‘Improving the school experience’

Diversity Leadership in Education: Embedding Practices of Social Justice
edited by Catherine McGregor and Shailoo Bedi

Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2024
$44.95  /  9780228019251

Reviewed by Natalie Virginia Lang


Achieving diversity in educational institutions, available resources, and instructor practices, while widely accepted as a positive step toward a more equitable society, is less common than one might initially think. Further probing will reveal that although educational institutions promote diversity in their course offerings, content, culture, and student body, the reality is that diversity among the leadership in these institutions is rare. Those leadership positions are coveted by a long succession of western, privileged, and patriarchal practices, that sometimes uphold barriers to equity within education and thus barriers to a more socially-just society.

Diversity Leadership in Education: Embedding Practices of Social Justice, edited by Catherine McGregor, associate professor of leadership studies at the University of Victoria, and Shailoo Bedi, adjunct assistant professor of leadership studies and executive director of the Learning and Teaching Support Innovation Division at the University of Victoria, brings together Indigenous, Black, racialized, and minority voices from across North America. The goal of this collection of essays and teachings is to explore how diverse leaders are key to improving the school experience for marginalized students.

Catherine McGregor is associate professor of leadership studies at the University of Victoria

Through a variety of unique studies, narratives, and lived experiences, the diverse voices in this volume collectively point out that education is understood to be a great tool for social change. It is therefore the role of education to create spaces that interrogate persistent and damaging oppressive ideologies and practices within their educational institutions. They ask readers to question the cultural and political status quo, as well as the policies that have embedded inequity into the very fabric of our society. The authors and editors suggest that leaders in education must learn how to dismantle those systems that maintain such barriers, including colonization of education, privilege, hegemonic ideas, equity myths, and pedagogical whitewashing, in order build a socially-just society. This starts with advocacy for marginalized rights, solidarity among leaders, spirituality, relationality, and reconciliation. Diversity leadership, then, through the process of unlearning, becomes “a rudder, steering a more inclusive and equitable society.”

The book begins with a clear and detailed introduction on the topic of diversity and leadership in education. McGregor and Bedi acknowledge the challenges and setbacks that come with attempting true diversification. They explain that the system educators and educational leaders work within exists with underlying structural and systemic racism. There are simply too many stories where racism and xenophobia are targeted at Indigenous peoples, Muslims, Jews, people of Black and Asian descent, and immigrants, to call any institution truly diverse.

Shailoo Bedi is adjunct assistant professor of leadership studies and executive director of the Learning and Teaching Support Innovation Division at the University of Victoria

The goal and purpose of Diversity Leadership in Education is to expand “understandings of leadership and give voice to diverse leaders and scholars working to embed social justice in their everyday practices”. This is outlined while offering the reader essential vocabulary and pathways toward unpacking the necessary paradigm shifts required in leadership and education to achieve a more equitably-functioning society. The introduction is followed by an essential discussion of the Equity Myth where “‘equity is promised but denied’” in many institutions and “allows a culture of silence to continue while organizations remain complicit in the persistent systematic marginalization and underrepresentation of diverse populations.”

The remainder of the book is organized into three themes: Relationality, Intersectionality, and Reimagined Realities. Within each theme, introductions and clear explanations of the overarching goals and ambitions of the writers’ ideas and observations are detailed. The following chapters are collections of narratives and experiences that aim to outline “how leaders and their actions can be central features of approaches to decolonizing educational settings.”

Relationality refers to the “shared spaces between people, relying on reciprocity, kinship, respect, and shared beliefs.” It is also a foundation of social justice leadership as it represents the necessary shifts in power, replacing an individualistic paradigm with one of shared engagement. Complementing these ideas, the Intersectionality section of the book looks closely at the complexities of one’s identity and ways of being. The authors write the stories of diverse leaders, expressing their daily struggles with their role, and explaining how identity work is essential in forging a path to considering how oppression operates and overlaps to subdue the reality of our socially and culturally complex lives. The book finishes with a third theme exploring Reimagined Realities. Here, the reader has an opportunity to see diversity leadership in action as “six contributing authors explore how diversity leaders interrupt the status quo and spaces to embrace inclusion.” For example, in Chapter 13, Rebecca Cory and co-authors point out that one of the most important roles for educators as leaders in diversity in their communities, is to “create belonging and opportunities for learning.” Traditional education practices, without a sense of belonging in one’s own learning experience, where the instructor is “perceived to have more power,” tends to isolate marginalized students in the classroom who have considerably less power. To counteract this marginalization, which is incredibly harmful to students’ mental and emotional health, impacting their overall success in countless ways, instructors must model in themselves and facilitate opportunities for their students to practice self-compassion, self-awareness, empathy, trust, vulnerability, accountability, collaboration, equity and removing of barriers, understanding systemic inequality, and growth mindsets. In doing this, the diverse leader will offer a space for belonging, which may create opportunities to counter the deep injustices embedded in education.

Diversity Leadership in Education: Embedding Practices of Social Justice proves to be an approachable text with authentic narratives. The volume has the potential to interrupt the educational status quo and embolden diverse focused leaders to bring their colleagues and institutions closer to the systemic change required for a truly authentic, socially-just, and equitable society.

As this book suggests, theory, on its own, is ineffective in promoting diversity in education. Actionable leadership is required for real social change. This leadership begins with the voices already in the thick of collaboration and discussion, inspiring new educational leaders to take up the torch, and challenge themselves and their colleagues to become more aware of their own biases. They must realign their pedagogy to oppose the status quo, create space and opportunity for discussion, and push back against the barriers and systems that continue to have negative impacts. Diversity Leadership in Education is a necessary read for anyone eager to promote true diversity in education.


Natalie Virginia Lang

Natalie Virginia Lang is a teacher and writer. She is an alumnus of the Graduate Liberal Studies (GLS) program at SFU and has contributed essays to The B.C. Review including Remnants of Sumas Mountain and Letters from the Pandemic: Dear Will.  Lang is the author of Remnants: Reveries of a Mountain Dweller (Caitlin Press, 2023), a memoir inviting readers to re-examine our relationships with the natural world. Editor’s note: Natalie Virginia Lang has reviewed books by Rick AntonsonDave DoroghySheena KamalJae Wallercarla bergman, and Sonnet L’Abbé for The British Columbia Review.


The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-24: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

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