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Continuing conversation and action on diversity and inclusiveness at Dal

- March 11, 2016

It was two years ago that Dalhousie finalized the university’s Strategic Direction, which included among its priorities a commitment to fostering a culture of diversity and inclusiveness at the university. And it was a year ago that the initial phase of that work concluded with the release of the Belong report.

That report was followed by a push on several key recommendations, including the hiring of an executive director of diversity and inclusiveness, the launch of a reworked Dalhousie Census to better survey diversity within the Dal community, and the development of a comprehensive mental wellness approach for the university.

Now, those initiatives are in place, or will be rolled out shortly — and that means project leads for the Strategic Initiative on Diversity and Inclusiveness are starting to shape its next phase.

Expertise and leadership

The hiring of Dal’s new executive director of diversity and inclusiveness, Norma Williams, back in December highlights the importance of this work.

Williams, who joined the university community in December, brings to the role almost 12 years’ experience as a Human Rights Officer and Public Education Officer with the NS Human Rights Commission, part of her extensive experience working on diversity and inclusiveness issues across various public sector organizations.

Read more: Dedicated to diversity: Introducing Norma Williams, Dal’s new executive director of diversity and inclusiveness

In addition to Williams’ leadership, Jasmine Walsh (acting assistant vice-president of Human Resources) and Wanda Thomas Bernard Bernard (professor in the School of Social Work) will serve as leads on the strategic initiative going forward.

(Left-to-right: Norma Williams, Jasmine Walsh, Wanda Thomas Bernard.)

Walsh, who prior to her current appointment worked in academic staff relations, has been an active supporter of human rights and equity principles throughout her career. And Dr. Bernard, who teaches in the area of anti-oppression and cultural diversity, is an Order of Canada recipient with several decades of expertise in diversity work, and also served as past director of the School of Social Work.

Dr. Bernard’s role as is related to her new part-time appointment within the President’s Office as special advisor, diversity and inclusiveness. Announced by President Richard Florizone last month, Dr. Bernard will advise the university’s leadership team and the Human Rights, Equity and Harassment Prevention Office, and will work alongside Norma Williams (executive director, diversity and inclusiveness) in liaising with faculty, academic leaders and Senate on diversity plans and initiatives.

Read more: Wanda Thomas Bernard appointed as special advisor, diversity and inclusiveness

Moving forward

Back in November, Dalhousie published a progress update on the different work being done across the university in response to several reports: the Belong report, the Report from the Task Force on Misogyny, Sexism and Homophobia in the Faculty of Dentistry, the Report from the Restorative Justice Process at the Faculty of Dentistry, along with the national Truth and Reconciliation Report.

Among those updates were several items that the Strategic Initiative on Diversity and Inclusiveness flagged as initial priorities, with several underway or nearing completion:

  • Williams was hired as Dal’s first executive director of diversity and inclusiveness.
  • A comprehensive mental wellness initiative, encompassing faculty/staff and students, is set to be launched next week.
  • The university launched a revamped Dalhousie Census to better assess diversity within the Dal community. The initial results and analysis will be discussed with Senate next week and released publicly the following week.
  • A provost-led review of the Office of Human Rights, Equity and Harassment Prevention is underway, with several initial changes (including the hiring of a new education advisor) implemented last fall.

Now, the strategic initiative’s project team is starting to map out what its priorities will be for the rest of 2016 and into 2017. Among their plans include the formation of a broader steering group for the initiative, and the targeting of May 2016 for the release of a progress update related to the various reports.

“We have outstanding recommendations,” says Dr. Bernard. “We don’t need to go and find what needs to be done. We know what needs to be done. It’s a process of implementation: how we go about making change happen.”

“I think our community is really ready to pivot into that leadership role,” says Walsh. “Everyone I talk to is excited about and engaged with the idea of what they can do in their area, how they can contribute to an overall good. It strikes me as a real opportunity to capture some of that energy, and continue to move Dalhousie in a positive direction.”

Learn more: dal.ca/cultureofrespect


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