Last week, when putting together a presentation for an anti-racism talk at Ryerson University, Wanda Thomas Bernard had the chance to reflect on her career thus far.
“It struck me that I’ve been working on social justice issues for 50 years, ever since I was in high school,” she says. Forty of those years have been in the field of social work, and 26 of them at Dalhousie.
“The work I’ve done has always been around advancing issues of social justice,” says Dr. Bernard, “fighting for the recognition for and encouraging people to embrace diversity and its positives, in all its forms. It’s been fighting for institutional and structural change, and also change in education.”
Earlier this month, Dal President Richard Florizone announced that Dr. Bernard would be starting a three-year, part-time appointment in the President’s Office as special advisor, diversity and inclusiveness. 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.
“Dr. Bernard’s decades of experience in this area positions Dalhousie University well to move forward on our commitment to diversity and inclusiveness,” said Dr. Florizone.
Dr. Bernard feels the role continues to signal the importance of that commitment to the university.
“I’m incredibly excited by the opportunity to be involved with the work at this level, because these are issues I’ve been involved with, and working on, for my whole career,” says Dr. Bernard.
Experience and leadership
Dr. Bernard, who teaches in the School of Social Work in the area of anti-oppression and cultural diversity, is an Order of Canada recipient with extensive expertise in diversity work. She was the first African Nova Scotian to hold a tenure track position at Dalhousie and to be promoted to full professor, and served as director of the School of Social Work from 2001-2011. Last year, she was the inaugural recipient of Dal’s Award for Excellence in Education in Diversity, as well as the national Harry Jerome Award for community service.
Some of Dr. Bernard’s other responsibilities in her role as special advisor will include working with the Employment Equity Council to review and update the university’s employment equity policies and principles, and partnering with Human Resources to develop an annual education plan for senior administrators to support a fully inclusive university.
She will also serve as co-lead on the university’s Strategic Initiative on Diversity and Inclusiveness together with Jasmine Walsh, assistant vice-president, Human Resources.
“The depth of Wanda’s expertise, her credibility within our community and her enthusiasm are all incredible assets to the university and to our work,” says Walsh.
Dr. Bernard is excited by the opportunity Dalhousie has to lead positive change when it comes to diversity and inclusiveness on campus.
“Taking a spin off Gandhi’s words: he said ‘be the change’ and I always tell people, ‘lead the change.’ We need to lead the change we want to see in the world, and I think Dalhousie is well positioned to lead the change.”
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