Seven questions with Yabome Gilpin-Jackson, SFU’s vice-president, people, equity and inclusion

April 19, 2022

Yabome Gilpin-Jackson is a scholar and organizational development leader who joins SFU this month as the university’s inaugural vice-president, people, equity and inclusion.  

She recently sat down with our video team to introduce herself to the SFU community and to chat about her priorities toward creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive space where all feel welcome and appreciated, learning, teaching and working. 

Q: You have a deep background in HR and organizational development, and have worked in a number of fields, from healthcare to gaming. Why SFU?

Yabome Gilpin-Jackson: ‘Why SFU?’ for me is easy. SFU as university and an institution of the calibre that it is represents everything that I care about in terms of using education and research to address the very real opportunities and challenges that we’re facing at this moment in time in the world.  

In many ways, I feel that my experience going out into the world – whether in private sector, non-profit, or the public-sector experience I have gathered – allows me, at this moment in time, to bring that outside thinking into SFU, and think about where, in my role, I might serve in supporting these very real challenges that we face, from a place of engaging community and, specifically, engaging the people at SFU.

Q: In addition to your professional background, you have a deep academic background. How do these work together for you?

YGJ: That question is very much in the same continuum for me. I’ve always considered myself a scholar-practitioner. I remember distinctly as a practitioner, having left SFU, the MBA program at the Beedie School of Business, and going out and working as an organizational development consultant. I remember facilitating a group through a very complex scenario. And as we were working through, I remember this moment where I thought, ‘I’m out of tools. I need to know what theory-base I should be standing on right now to support this group of people to move forward from where they are stuck.’  

I’d always played with the idea of doing a doctorate. That moment for me, solidified my decision to go back and to understand the theories behind how groups behave; how people work together; and how to facilitate the conditions that support them to bring their best. With that mindset, I chose the scholar-practitioner program and have moved through the world in a way that allows me to apply theory to practice. And to use practice to think back and reflect back on how I might inform the theories that I’m already using or look to build new ones.

Q: Tell us about your connection to SFU?

YGJ: My connection to SFU goes deep and wide. At this point in 2022 – 23 years long. I arrived at SFU as a student. I actually arrived in a circumstance that really gives me a lot of connection to the possibility of an equity, diversity, inclusion office, which is part of the role that I’m taking on. I arrived in very unusual circumstances.  

We’re all standing in this moment, looking at what’s happening in Ukraine. I left under very similar circumstances from the country of Sierra Leone in West Africa. I therefore arrived here with no transcript. I arrived here with none of my papers and had to work through getting credits transferred and getting entrance into university under very unusual circumstances. It was because of a very kind staff person, here at the admissions office, who talked me through some of what I might demonstrate who I am, as we waited to see whether I would have my paper work. That landed me here as a conditionally accepted student.  

I stayed on and got those papers, figured it all out, finished my undergrad and did my MBA here in the Beedie School of Business. And then immediately left. So I am an alumnus, but came back and worked on staff for about two years with the then-learning strategies group. And then left again at about 2020 to go into healthcare, but was then quickly recruited back to the Beedie School of Business as adjunct faculty.  

I’ve had the honour of serving as adjunct faculty for the Beedie School of Business and as a sessional instructor in lifelong learning. So really, I tell people, I came to SFU and I’ve never left.

Q: This is a new position, and there is some chatter around SFU that it won’t be an easy one. What do you think?

YGJ: So what I think about this position potentially not being easy – is that the people who are concerned about that are not wrong. It’s a huge role. It’s a new role for the university. It combines the continuum of people experience in a way that traditionally hasn’t been done here and as we know, not very much around the country.  

But I would say, is that I am confident in the ability of people here at SFU to accomplish what is needed when we all put our minds and our heads and our hearts to it. I know that it is possible, not because I believe I’m going to come and wave a magic wand and it will all be done, but because I believe that we have everything that we need here at the university. This is a post-secondary, educational institution, we have all of the research we need to understand how we might unpack some of these issues. 

We have all the experience we have about what has worked and what’s not worked. To think about what we need to do to elevate ourselves, whether that’s in the space of people and organizational development, or equity and inclusion, or faculty relations, I’m really looking forward to how to put our best thinking together and weave together people experience that while we haven’t stepped into these waters to try before, I know we will do exceptionally well once we all think of them together. I’m looking forward to that.

Q: What are your priorities as you get started in your new role?

YGJ: It is very much, again, thinking about the different areas of the portfolio and for each of them, thinking about what are the immediate needs? I know that there is some, just from very initial, onboarding conversations and making sure we can address those areas that would immediately relieve some of the pressures that we have around people and experiences here at the university.  

“But once that’s done, my priority across the board, whether that’s with people and organization department, faculty relations or equity and inclusion, is to develop very clear frameworks of what we will do to serve the university in each of those areas. What it looks like. What the journey will look like for people at SFU. And to be very focused and intentional about delivering that to the university.”

Q: What are you most excited about?

YGJ: I’m excited about the possibilities. I’m excited about what it will look like to take the engaged university and all the ways we’re engaging research, we’re engaging community, and think about how we will engage people across the campuses here at SFU in a way that allows us to think and work and interact with each other in new ways that will position us even better for the challenges that we’ll face as an educational institution, but also as an educational institution, that through teaching and research is serving the world in a very critical time in history. I’m excited. Lots of possibilities.”

Q: What would you like the SFU community to know about you?

YGJ: What I’d like the SFU community to know about me is that I have a wicked laugh and I’m here to serve. I am well aware that there is a lot to do and I have no intention of doing it alone. I’m here to partner well and discern along with the community the best things that we must take on in order to enhance and improve the people experience and ensure equity and inclusion across the board. And with that in place, to serve well.