Profile: Lisa DeLong
Position: Advisor, Human Rights and Equity
Department: Office of Human Rights, Equity and Harassment Prevention (HREHP)
How did you become interested in human rights?
My first degree from Dal was in Theatre, which enabled me to consider and engage in social justice issues. After graduating, I lived in the Czech Republic and worked with refugees. It was at this time that I became interested in human rights from an international perspective. I then went to law school to further develop expertise in this area.
What was your initial area of focus?
During and after law school, I worked closely on issues relating to children’s rights. One of my early roles was to oversee rights protections in the youth care and correctional systems. This work reinforced to me the fact that formal adversarial complaint processes are often inappropriate in responding to such concerns, as children are usually grown up and out of the system by the time an issue is addressed. I became focused on dialogue-based resolution with great success; my colleagues and I were able to effect wide systemic changes through constructive conversations. I then completed graduate studies in law here at Dalhousie, where I examined the applicability of restorative approaches to complaints processes.
How does your role at Dalhousie reflect your skills and experiences?
This role is very consistent with my prior roles: I came here directly from the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, where I was responsible for resolving concerns informally and where I introduced restorative approaches to their work. This role at Dalhousie affords opportunities to introduce some different approaches here and also to learn from the experts around me. Universities are highly relational organizations, and we have to pay attention to those relationships and see where we can improve them and work together productively.
What approach has Dalhousie used previously?
Dalhousie has had a strong focus on informal resolution, which is great. We recognize that a conflict is rarely just between two individuals. We know that we need to have a broader dialogue about context of situations, while still protecting privacy concerns.
How can our leaders make a difference at Dalhousie?
Embrace diversity. Recognize that it is crucial to our ongoing success and relevance as an institution. Learn about others. Notice not only who is here, but who is not, and ask why. We need to be talking about our individual diversities (in their many forms), express the fact that we value diversity, and be committed to working towards a diverse community which is inviting and supportive to those who have, in the past, been excluded. We have employment equity and affirmative action frameworks in place, but we, like most universities across the country, are lagging behind in successful implementation. Dalhousie has some exciting initiatives aimed at increasing and supporting diversity, such as the Dalhousie Diversity Faculty Awards, and we have many strong leaders working hard on thinking creatively about how we can best continue this journey.
What qualities should be present in a good diversity leader?
Good diversity leaders should be strong communicators, good listeners, and broad thinkers. It’s essential to have a vision of greater diversity, and be truly inclusive in our decision-making processes. We should also increase our understanding and intercultural awareness, and recognize and reflect upon own assumptions and biases. Creating a climate that values diversity does demand that we change the way we do things and the way we see things.
What do you see as a significant barrier to increasing diversity?
There is a lot of very good intent here at Dalhousie, but people sometimes struggle with the best approach in determining how to address issues. It’s an uncomfortable conversation and so the default position is to stay silent. Status quo naturally gets reinforced when we don’t change the kinds of conversations we are holding.
How can we get there?
Our goal is to create continue to promote a respectful and inclusive community at Dalhousie. We must take active measures because it has been our experience that historic disadvantage does not go away on its own. My office has started a broader conversation on this very question. Stay tuned for initiatives emerging from these conversations…
Lisa DeLong joined Dalhousie University in February 2012 as the Advisor, Human Rights and Equity in the Office of Human Rights, Equity and Harassment Prevention. Prior to this, Lisa worked at the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, where she played a leadership role in introducing restorative approaches to all areas of the Commission’s work. She has a B.A. in Theatre from Dalhousie University, an LL.B. from the University of Ottawa, and an LL.M. from Dalhousie University.