Everyone who comes to Dalhousie has their own reasons for making the journey.
For Theresa Rajack-Talley, newly appointed as the university’s first vice-provost of equity and inclusion, what makes the journey from her current home of Louisville, Kentucky so exciting is the diversity she sees in the Dal community.
“I was drawn to the university because of the diversity of the student population, and the accompanying issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, nationality, religion, and culture,” says Dr. Rajack-Talley, who most recently served as professor of Pan-African Studies and associate dean of international, diversity and community engagement in the College of Arts & Sciences, University of Louisville.
“I’m also very motivated by the social and cultural history of indigenous peoples of Nova Scotia,” she adds, “and I saw this as a humbling opportunity for me to work with and for the African Nova Scotian and First Nations people. I was very thrilled, also, that Dal has such a substantial and diverse international student population, on and off-campus, because I’m a person who likes to be part of a community.
“I thought this would be a great opportunity to work with all these different groups to further enhance and showcase the strength of diverse perspectives and the importance of these different perspectives from the university’s position.”
Senior leadership on equity, diversity and inclusion
A new role at Dalhousie, reporting to the provost, the vice-provost of equity & inclusion will be accountable for the progress and continued development of Dalhousie’s Diversity and Inclusiveness Strategy. Dr. Rajack-Talley will also provide leadership to the Human Rights & Equity Services team and advise the executive and other administrative and academic leaders on issues of human rights, diversity, inclusion and equity.
“I’m thrilled that Dr. Rajack-Talley will be joining us at Dalhousie,” says Teri Balser, interim president. “An experienced academic and senior leader, she brings expertise in equity, diversity and inclusiveness that will benefit us across a broad range of activities — including strategic planning, curriculum design, and program implementation, as well as helping us make Dal a place where people truly feel they belong.”
Dr. Rajack-Talley will also collaborate with senior leaders on strategic planning processes, ensuring that the university’s strategic work succeeds in advancing institutional EDI goals.
“To have a position focused on equity, diversity and inclusion at this level is an indication to the community, both on- and off-campus, that Dalhousie is treating this as equally as important to all the other crucial aspects of the university administration,” says Dr. Rajack-Talley, who will begin her new role on August 1.
A focus on people
Dr. Rajack-Talley has spent much of her career at the University of Louisville, after earning her Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of Kentucky.
Her academic work has focused on social inequality, gender equity, and social justice issues in low-resource households and communities in North America, the Caribbean and the African diaspora. She has taught courses on racism and sexism, global poverty, Pan-Africanism and more as well as published several refereed articles on related themes and two books, Poverty is a Person and Living Racism. She has been a prestigious Fulbright Scholar and has been recognized by the Kentucky Senate for her leadership in education, research and service to the community.
Her most recent administrative position as an associate dean had her develop and lead a robust diversity plan for the University of Louisville’s College of Arts and Sciences, one that addresses underrepresented populations both in faculty/staff recruitment and in student enrolment and graduation. With a strong focus on both curriculum development and community engagement, she created a successful Community Engagement Champion Awards program, directed Inclusive Teaching Circles to support pedagogy discussions, and led diversity committees with the task of creating courses on local, national and international diversity and equity issues centered on underrepresented groups, alongside many other successful initiatives.
She says the “how” of her work has been every bit as important as the “what” and the “why.”
“When you’re working on equity, diversity and inclusiveness, it’s a very challenging field, if you want to call it that. You have to work with and lead people — colleagues, faculty, staff and students — that have very different personalities and perspectives; some agree, some disagree and some are confused.
“For me, the participatory approach is crucial, one based on transparency, communication, collective decision-making, coordination, collaboration and mentorship. By using a participatory approach, it helps in building trust. And sometimes if you earn that trust, you also earn respect. And when you have that, people can be more cooperative, even if they have disagreements.”
Building on the foundation
As Dr. Rajack-Talley prepares to arrive at Dalhousie, she’s getting ready to dive deeper into the work in equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) that’s taken place at the university over the past several years, much of it concentrated under the university’s Strategic Initiative on Diversity and Inclusiveness.
“The EDI issues that Dalhousie has faced over the last several years are not specific to Dalhousie,” she says. “They’re not specific to universities overall, either. They are part and parcel of the societies we live in. Universities do not exist in bubbles.”
What she sees at Dal is a clear commitment to addressing these issues, as well as a strong set of initial work in moving forward to address them. She likens efforts thus far — including the launch of the university’s Diversity and Inclusiveness Strategy — to setting the foundation and framework of a house, crucial work to a sustainable structure for the long term. Now, the task ahead is to continue a successful build.
“It’s about strengthening and enhancing those initiatives, programs and projects that have been successful, assessing those that have not, and creating new ones,” she says.
“EDI is more of a journey to reach a destination. I’m excited to be part of this journey at Dalhousie, and to make sure this journey continues and is propelled at a faster rate.”
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