Remarks: Acts of kindness

The following remarks were delivered by Arig al Shaibah, Associate Vice-President, Equity and Inclusion, during the annual event to mark the Anti-Bullying or “Pink Shirt Day” held on February 22, 2023 and organized by the Vice-President, Finance and Operations portfolio.

UBC’s campuses are located on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Syilx (Okanagan) Peoples and of the Coast Salish Peoples, including the territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil- Waututh) Nations.

My name is Arig al Shaibah, and I’m UBC’s Associate Vice-President, Equity & Inclusion.

My role has a broad mandate to champion institutional commitments and actions across both Vancouver and Okanagan campuses. 

I also oversee the Equity & Inclusion Office, which includes three functional units:

  • We provide data analysis, reporting, and project management to enable strategic planning to advance institutional equity, inclusion, and anti-racism priorities; 
  • We partner with academic and administrative units to build individual competency and organization capacity to action equity, inclusion and anti-racism commitments; and
  • We offer confidential and impartial human rights advising and resolution facilitation for campus community members who bring forward discrimination and harassment concerns and complaints. 

Canada’s Anti-Bullying Day or “Pink Shirt Day” has its origins in the actions of two brave 12th grade Nova Scotian students named David Shepherd and Travis Price who stood up against bullying after a 9th grade student was bullied for wearing a pink polo shirt – for expressing their unique self. In fact, these two students were standing up against a form of homophobia, transphobia, and gender-based violence more broadly – and, in so doing, demonstrated healthy masculinity and active bystander intervention.  

Sadly, bullying continues to be an issue, not just among adolescents, and it has extended into the world of cyberbullying, which is proving to be just as, if not more, psychically harmful. 

Bullying is fundamentally about an abuse of power. 

It is defined as physical or emotional cruelty to others, especially towards those perceived as being vulnerable or having less power and privilege.  

UBC’s Discrimination Policy addresses forms of bullying that meet the threshold of discrimination on the basis of protected human rights grounds, and the university’s Respectful Environment Statement  addresses bullying and harassment that may not meet the threshold of discrimination or do not involve protected human rights grounds. 

These policies exist because UBC is committed to fostering learning and working environments where faculty, students and staff enjoy equitable opportunities to participate in the life and work of the university, where we are free from discrimination, harassment, and bullying, and where we can all experience a sense of dignity and belonging. 

We often use a shorthand to refer to this kind of environment as a ‘culture of respect’.

A culture of respect – an environment free from discrimination, harassment, and bullying – can only be accomplished when people leaders and community members at large commit to developing and exercising competencies to counter and call out harmful behaviours.

This brings me to the theme for this Day: Acts of Kindness.

Kindness, in the context of building a culture of respect, is more than the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.

Kindness, I suggest, is an essential component of the heart set competencies (or ways of being or feeling), which complement the mind set competencies (or ways of knowing and thinking) and skill set competencies (or ways of doing and acting) that all must be developed to cultivate and nurture a culture of respect. 

In this context, kindness is fundamentally about empathy and compassion as well as humility and courage.

  • Empathy and compassion to care about others’ perspectives and experiences and to be motivated to listen and help rather than dismiss or further contribute psychological harm. 
  • Humility and courage to make ourselves vulnerable to admit the limits of our knowledge and lived/living experience in order to promote intergroup dialogue rather than contribute to intergroup distrust.

Empathy, compassion, humility, and courage are well-documented inclusive leadership qualities, and we all must expend some effort to practice and perfect them.

There are many forces around us – whether within our peer and professional circles or within society locally and globally – that seek to draw us into and encourage divisiveness across difference.

Kindness can be a unifying counter force. 

To be clear, the call for more kindness to be exercised by all is not a call to ignore abuses of power. 

Kindness is not to be mistaken for politeness.

Kindness is empowering, while politeness can often be disempowering.

Kindness is also not at odds with boundary setting, where politeness can often undermine bystander intervention, which is key to anti-discrimination, harassment, and bullying efforts. 

Finally, at the risk of stating the obvious, kindness is a necessary yet insufficient pre-requisite to our equity, inclusion, and anti-racism goals. 

We need much more than kindness to combat discrimination, harassment, and bullying. 

But we have little foundation to build on if we don’t at least have that.

Thank you.

Arig al Shaibah