Strength through diversity: Dal introduces Diversity and Inclusiveness Strategy

- April 12, 2017

Over the past couple of years, the Dal community has seen many new and renewed efforts across the university to better support diversity and inclusion.

Informed by the recommendations of multiple university-wide and external reports, several key initiatives have been completed under Strategic Priority 5.2 of the university’s Strategic Direction, which commits Dalhousie to “foster a collegial culture grounded in diversity and inclusiveness.” Among them: the introduction of the Dalhousie Census; the hiring of a new executive director for diversity and inclusiveness and an ombudsperson for students; an expansion and rebranding of Human Rights & Equity Services (HRES); and the launch of the Dal Thrive mental health initiative.

Alongside these efforts, the strategic priority’s leadership team — led by Jasmine Walsh, assistant vice-president of Human Resources, and Wanda Thomas Bernard, special advisor for diversity and inclusiveness — has been working on building a broader framework for its work, one that will continue well after Dal’s current Strategic Direction plan reaches its endpoint in 2018.

This week, the Diversity and Inclusiveness Strategy was introduced to the Dalhousie community. In the short term, that strategy streamlines, prioritizes and tracks the progress of the recommendations that have come out of Strategic Priority 5.2. Longer-term, it provides a structure within which the university can identify and fulfill new goals and priorities in building a more diverse, inclusive Dal community.

View: Dalhousie Diversity and Inclusiveness Strategy

Walsh says developing the strategy was one of the primary goals set out in the Strategic Priority’s charter, and foregrounds the importance of diversity and inclusion in building a stronger, more successful university.

“It places our work within a researched framework, and that ensures that what we’re prioritizing for activities and new initiatives are purposeful, balanced and measurable,” she explains. “But even more importantly, it makes sure that our commitment to diversity and inclusiveness is embedded in our core operations as a university going forward.”

Embracing diversity’s promise

The framework Walsh refers to is adapted from the work of Daryl G. Smith — in particular, her 2015 book Diversity’s Promise for Higher Education. A professor of education and psychology at the Claremont Graduate University in California, Dr. Smith is widely recognized for her work in diversity and inclusion in higher education, and her framework has been adopted with success in other post secondary contexts in North America.

“Diversity is a powerful agent of change,” she writes in the book. “Indeed, diversity is an imperative that must be embraced if colleges and universities are to be successful in a pluralistic and interconnected world.”

The framework views diversity as far more than simply “population mix.” Dr. Smith argues that to strengthen universities — making them more relevant to society while remaining true to their core mission — diversity must be central to teaching and research in higher education.

Dal’s adoption of Dr. Smith’s framework is organized around four goal areas:

  • Climate and Intergroup Relations: Shaping campus culture in a systemic, intentional and holistic way to ensure welcoming, respectful and inclusive communities.
  • Student Access and Success: Ensuring the university admits, engages, supports and graduates a diverse student body, with particular attention to enhancing access and success of historically underrepresented students.
  • Education and research: Promoting teaching and research about diversity and inclusiveness, as well as promoting inclusion of diverse perspectives across all disciplines.
  • Institutional Viability and Vitality: Recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce and integrating diversity, inclusiveness and equity goals into systems, structures, policies and practices.

Within each of these goal areas are several objectives, each of which will have key tasks attached to them. The 5.2 committee is currently working on finalizing the list of tasks, identified from the five university and external reports from the past two years: the Belong report (March 2015), the Report from the Committee on Aboriginal and Black/African Canadian Student Access and Retention (October 2015), the Report from the Task Force on Misogyny, Sexism and Homophobia in the Faculty of Dentistry (June 2015), Report from the Restorative Justice Process at the Faculty of Dentistry (May 2015) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada: Calls to Action (June 2015).

Tasks that have been identified for completion between now and the Strategic Direction’s endpoint in June 2018 include:

  • Developing a formal Indigenous Strategy for Dalhousie, addressing TRC Calls to Action and Dalhousie-specific report recommendations.
  • Developing a Gender Affirmation Policy to provide protocol and support for faculty, staff and students going through gender transition.
  • Developing a Sexual Violence Policy, providing a clear, consistent and coordinated response to incidents of sexual violence
  • Improving and more effectively implement the Employment Equity Policy, including, among other updates, individuals identifying with sexual orientation and gender identity minority groups among our equity-seeking groups
  • Enhancing diversity information and data collection and analysis of student, faculty and staff populations to better understand and assess the needs and experiences of underrepresented and marginalized groups.

Engagement across the university

In addition to Walsh and Dr. Bernard, the project team leading the Strategic Priority and which helped develop the Diversity and Inclusiveness Strategy includes Norma Williams (executive director, diversity and inclusiveness), Fiona Black (associate vice-president academic), Arig al Shaibah (vice-provost student affairs), Leanne French Munn (executive director, institutional planning and project management) and Maya Churbaji (manager, research & operations, Human Resources).

The strategy is also informed by an advisory committee with representatives from various groups across the university, including the Black Faculty & Staff Caucus, the Indigenous Advisory Council, Dal Allies, Deans Council, Senate, the Board, DSU, HRES, and faculty, staff and student representatives from all equity-seeking groups. Going forward, this committee will help review progress and advise on continued efforts to bring the strategy to life across campus.

Dr. Bernard says the completion of the strategy is a key milestone, but there is still much work to be done — and not just in identifying and completing the strategy’s key tasks, either. She says the strategy is really just one step in the university’s continued journey towards becoming the sort of inclusive community in which everyone truly belongs.

“This is about making real, positive change for years to come,” she says.

To view the Diversity and Inclusiveness Strategy, visit the Culture of Respect website.


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