Knowledge Equity Lab Virtual Launch Party Recap

On September 24th, the Knowledge Equity Lab hosted its virtual Launch Party, where we welcomed friends, partners, and collaborators from around the globe, from Tkaronto (Toronto, Ontario), Muisca (in Colombia), Bakata (Northeast India), Coast Salish (Vancouver); Bloemfontein, South Africa; Kampala, Uganda; San Carlos, California; Nashville, Tennessee; Austin, Texas; and more!  

As a warm-up exercise, we asked attendees what knowledge equity meant to them, and saw a number of different themes and values emerge, including justice, diversity, access, epistemic justice, love, respect, collaboration, honouring different ways of knowing, wisdom, social justice, democratizing, sharing power, and more. 

Lab Director Leslie Chan opened the event with a Land Acknowledgement, speaking to the importance of acknowledging the physical materiality of the land and infrastructure which enabled our gathering in this digital space. He also called for critical reflection to consider how these technologies continue to embed and perpetuate biases and unequal power relations as a pressing knowledge equity issue.

When we talk about the online world as a global village, whose village are we talking about? We need to address the deep epistemic injustices against black and indigenous communities. @lesliekwchan at #LaunchKEL @KnowEquityLab

— OpenCon (@open_con) September 24, 2020

University of Toronto Scarborough Principal Wisdom Tettey was then invited to share his remarks, and emphasised the significance of the Knowledge Equity Lab to the mission, visions, and values of the university. He also provided insightful reflections challenging the notion of knowledge as a commodity, encouraging instead, knowledge as communal and shared; and as simultaneously bounded and boundless.  

Knowledge is bounded— we don’t know it all and Knowledge is also boundless—-there is a vast infinite sea of knowledge out there to be explored. Learn to go out & seek more knowledge.
Wisdom Tettey at #LaunchKEL @KnowEquityLab

— BlessingsTimidi DIGHA (@SuperGirlTimidi) September 24, 2020

“Knowledge in a lot of places is considered a community asset. To commodify knowledge is antithetical to their idea of their sense of community. Knowledge is a COMMONS. Knowledge is meant to be shared.” – @UTSC Principal Wisdom Tetty! #LaunchKEL @KnowledgeEquity

— Knowledge Equity Lab (@KnowEquityLab) September 24, 2020

Knowledge Equity Lab Advisory Member Isabelle Kim then spoke to her work as a UNESCO Knowledge for Change Mentor and the Founding Co-Chair of the K4C Tkaronto Hub. In collaboration with the other K4C mentors and numerous community partners,  Isabelle celebrated the success of K4C Tkaronto’s first year, developing curriculum and hosting numerous workshops on community-based, participatory action research. 

Open Access pioneers and Bioline International co-founders Barbara Kirsop and Vanderlei Canhos then shared their history and experiences launching the open access publishing platform. Barbara brought us back to the 1990s when the internet was still in its infancy, and spoke to the motivations of Bioline to enable greater visibility and access to academic research from and for low and middle-income countries. She celebrated the remarkable success of this platform as indicated through its average of 15.7 million downloads per year. Vanderlei of the Reference Center on Environmental Information (CIRA) in Brazil (which provides server hosting, and administration for Bioline) spoke to the power of international collaboration and remarked on the incredible partnerships it has enabled and itself has been, over the last 30 years. 

We then moved on to a few special performances to acknowledge and celebrate different ways of knowing, learning, and expressing!  Blessing Digha, Community-Based Researcher, Storyteller and KEL Community Fellow shared her words of wisdom in her short story, ‘The Knowledge in Storytelling’. We were then graced with the poetic talents of KEL Advisory Member and UNESCO Co-Chair (of Community Based Research & Social Responsibility in Higher Education) Dr. Budd Hall, who shared his poem, ‘Learning to Imagine’, which he dedicated to all attendees of the KEL Launch party. 

After these refreshing performances, we were back to hearing about, and celebrating people and projects like Professor Bettina von Lieres who co-leads the Community Knowledge Learning Hub — a collaboration between the university and various community partners, with the mission of community-engaged learning by bringing community knowledge into the university through ethical and trust based long term relationships. 

We were grateful to then hear from UTSC alumna and former Research Associate of the Open Collaborative Science in Development Network Denisse Albornoz, who spoke to the findings, learnings, and insights gained from the OCSDNet project. In particular, she highlighted how the Open Science manifesto shaped her own understanding of the kinds of principles and values that could underpin a truly inclusive open science that advances social and environmental well-being.

Next, we heard from more recent graduates Alejandro Posada and George Chen, members of the early-career research collective KnowledgeGAP.  Alejandro explained that the overarching goal of KnowledgeGAP was to document how inequality was produced and reproduced in academic spaces, with his research specifically looking at financialisation in the academic publishing industry. George elaborated on this project, explaining that their review of mergers and acquisitions revealed that large academic publishers were gaining increasing control of the various infrastructural systems used by academic researchers. 

Last but not least, we heard from the youngest knowledge equity advocate of the day, Tasmeen Mewa, UTSC undergraduate student and founder of the Open Praxis Forum. Tasneem explained that OPF was created out of a necessity to showcase early-career-researcher work, with an emphasis on epistemic diversity (platforming different mediums and forms of knowledge presentation) and reflexivity, encouraging contributors to deeply reflect on their positionality and impact of their research. 

Following these highlights and celebrations of various KEL sub-projects, attendees had the honour of witnessing the premier screening of the Knowledge Equity Lab video, produced by designer Emilia Pezzati and her team from Cooperativa de Diseno. Emilia spoke to the process and experience of co-creating this video, with ideas, visuals, and inspiration from a heartening collaborative visioning workshop with many friends and partners; and narration by our in-house storyteller Blessing Digha. 

In the post-launch after-party, Knowledge Equity Lab Coordinator Maggie Huang invited everyone to join the virtual UTSC valley for a community potluck to mix and mingle and get to know each other! Once (our mind and hearts were) fed, attendees gathered around the virtual community garden and was encouraged to reflect, map, and share: 

  • the values which informed the roots of knowledge equity; 
  • the seeds of ideas participants might want to grow; 
  • the people and partners who steward the projects, 
  • the current projects we wanted to continue cultivating, 
  • and any accomplishments, or fruits we wanted to share and celebrate

We ended the Launch Party with a powerful piece by KEL member and OPF Project Co-lead Kanishka Sikri called Academia: A Provocation. 

Kanishka closed the evening with her thoughtful provocations:  

“I’m told academia has been a historic vehicle for knowledge production, but has it? Whose knowledge is worthy enough to be taken up by the academy? Whose theory is made visible by the static, inherently exclusionary politics of academic publishing—and who, how, where is made invisible?

Oral storytelling. Spoken word. Poetry. Visual art and culture. Community activism. Everyday acts of resistance. Oral histories. Digital forms of rebellion. Workplace protests. Marches and strikes. Survival politics. Participatory learning. Consciousness raising. How can these forms of being with and through our world be captured by academia as ‘productive’.”

Thank you so much to all the speakers, attendees, faciltators, and co-organisers of the virtual Launch Party! It was a huge collective spanning many months of planning and collaboration. Some of the wonderful immediate reactions and reflections from attendees that day:  

“A really inspiring evening highlighting so much important work!” 
“HUGE respect and love to all involved in the creation of this KEL space. INSPIRING”
“Congrats on all of this inspiring work and collaboration.” 
“Thank you for a wonderful launch! Amazing to witness this journey! Congratulations.” 
“Loved the poetry and spoken word integrated into this – so refreshing”
“Such a beautiful space. So glad I got to be a part of it”
“Inspiring set of reflections, stories poems and video kicking off tonight’s launch of the Knowledge Equity Lab!” 

We are so grateful to all the pioneers and emerging leaders advancing knowledge equity in their spaces, and we’re excited to continue addressing and redressing the numerous existing and emerging barriers to knowledge equity together.  We welcome and invite all those with this shared mission to join us, to collaborate, co-create, and cultivate new (or nurture existing) projects. What might we grow together? 

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