By Jia Zhang, PSA student life interviewer

Good morning, June, thanks for taking this interview! Could you briefly introduce yourself to our audiences first? 

Sure. My name is June Reisner. I use she/her pronouns. I’m in my third year of psych at UBC. I transferred to UBC last fall, so this is just my second year here. I am doing a psych major and a GRSJ minor, which is Gender, Race, and Social Justice Studies. I’m from North Vancouver, where I live, so I commute to campus. When I’m not in school, I really like to read and knit. I joined the Knit Club this year, so I am trying to learn how to knit, which is a bit difficult, but it’s been fun. I also love to spend time outside because I live right at the base of the mountain.


That’s wonderful. How do you find UBC so far? 

I’m liking it. Last fall was more of an adjustment than I thought it would be, but I feel a lot more settled this semester, so I’m happy. There are so many more opportunities here, especially within psych. I used to go to Cap U in North Van, which is more of a community college and a teaching school. Since there’s so much research at UBC, it creates different opportunities for you to get involved in research and listen to interesting professors or researchers speak, so I’m really enjoying it here.


You have done an excellent job in promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) before being the PSA VP Equity. Can you tell us some of your previous work related to EDI?

Yeah, my most relevant work to this position was at Capilano University. I worked with the student union there, and it was related to disability justice. I worked under their VP Equity, and their Equity Committee focuses on representing students with disabilities at the university, so I did a lot of advocacy work on behalf of the students with disabilities towards the university. We also advocated towards the provincial government, so we did lobby there.


Tell us about how you stay organised and manage your time as a psych student

I tried to utilize what I learned about my own brain  and applied that to myself in my life to organize my time and stay on top of things. Personally what I found helpful was using a lot of calendar reminders, which I know a lot of people use already. I particularly really like notion, which is a website where you can add different elements and create your own kind of blog that helps you stay on top of everything. I take notes on my notion app as well, and just keep all my productivity tools in one website or one app, because I am not pulling information from all different types of apps or tools. All of my information is in one place, and that’s really helpful. 

It was a really good opportunity to serve students. We were able to host some great workshops to spread knowledge about disability justice, and we set up some scholarship funds to fund students with disabilities at the university, partially in a low-barrier way. That was the first piece of EDI work that I was interested in. It was really valuable, and hopefully it will be very applicable to this work at the PSA.

Did any of your personal experiences motivate you to advocate EDI?

For sure. I’m a student living with disability, so I have a lot of lived experience and interest in increasing equity in university. I’ve had lots of different experiences at both UBC and at my previous university, including learning how to navigate them. Some of those experiences have been great. There were lots of supportive moments, but there are also lots of room for improvement, like access to all kinds of constituencies for students who face equity barriers. So, my experiences have really inspired me to get working in equity.


The PSA’s Equality Committee is new. What is it about the PSA that attracted you to improve EDI here?

I joined the PSA last year as a member when I first came to UBC because I wanted to get involved in all communities, and I’ve attended lots of PSA events. There have been some great ones. For example, the Academics Committee has hosted its diversity and academia series, so there was definitely an interest in promoting equity amongst PSA members. Having an entire committee devoted to that will allow us to put on more events related directly to equity advocacy within the psych department to promote equity, so I think it will be a really great opportunity to make a team that’s fully focused on equity, instead of having equity efforts as an extraneous part of other committees.
To give an example, we will be having office hours because I’m excited to hear from other psych students about what type of equity-increasing programs or activities that they would be interested in. I want to know where they see gaps so that we can start working on those, because all I can go off is my own experience, but everybody experiences the university in a very different way.


What was the recruitment like for this new committee?

We’re accepting applications right now for directors and committee members. It’s open until November 1st, and applicants will be interviewed on a rolling basis. We’ve decided to make it a low-barrier application process, there are only two questions that have to be filled out. There’s no resume or GPA transcript requirement, and applicants don’t have to have previous experience. I’m hoping that that will allow people who sometimes feel overburdened by complicated application processes to put their name in the hat because all we’re looking for is people who have a genuine interest in equity, diversity, and inclusion work, and we’re excited to build such teams before we can really start doing events.


Are there any other qualities you are especially seeking when you recruit?

A strong interest in promoting equity, from either a personal or a professional lens, would be great. We’re looking for people who deeply care about equity, and there are a lot of people who are like that. For myself, there have been a lot of moments at the university where I notice instances when equity is lacking. If you’re a student who’s had experiences of thinking that the university or the PSA could do better, then I would like you to bring those experiences to the committee so that we can start working towards making changes for us as students and also for future students to see fewer moments where they see gaps.

Personal experience is definitely important, and you don’t have to have direct experience with it since caring is also important. I’m hoping that this committee can be a way that we can all take care of each other and make sure that everybody feels seen within psychology.

What are some of the PSA events that you are planning and working on?

We are going to partner with the Academics Committee to bring diversity in academia, like speaker series, which will be a series of talks with different academics and community members who either have personal experiences with EDI or are doing research that’s related to EDI so that we can learn from what they’re doing. That’s an exciting event, and the first one will be at the end of November, so it’s coming up soon and we’re recruiting speakers for that now.

Then we will do some partnerships with other on-campus organizations because there are lots of groups at UBC that work towards EDI. We’re hoping to collaborate and join forces to bring some interesting talks.
We will also hopefully bring some training opportunities for PSV members. Right now, there are lots of training modules that exist for things like disability justice or critical race theory and all that. They are all different types of topics within EDI, so hopefully, we can bring some valuable sessions where PSA members can develop a basis of knowledge about EDI practices. I think that having some experience in EDI is increasingly valuable when our members graduate and apply for jobs. There is something that employers will be looking for, especially within psychology. It’s so important to know that your clients are coming from all different backgrounds.

Besides, I’ll have office hours during the semester so members or psych students can come and chat about anything related to the university or equity. Or if you have specific ideas or opportunities that you would like to see from our community to put forward, I’d love to hear about those. Or if you’ve had specific or general issues with equity or access within the PSA or within the psych department, the office hours would also be a place to come to, and we can do some advocacy on your behalf. I am interested in listening to what our constituents want out of our committees from an equity perspective so that we can serve them in a way that’s most relevant.

Hopefully this is a low-barrier channel where students could come and voice their concerns. I would be interested in not only getting those concerns solved for specific students but also making changes within the department, so that in the future there will be fewer barriers existing for people.

Speaking of personal experience, on one hand, noting down students’ personal experiences can possibly help them; on the other hand, you need to do well on confidentiality. How do you balance those two?

If we’re dealing with individual students’ issues, it’s important to follow their lead. It’s possible that they just want to voice their concerns and be heard, or it’s possible that they want us to take it higher and approach the department, professor, or whoever it may be. Their consent is the most important thing, so I would strive to listen to what their needs are as well as what they want to get out of the process and follow that, so I definitely wouldn’t take it to a higher level if that’s not what they were interested in.

Do you have any other unique or new elements that help with better implementing EDI? For example, you mentioned that you will have office hours set up, which do not exist in a lot of EDI committees

We’re going to have office hours, and our committee members, who will be a nice representative subset of the PSA members, will be able to bring forward different ideas, then we can take those ideas. 

Also, we would like to focus on getting feedback from our events so that we can improve upon what we’re offering and make sure to put on more events that are interesting and relevant to the students. Because this is such a new committee, we will be trying to get as much feedback as we can in the first little while to adjust to the needs of the students.

Since the PSA is starting to do more in-person events, we wouldn’t necessarily have everyone’s email, but we will try to send follow-up emails to people who pre-register. We can also see which events have the most uptake to know what kinds of events are most valuable to people.

That’s a great idea. Can you think of any potential barriers to EDI?

I think that there are a lot of barriers baked into the institution, which is the university. Those systemic inequities can be really difficult to tease out since they sort of form the basis of the whole university structure, especially when we try to advocate for improvements within the department. However, at least within our organization, the PSA, which is a bit smaller, areas of improvement are hopefully less burdensome than the larger school-based ones.

Jimmy, Ben and I were talking the other day about accessibility services on campus, which are services that UBC offers to students with disabilities so that they can have equitable access to education through different accommodations. We were saying that they are really important services, and there are a lot of students benefiting from them, but there are also a lot of students who don’t know that they could access those services. So we’d like to have a campaign to increase students’ awareness of the accessibility services that are available. But again, there are services that are imperfect, and you don’t want to refer someone to a department where they may have a bad experience, so I see that as a potential stumbling block. This said, I think with accessibility, even though it is an imperfect department, at least the students can know about it because then they can choose whether they think it’s worth accessing it.

Are you aware of any psychological barriers that people may have?

Yeah. I think there are a lot. For instance, some people don’t think that they are disabled enough to qualify to access accommodations. It’s hard to admit to yourself that you might need some extra accommodations. 

From a broader perspective, I think that a lot of equity issues come from unconscious biases that a lot of us carry. If you leave those biases unexamined, then these biases get perpetuated repeatedly. Therefore, it’s important to examine your own ways of thinking and see if you might harbour any of those biases. It’s not necessarily that you have malevolent intentions, but those biases likely to end up being harmful to other folks if don’t confront them.

So, I think doing the work on a personal level is important, which may include trying to examine your own biases and informing yourself about different elements of EDI. Hopefully we can put on some events where PSA members can participate in workshops that are meant to inform about these unconscious biases so that our members can be more well-informed.

Something that I also think about a lot is what I have learned from the GRSJ department about what equity is. I think it’s widely applicable because the knowledge about equity is about seeing people in an equitable way. Learning about systemic inequities is useful in your personal life or career since those systemic injustices are reproduced all over society, and you will likely encounter equity barriers no matter where and what you are working for. So, it’s really important and useful to be able to understand the world and have the knowledge to recognize those systemic inequities and biases and confront or correct them wherever they appear. When you know more about it, you are better equipped to handle them right, so that the cycle doesn’t continue.


Regarding the first psychological barrier that you mentioned, which suggests that a lot of people haven’t realized that they need more accommodations, I have also noticed that as a psych student when I see or hear people who need mental health services think that their sufferings are not strong enough to seek help.

There are a lot of cultural messages asking people to “be strong” or to “bottle it up”. Thankfully, in our generation, seeking mental health support has been a bit more normalized, so we are in the right direction. There should be no shame in accessing the support that you need.

Are there other solutions that the team has come up with or expected to possibly overcome those barriers?

Since we are still hiring the committee, we don’t have a team and haven’t brainstormed yet, but like you suggest, the education piece will definitely be a key, so it will be our focus this year. We are still early in the process. It’s not fully fleshed out yet.

I can only come at it from my own perspective, and I think it’s important to do equity-related work with a diversity of perspectives. I’m looking forward to having people who are genuinely interested in promoting EDI collaborate with us and learn from each other.