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July 13, 2020: Anila Umar Lee Yuen, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.     Centre for Newcomers

Anila Umar Lee Yuen is the president and CEO of the Centre for Newcomers, with 25 years experience in the settlement sector. She has dramatically grown the agency and added nationally recognised programmes, such as LGBTQ+ refugee supports and indigenous education for newcomers. She is a strong advocate for vulnerable persons, especially women and children.

Anila holds many volunteer positions and several degrees: BSc (Hons) in Psychology, BSc in Biological Sciences and an MBA from Keller Graduate School of Management. She has been recognised and awarded by several organizations for her outstanding work and achievements, including the Woman of Wonder and Women of Inspiration awards in 2019. Anila is also president of the Rotary Club of Calgary Millennium.

In beginning her presentation, Anila assured us there are no wrong questions (nor answers) and there would be time following her talk to address any questions that members might have.

Conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion are all important. We all want to participate in an ethical and inclusive way, and Rotary International has made these areas of society a focus for action. District 5360 began a Diversity and Inclusion Committee following a District survey, perhaps, 18 months ago. The committee currently has about 20 members, including Anila, which meets bi-monthly.

Anila utilises a model for her work, developed by Dr Milton Bennett, a Developmental Model for Intercultural Sensitivity. This model describes six phases, or stages of progression from ethno-centric stages to ethno-relative integration. The six stages move from denial through defence, minimization, acceptance, adaptation and integration.

How do we recognise what stage we are in, in any given situation, and how do we move forward? The answers probably lie within self inspection, dialogue and discussion.

  1. Denial can be illustrated through statements such as “I don’t see colour”, “There’s no such thing as race”, or “I’m colour blind”.
  2. Defence is seen in comments such as “ I can’t be racist, I have black friend(s)” or “I married an Indian”.
  3. Minimization is perhaps today’s most common position, minimizing, for example, a specific thought or issue, eg. “Black lives matter” by replacement with the more generic statement “All lives matter”.
  4. Acceptance is where many are trying to be; acknowledging there are differences of all kinds that impact people's opportunities.
  5. Adaptation is choosing, for example, to not use ethno-specific terms that can be derogatory to individuals or groups. (Anila noted how widespread such terms can be, even in naming a house plant a Wandering Jew). We must change our labels.
  6. Integration is the ability to hold multiple points of view in the same room at the same time. We can’t always inhabit that space because there are so many bombardments of language and behaviours to manage and work through.

So how do we create a safe community for all to discuss these issues while feeling safe and comfortable? Our District survey indicated most clubs were comfortable in following these initiatives, but certainly some issues surfaced, such as gender or inappropriate jokes. Within the Calgary area, there are numerous initiatives in which one can become engaged: Orange Shirt Day, the Pride Parade, talks and discussions on truth and reconciliation, LBGTQ+ experiences, and others. Check the online Calendar of Calgary.

Club members are always welcome to join the District’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee. The committee is developing a series of videos, tools and clear definitions of language and terminology.

A question was asked about the current focus on the naming of sports teams. These names were created at the time to indicate strength and pride, but indigenous peoples express concern about the perception of them as being fierce and savage. What was considered to be “honouring” in the mid-30s may not be seen as such in today’s environment of growing awareness. Change can take a long time. There has been talk of the Edmonton Eskimos changing their name for over 20 years, and only now has the level of outrage reached a potential tipping point.

How do we move along the model’s continuum at an individual level, recognising that many of us are not at the heart of the system? The answer is personal. People are at different stages on different issues (race, religion, LGBTQ+, etc). Individually, we must examine and evaluate where we are on these different issues and engage in dialogue and discussion despite concerns with perspectives that, if you’re not 100% committed to a particular view, then your view doesn’t count, rather than focussing, again, on dialogue or education.

Currently, many are advocating for, or actually engaged in, the removal of historic statues. There is a need to retain them for educational purposes and so, perhaps, erect adjacent plaques describing and contextualizing their history. Suggestions have also been made that perhaps they could be collected and placed in museums for better education. The focus should be on education with respect to their history and their relevance through the passage of time.

Anila’s perspective of facing challenges, while promoting engagement, is that one must set up clear boundaries for discussion – in a safe place, being tolerant of dissenting opinions, no name-calling, and avoiding any micro-aggressions.

Anila’s video contribution to the District committee can be viewed at Intercultural Competency.

Anila was thanked for her presentation by Tazim Asaria and presented (virtually) with a Boltman, with a promise to physically deliver it to her when possible.

reported by Les Morgan

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