HxA’s Q&A series where we chat with members about their scholarship, intellectual life, and issues around open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement.
Today’s exchange is with Andy Sellwood, Instructional Associate, Vancouver Community College. Andy is the HxCanada Community moderator and is responsible for growing the group to more than 200 participants in the last two years. For several months he has also been involved in a nation-wide initiative in support of heterodoxy in Canada. In this Q&A Andy shares more about his involvement with Heterodox Academy, his work, and his thoughts on DEI initiatives on his campus.
Q. How did you first get involved with HxA?
A. I first got involved with HxA back in 2019 after reading The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, and after experiencing first-hand some of the issues they laid out in their book. I saw that HxA was starting up communities and I thought it would be good to set one up for academics and students in British Columbia so I could connect with others in the area who shared the concerns I had about academia. As the pandemic unfolded in 2020, and as the use of conferencing tools like Zoom increased, it made sense to expand HxA British Columbia to become HxA Canada. I started up a tri-weekly Zoom session for members that quickly gained traction.
Q. What drew you to the HxA mission?
A. What drew me to the HxA mission was the approach put forward in the HxA Way. People don’t have to agree, but sharing common ground about how we interact and how we treat each other is so important. We have to give up the ideas of winning and of giving in to our egos and focus on seeing the bigger picture — that we are all just people who come with different ways of seeing things due to our life experiences and personality.
Q. Give us a two-sentence summary of your work and/or academic interests.
A. For the last few years, I’ve been in a role supporting teaching and learning. In terms of research, I have been involved in a project to look at the alternative assessments used by instructors as they pivoted to online teaching during the pandemic. In addition, I have been part of an HxA-funded project to look at campus free expression and academic freedom amongst students and faculty at Canadian universities.
Q. In your mind, what makes for a positive, effective diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiative on campus? What unique perspective are you bringing to the DEI conversation on your campus?
A. DEI has emerged as a key priority at my college, like at many post-secondary institutions. Embarking on discussions concerning DEI and determining how to engage and consult everyone around possible changes in practice is incredibly tricky. However, these discussions and consultations are very important if we want to avoid DEI becoming a ‘top-down’ initiative.
I think the unique perspective I bring is of someone who is generally supportive of DEI, but who sees that implementing it is challenging. For example, whenever DEI is brought up in a meeting most people go quiet and don’t feel comfortable contributing to the conversation. We risk not hearing valuable perspectives and potentially heading in the wrong direction about DEI. I think if any DEI initiative is going to be a success, it must come from the ground up. There must be ‘buy in’ on what is proposed, which ensures follow through, and not just empty platitudes and random changes that feel good but in reality don’t help anyone. There is nothing worse than an initiative that looks great on the surface, but results in no real, deep change.
Based on all this, I have suggested surveying faculty and staff and asking questions to get a sense of how they would like to provide input and feedback on DEI initiatives, as well as how they would want to engage in discussions on DEI (and how these discussions could be facilitated). I’ve also suggested we ask what the barriers are to creating effective DEI initiatives, and how we could promote open discussions on DEI in their departments or in the institution as a whole.
Q. What advice would you give to other members in search of similar opportunities on their campus? How might they add their perspective to these conversations?
A. For anyone who is wondering how they might get involved with DEI initiatives on campus, I think it is first important to clarify what your real concerns are and to make sure that those concerns are grounded in something concrete you are seeing at your institution (and not just a headline on social media). It is good to chat with others one-on-one to sharpen your position and make sure that your criticism is fair. I’d then advise bringing those concerns up in a respectful way with those who are connected to DEI, perhaps starting in a smaller setting, then working up to larger forums. You may be surprised by how many people agree with what you are saying. Finally, I’d say it is important to avoid ranting, and to come across as level-headed, calm, and thoughtful.
Q. When you’re not in the classroom, researching, or writing, what do you most enjoy spending your time on/doing?
A. I’m a huge nerd; I play tabletop miniature games and roleplay games like Dungeons and Dragons. I also love to run, particularly in the trails near my house on the North Shore of Vancouver.
Q. It’s been a tough year and half, but what’s one thing that you feel most proud of looking back?
A. I feel very proud of the HxA Canada community that has grown from a small group in 2020 to a significant collective of academics, students, and administrators. We ran our first Canada-wide conference in April 2022, attracting over seventy participants.