Human rights case management. Educational and employment equity. Sexual violence prevention and response. Conflict management.
Dalhousie’s newly named Human Rights & Equity Services (HRES) does a lot of crucial work on campus — the importance of which has been emphasized not only in the priorities of Dal’s Strategic Direction, but in the recommendations of several university-wide reports published over the past two years.
Following a comprehensive consultation process, the unit not only has a new name (changed from Human Rights, Equity and Harassment Prevention), but also a new strategic framework to guide its work, as well as new staff to better support its revitalized mission.
The consultations, which have taken place over the past year, sought to update the mandate of the organization, assess its capacity and future potential, and gather feedback from key campus stakeholders — all with the end goal of revitalizing and better resourcing this critically important unit.
One change is the unit’s leadership. HRES now reports through the Provost’s Office, with Dr. Arig al Shaibah (Vice-Provost, Student Affairs) appointed to serve as acting executive director. She’ll provide high-level oversight and direction while liaising with senior colleagues to advance institutional goals around diversity, inclusivity and equity, as well as continuing to lead the HRES revitalization.
“With the codifying of Dal’s commitment to diversity, inclusivity and equity in documents like the Strategic Direction, that really opened the door for a larger dialogue about what role Human Rights & Equity Services plays and how it should be resourced,” says Dr. al Shaibah. “It was an opportunity to reevaluate and revitalize.”
The name change is another outcome of the consultation process. Human Rights & Equity Services better reflects the unit’s mission: to be a focal point, a resource and a leader in the development of a respectful, equitable, diverse and inclusive campus community.
“The new name places an emphasis on ‘services,’ which will be important moving forward as the institution explores more appropriate options for locating HRES,” says Dr. al Shaibah. “We learned through the consultation process that community members felt the office structure, environment and ethos were not accessible or inviting, especially when dealing with sensitive issues. In choosing a name, we wanted to signal that we are not just an ‘office’ but a space that offers valuable services.”
The unit’s strategic framework outlines areas of focus for HRES along with guiding principles, strategic goals and priority initiatives, with four areas of focus: leading institutional change, building connections and capacity, managing cases and ensuring operational effectiveness. Dr. al Shaibah says many priorities identified are in alignment with recommendations from reports like the Belong Report, the Report of the Task Force on Misogyny, Sexism and Homophobia, and the Report from the Committee on Aboriginal and Black/African Canadian Student Access and Retention — all of which touched upon the important role HRES plays on campus.
“We’re focused on three levels of intervention to enhance diversity, inclusivity and equity: the individual level, looking at intra/interpersonal and interactional issues; the institutional level, including looking at structural and policy issues; and the ideological or cultural level, addressing normalized practices as well as issues of climate and culture,” says Dr. al Shaibah. “We know we have to tackle all of these with equal passion.”
The first step towards implementing the new strategic framework is hiring the individuals who will bring it to life. Over the past several months, and ahead into the new year, HRES is expanding its capacity to carry out its mission and support the Dal community. These staffing changes include:
- On the human rights, sexual violence and conflict case management side:
- Hagar Akua Prah joined the unit as interim senior advisor for case management supervision, discrimination and accommodation.
- Melissa MacKay has recently been hired as the new advisor, sexual harassment/assault.
- Nicole McKeever will be rejoining HRES as advisor, personal harassment/conflict, in January.
- On the equity and education side:
- Jackie Dowling has come on-board as education advisor while Shakira Weatherdon is on leave.
- In the coming weeks, a re-envisioned role of director, systemic equity initiatives, will be posted, with the aim of filling the position early in the new year.
- Lindie Colp-Rutley continues her work as data analyst.
- As well, Crystal Ragush provides support to the entire organization, coordinating administrative tasks, intake and special projects.
In total, these changes will increase the unit’s complement to seven staff members (in addition to the acting ED) — up from only two advisors a few years ago.
Dr. al Shaibah says the staffing changes are to better support both the proactive and reactive elements of HRES’s mission.
“We’re creating these distinctive areas of expertise, but with the appreciation as to how both the proactive systemic work and the reactive casework serve as different sides of the same coin,” she explains. “They’re distinct, but deeply related.”
The new staff will be key to further developing and implementing the strategic framework for HRES: evaluating existing programs, outlining new ones and considering further changes (such as identifying a new location for the office — one that would better support its revamped mission).
In the meantime, HRES continues its important work. Among its many programs are: PEGaSUS (a group that supports survivors of sexual assault), the Elephant in the Room (diversity and inclusion conversation series) and the “Be Counted” campaign (which supports the Dal census).
You can more about HRES and its services at its website. HRES can also be reached by phone at (902) 494-6672 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Its office is located in Room 2 (bottom floor) of the Henry Hicks Building.
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