Learning services coordinator embodies inclusivity and compassion

March 05, 2021
Dal Sohal is pictured here in her home office. She received a 2020 Staff Achievement Award in the area of Diversity and Inclusion.

This is the first in a series of stories celebrating the incredible work of SFU’s 2020 Staff Achievement Award winners. You can see the full list of winners here.

Throughout her 19 years at SFU, Dal Sohal has demonstrated a compassionate, curious, and dedicated approach to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, decolonization and antiracism. She is the deserving winner of the 2020 Staff Achievement Award in the area of Diversity and Inclusion.

As a learning services coordinator in SFU Library’s Student Learning Commons Sohal co-coordinates a suite of academic support services and programs for SFU students and teaches in Back on Track (BOT), a re-entry program for students who have been required to withdraw from the university.

She serves on SFU’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Advisory Council, and is an active member of the library’s EDI Working Group and the Decolonizing the Library Interest Group. In addition to her EDI and decolonizing work at the institutional level, she regularly looks for opportunities in her position to disrupt or challenge inequities and white supremacy culture.

“As a racialized first-generation Canadian settler woman, I am sensitive to the issues of diversity,” she says. “I'm committed to ensuring that my classroom is inclusive and that my place of work is a welcoming space for all, especially those already marginalized by way of oppression.”

In her BOT classroom, she employs a trauma-informed perspective to create a safe and supportive learning environment. “My experience working with BOT students has taught me about the importance of embodying empathy and helping students develop agency and a sense of belonging at university,” she shares. “I also try to be mindful of the institutional and societal barriers that make it difficult for students to succeed.”

Recognizing the challenges and inequities that BOT students experience in online classrooms led to one of Sohal’s current projects: co-developing an early-referral program to help students in academic difficulty, who do not typically reach out for support, get help sooner.

She also teaches Interpersonal Business Communication for SFU Continuing Studies, where her course content includes examining how power and privilege permeate business communication.

Sohal urges colleagues across SFU to commit to and remain accountable to EDI work for the long-term: “I believe that transformational change starts when people are engaging in individual self-inquiry and examining their own complicity in upholding the status quo.”

She demonstrates this commitment herself by her willingness to engage in ongoing learning with openness and curiosity, and by regularly applying this learning across her work and areas of responsibility.

As one example, she recently worked with Indigenous and non-Indigenous colleagues to develop and deliver a workshop for library staff that encouraged participants to consider their positionality and embed “heart and personal meaning” in their land acknowledgements.

“There is a lot of learning and unlearning about oppression and privilege that needs to take place,” Sohal says. “When each of us takes individual responsibility then collectively we can see change.”

You can meet the rest of SFU's 2020 Staff Achievement Award winners here.