training to the black community, First Nations and others. As a commerce professor since 1966 at Sir George Williams University, Bayne was a witness to riot, and to the university's inability to deal with students' anger.

"A minority group felt so disadvantaged that they had to react in extremes," he recalled. However, he says that in the years since then, Concordia has truly become "the people's university."

"Minorities may still face some problems at Concordia, but things have changed a lot over the years, and they continue to change for the better."

Although there are still "pockets of dissatisfaction," he says, protests like the Computer Riot "would probably not happen today." He pointed to the enthusiasm for creating the Minority Institute in 1998 as an example, and praised the Black Community Initiative, created in 1998 through the Office of the Registrar to recruit and retain black students. He would like to see a graduate program in black studies, though.

The Centre For Native Education was founded in 1992 to give aboriginal students access to computers, workshops, seminars, documentation, and a home on campus, as well as a monthly newsletter.

All of these services are intended to help them succeed in school. Many natives are the first in their families to attend university, and may be far from home, facing severe culture shock in the big city.

The Centre is a place that native students "can call their own," said Co-ordinator Brenda Rowe. "The Centre offers students the resources to cope within a predominately white university."

The effort is paying off. Last year, 44 native students graduated from Concordia, Rowe said -- the most ever to graduate from the university. Currently, Concordia has about 200 aboriginal students.

Professor Frances Shaver says that the university has always maintained a healthy atmosphere for sexual minorities. "Concordia has always been progressive on these issues," she said. The Simone de Beauvoir Institute opened in 1978, and by 1985 was offering a curriculum in lesbian studies.

She pointed to La Ville en Rose, a four-day conference held at Concordia in 1992 on gay and lesbian studies. The first gathering of its kind in Quebec, it drew 700 participants from across North America.

Shaver is Co-ordinator of Concordia's minor in Interdisciplinary Studies in Sexuality. The program was launched in 1998 and includes such courses as Queer Theory to Queer Cinema I.

In 1994, Professor Tom Waugh and Shaver started a groundbreaking course called AIDS/HIV: Cultural, Social and Scientific Aspects of the Pandemic. The course continues to be extremely popular with students.

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