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Celebrating the launch of the faculty's EDI initiative

Celebrating the launch of the faculty's EDI initiative

It’s a big day at the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) as we mark the official opening of an Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) and launch the Dean’s Action Table on EDI (DAT-EDI).

What is an Action Table and why do we need one?

We are experiencing a period of unprecedented awareness about systemic racism and other forms of oppression. Our approach to addressing these matters must be more than notional. We need action. We need to meaningfully demonstrate our commitment to the principles of EDI in our workplace as well as our teaching, research, and care.

As the Dean of FHS, I am in a position of immense privilege. I know that unearned advantages are derived from society’s patterns of injustice and we share an obligation for changing those patterns. In a recent article on the topic, Dr. Stephanie Nixon notes that “The obliviousness of people about their positions of privilege is a key strategy required to sustain the hegemony of systems of inequality.”[1]

Conversations about racism, sexism, and discrimination can make people uncomfortable. But the correct response to recognizing privilege is not denial or guilt, it is self-reflection and informed action. Last year, Dr. Barry Lavallee told us, “when you feel the discomfort, move into it, because that’s where the learning occurs.”[2]

Taking on systemic patterns of injustice should be in the core mandate for academic institutions dedicated to the training of health professionals. Significant health outcome gaps continue to be fueled by systemic racism, colonialism, and other kinds of structural harms. This is widely documented, including in the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.[3] Since the tabling of that report, the response from institutions that train health professionals has been variable. But it is abundantly clear that we need to stop thinking of EDI as an optional topic, left to the discretion and good will of the leadership of each school. We are all obliged to ensure an equitable, diverse, inclusive, accessible, and culturally safe approach to teaching, research, and care.

When I put out the call for volunteers to be part of this collective work at the FHS, I hoped at least a dozen people would respond. Instead, we have more than 150 learners, staff and faculty who want to be part of the DAT-EDI. In messages that accompanied the applications to be part of this work, I received heartfelt stories explaining why people want to be involved. There is a groundswell of enthusiasm for ensuring the FHS is a fair and inclusive place to work and learn.

So how do you engage 150 volunteers? In the spirit of inclusivity, we will find a role for everyone who wants to be involved. We need a comprehensive and systemic approach, so we have decided to have an executive as well as seven working groups, each tasked with a portion of the work. The working groups will cover these themes:

  • Outreach and Summer Programs
  • EDI for Admissions
  • EDI Curriculum across the FHS
  • Recruitment, Retention and Mentorship
  • Professional Development
  • Research and EDI
  • Culture and Community

Working groups will be asked to conduct an environmental scan of current FHS activities relevant to the group theme, study best practices and develop recommendations and metrics – all leading to the development of an EDI Strategic Plan for FHS. They will explore opportunities for educational scholarship, writing, and other forms of communication based on their work.

The work ahead is not easy. Addressing EDI is not a one-step journey. It involves cultural transformation and will require permanent attention with iterations of evaluation and adaptation.

We will need to ask hard questions. And we’ll need to listen well to people whose voices have been barely audible. We should be prepared to hear anger, hurt, and pain. We should be prepared to hear that anger repeatedly. When people who have experienced sexism, racism, and oppression share their stories, we must be prepared with mental health supports, including Indigenous Elders who can offer their wisdom and healing circles.

Our collective success will require personal, organizational and cultural humility. We will all need to study, to learn and unlearn about history and culture. When it’s safe to do so, we should visit communities outside our usual routes. Regarding Indigenous history and culture for example, most of us have more to learn more about the distinct peoples who are First Nations, Inuit, or Métis.

There will be an obligation to act on what we learn, with cycles of self-reflection, recognition and informed action. Increasingly, we should learn safe and effective ways to speak up when we recognize bias, harassment, and micro-aggressions. Speaking up is the minimum response. Changing patterns of injustice is the goal.

We will make mistakes. But we will also make friends and we will make an even stronger FHS.

Additional Announcements

In addition to launching the DAT-EDI, we are opening an Office of EDI. I am pleased to introduce the following individuals as part of that office:

  • EDI Project Manager – Giselle Valarezo
  • EDI Senior Advisor – Celina Caesar-Chavannes
  • Elder-in-Residence – Wendy Phillips
  • Indigenous Access and Recruitment Coordinator – Cortney Clark
  • Faculty Lead for School of Medicine – Dr. Mala Joneja
  • Faculty Lead for School of Nursing – Dr. Mary Smith
  • Faculty Lead for School of Rehabilitation Therapy – Dr. Vincent de Paul

Finally, I am excited to announce that we have launched the FHS EDI Fund to support this work and to assist in recruitment and support for learners from under-represented groups. We are very grateful for the inaugural contribution to the fund from the Carrick Family who have committed $200,000 in support over the next two years. Thank you to Kathleen, Kelly and Sarah Carrick for this very generous donation. The EDI Fund is now ready to receive additional contributions that will be essential to the success of our work. To donate, please go to: healthsci.queensu.ca/edi

More than 60 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about how our commitment to human rights links to our academic mission. He said this: “Whatever career you may choose for yourself—doctor, lawyer, teacher—let me propose an avocation to be pursued along with it. Become a dedicated fighter for civil rights. Make it a central part of your life. It will make you a better doctor, a better lawyer, a better teacher. It will enrich your spirit as nothing else possibly can. It will give you that rare sense of nobility that can only spring from love and selflessly helping your fellow man. Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”[4]

The message of those words is no less relevant in the work we launch today.

[1] https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-019-7884-9

[2] https://meds.queensu.ca/ugme-blog/archives/4468

[3] http://www.trc.ca/

[4] https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/address-youth-march-integrated-schools-18-april-1959

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