People of SFU: Desire to make change and push boundaries drives EDI specialist Nadia Mallay

May 04, 2022
A scholar-activist, Nadia Mallay uses her community engagement, lived experiences and academic knowledge to challenge assumed societal and institutional norms.

Nadia Mallay’s decision to tackle her doctorate and pursue postdoc studies wasn’t driven solely by interest – it was from a desire to make change.

“Knowledge is power,” says Mallay, who was recently hired as an equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) specialist for SFU Human Resources and staff. “You can’t break down barriers in academia and institutions if you don’t understand the history of those barriers and how they work, or the politics and the power-dynamics behind them.”

A global educator and leadership expert, Mallay describes herself as a “scholar-activist” who uses her academic knowledge to challenge leadership, colleagues and politicians, to take companies to human rights tribunals and to push back against systems of inequity.

Reporting directly to Yabome Gilpin-Jackson, SFU’s inaugural vice-president, people, equity and inclusion, Mallay will develop and facilitate best practices for equity, diversity and inclusion at SFU, a key priority of President Joy Johnson. She will provide advice and support for the development of a comprehensive EDI strategy across SFU, actioning the great work already completed and diving into the work ahead.

Mallay says she has been interested in working at SFU for some time, citing SFU's reputation for progressive thinking and connection to the community as some of the reasons she was eager to land a position. After a month in the role, she speaks highly of her experiences.

“It’s the first job where the president has made time to meet with me on my first day and have a conversation,” says Mallay, when asked about how the first month of the job has been. “And that conversation was authentic, warm and very positive. I’ve worked with senior leadership for a number of years and it was the first time I’ve had an invitation, instead of just sticking my nose in the door.”

Equally welcoming have been her colleagues as she undertakes onboarding, and many in the SFU community.

“It’s been really wonderful,” she adds. “Of course, I’m still a racialized Black woman in academia navigating certain dominant cultural, operational and systemic norms that also exist at SFU. You can’t really escape it.”

Nadia’s journey to SFU

With an extensive background in education, scholarship and research, Mallay understands how to drive equity-focused initiatives in post-secondary education.

Born and raised in Ontario to parents who had immigrated from Guyana, Mallay began her career in K-12 education. During her undergrad, at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario she enrolled in a program that let her complete her studies at the University of Exeter in England and become certified as a teacher in Ontario and overseas. Her first teaching job was at a public school in East London.

“It was very socioeconomically challenged,” Mallay says. “It had a high immigrant population below or at the poverty line. It was just an awesome school. Those kids go to school and are eager for any opportunity and engage in any opportunity, just because it’s so joyful.”

From the U.K., Mallay spent the next decade abroad, teaching and taking up leadership roles in Singapore, Malaysia, Germany and Sweden. Mallay loves travelling and has been to more than 100 countries, “in nomadic style, just bumping along with two suitcases.”

Returning to Canada, she completed a dual master’s degree in curriculum and pedagogy and educational leadership at the University of British Columbia.

She initially balked at a doctorate, but reconsidered and completed her EdD in educational leadership, change management and quality assurance mechanisms via Critical Race Theory and educational leadership theories from Western University. She is currently a post-doctoral fellow working on a health-sciences project out of McMaster University, University of Toronto and the University of Manitoba.

As a post-doc fellow, she’s worked as a continuing teacher on-call, teaching during the global pandemic in North Vancouver, where she lives with her fiancé and two kittens. She also worked on several projects for the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and took-up projects through her consulting company, Biophilic Consulting.

For the past two years, she has been chair and president of the North Shore Restorative Justice Society, and vice-chair and four-year trustee of the city library governance board.

In the short term, she hopes to connect with faculty and staff, identify problems and begin pushing down barriers, together.

“If we’re really looking at the long-term, my goal is that these EDI roles don’t need to exist,” she says. “I would love to see that all institutions don’t need an equity person, because it’s just the foundation with which we operate.”