Is UG positioned to promote ‘Inclusivity, Diversity, and Fairness?’

Dear Editor,
Given the pre-occupation of a segment of the population with allegations of racism and discrimination, the University of Guyana, as the leading educational institution in the country, thought it appropriate to launch on November 3, 2021, the “Inclusivity, Diversity, and Equity Policy “Unit (IDEP) to provide leadership on this area. In theory, educational institutions at all levels are well-positioned to play a key role in mitigating harsh racial attitudes and promoting tolerance, and understanding. Civil discourses, views, and evidence of racism and discrimination must be ventilated, and in cases where injury has been inflicted and established, appropriate to protect remedy must be instituted. We must move beyond words onto deeds.
It is noted that the formation of any organization or Unit to enhance inclusivity, diversity, and equality of access to opportunity must be set on the right platform. This has not necessarily been the case with the launch of the University of Guyana’s IDEP Unit. Social commentator Ms. Fatimah Mohammed believes that it was not well grounded as the Unit itself lacks inclusivity and diversity.
Notes Ms. Fatimah: “The Unit is composed of 10 people and only one is an Indo-Guyanese. The Unit’s executive comprises mainly ethnic Africans, with only one token Indo-Guyanese. There was a total disregard, by the University of Guyana and the Unit, for the diversity of the Guyanese society, which is proportioned 40 percent East Indians; 30 percent Africans; 20 percent Mixed; and 10 percent Amerindian descent.” (Pride: 12/1/2021). To show how the composition of the Unit reflects a broader pattern, she says that 80% of the staff at UG are Afro-Guyanese.
While I have been unable to verify this proportion, a content analysis conducted by a colleague shows that 70% of the statutory and academic support staff are Afro-Guyanese. For the teaching and support staff (in the Faculties of Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, Medical, Education, and Humanities) Afro-Guyanese account for 57.3%. There is some evidence of gender diversity at UG, as females occupy 56.2% of the staff positions in the four Faculties.
The main point that Ms. Fatimah is making however is that while there have been frequent allegations of racism and discrimination in other sectors of the economy such as in the Ministry of Public Works and the Ministry of Housing and Water in the award of large contracts, little attention has been given to the practice of fairness and diversity at the country’s premier educational institution, where one ethnic group that occupies statutory, administrative, and teaching positions does not reflect the inclusivity and diversity that the University purports to embrace.
Critics are quick to point out perceptions of inequality and bias in a few areas such as contract awards, but they also overlook the diversity and fairness that exists in the housing, education, and other sectors.
Both the Prime Minister, Hon Brig. (Ret’d) Mark Phillips, and the Minister within the Ministry of Housing, Hon Susan Rodrigues, for example, have stated that 50% of the 20,800 house lots allocated have gone to Afro-Guyanese. Furthermore, upholding gender diversity as a top policy priority, Minister Susan reports that 8,000 of those house lots were allocated to single women. With respect to the first 6,000 GOAL scholarships, Aaron Pires’ analysis shows that 39% were awarded to Afro-Guyanese students and 41% to Indo-Guyanese, while Mixed and Amerindians accounted for 20%. Obviously, there has been no discrimination against Afro-Guyanese in house lot allocations and scholarship awards. Their grants and awards were higher than their proportion in the general population which is 29 % (based on 2012 census).
How would UG’s IDEP Unit achieve inclusivity, diversity, and fairness is a massive challenge. To be credible, they should consider overhauling the staff composition of the IDEP Unit to reflect the diversity of the country. I know that they fully understand that images could be even more powerful than messages. As the country’s foremost educational institution, UG must send out the right signals.
While I believe in diversity, inclusivity, and fairness, I also recognize how Guyanese society has evolved and no one can easily dismiss the social stratification that conditioned occupational gravitation in specific pathways. Afro-Guyanese, for example, had gravitated mainly from plantation society to government jobs, while Indo-Guyanese gravitated mainly towards business and farming. Not to unsettle and to respect this historical pattern of occupational stratification, it is reasonable to posit that for now and in the future inclusivity, fairness, and equality of access to opportunity must be accorded priority for all Guyanese.

Dr Tara Singh