How to plan accessible and inclusive events: A new guide from SFU Ceremonies and Events
As in-person events return to campus, it’s a great time for event planners to refresh their equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) knowledge and practices. Not sure where to start? Discover the new EDI Checklist for Events, developed by William Chan-Gill, data analyst, Nicole Taylor-Sterritt, former manager, Indigenous Events Protocol and the team in SFU Ceremonies and Events (C&E).
Chan-Gill, who is of South Asian descent and a member of the queer community, is passionate about community building and building inclusive and accessible spaces. Taylor-Steritt, an Indigenous woman of mixed Gitxsan and European heritage, has worked to relearn her Indigenous history and culture, and build strong relationships along the way. With an interest in advancing EDI in their communities, Chan-Gill and Taylor-Sterritt began looking for ways to incorporate these values into their work.
“I think addressing EDI is important to bring a sense of humanity into the university culture, we’re not all robots,” says Taylor-Sterritt. “We need to meet each other where we’re at with empathy and respect.”
After conversations with the SFU On-campus Professional Events Network (OPEN) and EDI specialists from the International Live Events Association (ILEA), the idea for an EDI Checklist was born–a tool to guide events hosted by the C&E team, as well as a tool to support other event hosts across SFU for making their events more inclusive and accessible.
Diving in, the C&E team continued to research common experiences of event attendees at and outside of SFU. “A lot of this information came from marginalized people sharing their experiences,” says Chan-Gill. “I’m thankful for their openness that has allowed us to do better.”
However, once they considered the breadth of stories, it became clear that this would be much more than a simple PDF handout.
Rather than a list of dos and don’ts, the guide takes a holistic approach to EDI and event planning, encouraging users to think about the structures and norms that may limit inclusion and accessibility when hosting events. The guide walks users through a series of questions and considerations, categorized by planning, execution, post-event and long-term EDI action.
“What started as a checklist became more like a ‘consider this’ list,” says Chan-Gill. “We want to provide a framework for planners to look closely at their own event access, and spark conversations among teams and their audiences.”
While the extensive list may be intimidating at first glance, the C&E team emphasizes that even taking one or two actions can make a difference.
“Everybody is learning, so you don't have to be perfect at it,” says Chan-Gill. “Even if you feel like ‘Oh, I can only do these two small things, I don't even know if that's relevant’–do them and see what happens! There's no action that's too small, it'll have an impact and any impact is important.”
One of those small actions that has become commonplace in C&E is leaving space for pronouns on name tags. “It seems like a trivial thing but it is pretty important to transgender and gender diverse folks,” explains Chan-Gill. “I've heard appreciation for the simplicity of having a name tag on and no longer having to be worried about how you're going to be addressed.”
Larger actions can be implemented with deliberate structural planning. At an event earlier this year for the Moose Hide Campaign, which works to end violence against Indigenous women and children, the team took extra consideration to the event’s format and contents. They opted to host a Zoom meeting rather than an in-person event or webinar to make the most of both face-to-face connection and ease of digital access, and to more easily provide necessary resources. They arranged for a counselor from the Sexual Violence Support and Prevention (SVSPO) to be present in a breakout room in case attendees needed support. Their decisions were met with positive feedback.
“One of our post-event survey respondents shared how much they appreciated that this was a virtual format. Given the difficult subject matter, Zoom allowed them to turn off their camera and take some time to care for themselves without very visibly leaving the room and inviting attention,” recalls Taylor-Sterritt. “It affirmed me to know that we had chosen that specific avenue and format and provided relevant support during the event.”
For the C&E team, building authentic relationships can be one of the most impactful ways to strengthen equity, diversity and inclusion. Forming new partnerships can build values into your event planning, and creating a meaningful connection with your participants will help you understand what everyone needs to show up as they are.
“Ideally, you can reach a place where the conversation is always open and folks feel comfortable sharing what they need,” says Chan-Gill.
From simple to systemic changes, the C&E team encourages event planners across the university and the community to take something from the guide. “Take a glance, take 20 minutes or take your time to really go through it,” says Taylor-Sterritt. “If you find two or three nuggets that really stick out and make you say ‘Oh, I can do that!’–those little changes can make a real difference in someone’s experience.”