Dharani Persaud

Diversity Initiatives Student Librarian

Dharani Persaud, Diversity Initiatives Student LibrarianBackground

Dharani Persaud (they/she) is a dual Library & Information and Archival Studies student. Her interests lie in community archives and queer indenture histories. Their previous experience include teen creative writing programming and community organising. She comes to UBC by way of unceded Wampanoag and Massachusett (Boston) land, and Anishinaabek and Dakota (Minnesota) land.

Current Role and Responsibilities

The Diversity Initiatives Student Librarian supports in developing the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Scholars-in-Residence program, along with assisting in other community engagement programming at the IKBLC.

Could you tell us more about yourself? What types of projects are you most proud of?

I’m from the United States, born and raised in Minneapolis (the unceded and ancestral land of the Anishinaabe peoples), but most recently spent the past decade or so in Boston (the unceded and ancestral land of the Massachusett peoples). I’m currently in my first year of the MASLIS program, and before that I worked as a manager for teen programs at a creative writing center in Boston. I’m also a writer and enjoy experimenting with hybrid genres, although recently I’m just trying to figure out how to continue my writing practice while also being in grad school full time!  I’m also queer and Caribbean, specifically Indo-Guyanese. My interests lie in oral histories, queer histories, decolonial libraries and archives, and indenture research. I also absolutely love romance and YA novels and am always ready and willing to give book recommendations.

The project I’m most proud of is a digital oral history archive for Indo-Caribbean women and people of other marginalized genders that I co-founded in 2019. My fellow co-founders and I function as a collective, which means there is no hierarchy and we make decisions as a team. This teamwork has really taught me a lot about intentionality and what it means to focus on a process instead of always rushing toward results.

This project has brought me closer to an international community of incredible Caribbean archivists and activists and is a large reason of why I’m in grad school today. I want to add that the content management system we use is Mukurtu, a platform built by indigenous communities to better suit their needs for housing their histories and I’m really thankful for the existence of this platform as its features help protect some of the oral histories in our archive that are not meant to be heard by the general public.


What is EDI work? How do you attempt to further EDI work?

First, I want to plainly name what it is we should be fighting against when talking about EDI work, which is white supremacist ableist colonialist cisheteropatriarchal values. Now that that’s out of the way, I think it’s important to emphasize that diversity, equity, and inclusion all have different definitions, measurements, and goals. Simply achieving diversity does not automatically mean that equity and inclusion have also been reached. Equity requires the understanding that not everyone has access to the same resources, and that there are often barriers to access.

Attempting to diversify using an equity lens means everything from pushing for gender neutral bathrooms in your institutions to examining where your job descriptions are being posted and ensuring you’re using accessible language. I see inclusion as connected to retention and ensuring that people with identities and backgrounds outside of the mainstream power structure feel like they can come to work with their whole selves. This could mean something like allowing employees to take off religious holidays without having to use any of their paid-time off (PTO), or ensuring that there is a dedicated nursing room in your offices. It’s also always important to consider who is including whom and in what, and for what purpose.   

My understanding of equity, diversity, and inclusion has been shaped by working in the non-profit sector where I saw efforts to hire IBPOC and queer individuals without plans in place to consider promotions or mentorship, or anything that would facilitate retention. The top-level leadership continued to remain white, while those that were undertaking the most emotional labour to connect with communities were underpaid and undervalued. As a result, I believe EDI work cannot be successful if it is not occurring at every level of an organization. Who are the people making decisions? Who seems to be constantly doing the educating? The mentoring of other marginalized employees? Are they being compensated for that labour? We talk about systemic inequities but it’s important to remember that there are individuals reinforcing and creating these systems. The systems do not happen on their own.

I have tried to integrate the intentional and slow processes that I’ve learned from my community archive project into other aspects of my professional and personal life, and especially within EDI work. Too often I find EDI work to be rushed with the desire to provide “evidence” of progress without carefully looking at sustained, long-term, structural change. In the academic and professional settings I’ve been in I often come across an eagerness to appear progressive, without deeper plans to actually commit to change. I do find, however, that a lot can be accomplished if you gather a group who will constantly and consistently push and nudge those in power towards solutions. You can get a lot done if you have a dedicated group who is committed to making sure they are heard!


Fobazi Ettarh’s “vocational awe” has become a widely read piece of LIS literature and the term has entered the lexicon of the profession. She recently followed up with, ““The Future of Libraries:” Vocational Awe in a “Post-COVID” World” (co-authored with Chris Vidal).  What does “vocational awe” mean for you as a graduate student entering a career in library and archives? 

As someone who is queer and racialized, I’ve never really had the luxury of accepting any occupation as unequivocally positive or good. I’ve also unfortunately experienced what it feels like to put my all into a job and in the end be deeply let down and disappointed. Because of this, I really appreciated both of Ettarh’s articles on vocational awe because I felt validated in wanting to give myself boundaries relating to my profession. Ettarh writes,

“I love myself too much to accept a lack of work-life balance. I love myself too much to allow my job to become my whole identity. I love myself too much to tolerate job creep. I love myself too much to witness inequality and/or unfair practices and do nothing. The more you say these things, the more it will feel true,”

and I wholeheartedly believe that’s correct. The work of library and archives are incredibly important, but that does not mean that they have blameless histories (and presents). I do want to make a change in the world through my work and help to improve access to libraries and archives, but not to the extent that I deny myself rest and rejuvenation. I also firmly believe that if you do not take time for yourself, your efficacy at your job and the work you put into the world is going to decline. So really, who are you helping by trying to constantly embody the idea of a library hero 24/7 if all that comes of it is burnout where you can no longer help those you want to?


What does a campus environment that is welcoming, inclusive and increasingly diverse look like for you?  

A campus that is welcoming, inclusive, and increasingly diverse is a campus where the most marginalized among us actually feel supported and encouraged throughout their entire degree and do not question whether they belong. It’s also a campus that not only acknowledges its white supremacist and colonialist histories (and presents), but actively makes plans and works to dismantle harmful policies. It also looks like allowing students to focus on learning instead of spending time educating administration and advocating for ourselves and our communities to be properly represented and acknowledged.

It’s also important to recognize that campuses are places of extreme privilege that can also be quite insular. I think an ideal campus environment, then, is one that positively engages with its surrounding community, as well as acknowledges the incredible importance of people like food workers and janitors that work to keep the campus running smoothly.


Are there any recommendations for videos, books or journal articles that you recommend we learn more about regarding EDI? What are some titles that have shaped who you are?   

This initial list of books encompasses a wide range of fields and topics. They are not how-to guides on anything because I think there are enough well-known books out there for that already. Instead, they offer slices of insight on anti-oppression

This next list of books I just consider to be excellent in general. They’ve made me cry, they’ve made me angry, they’ve made me laugh, they’ve made me rethink my entire life! If you read any of these and decide you absolutely must talk to someone about them please come seek me out, I will be more than willing!!

It’s important to note that books and articles are an important starting point, but should by no means be the end of education about EDI work. If you have only read books on this subject, I ask that you re-examine what you’re doing in your daily life to create positive change. Have you joined a mutual aid group? If you’re able, are you donating a percentage of your paycheque? What other ways can you give back to your community?





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