Equity, diversity and inclusion commitments

November 10, 2020

During the first two months of my presidency, you will probably have heard me speak about equity, diversity and inclusion.

These issues are a priority for me, in part, because they are personal. As a member of the queer community, I was deeply affected when Delwin Vriend was fired from a college in Alberta in 1991 because of his sexual orientation. It was infuriating and scary. I was a graduate student at the time. And I questioned whether there was a place for me in academic life.

That experience shaped me and I have carried it with me throughout my career. Now, as President of SFU—a position of enormous agency and privilege—I intend to use my time in this role to make SFU more inclusive and equitable.

You can hold me accountable to this commitment. It is informed, in part, by my work over the past year as SFU’s executive lead for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, a role that has given me insight into how much work lies ahead and the steps we must take to become the equitable, diverse, inclusive organization we aspire to be. (Please take the time to read this summary of the reports and consultations done to date and the compiled recommendations from our community.)

Progress will not be easy or happen quickly. But we must move forward. And so today, I am making the following four commitments:

1.    Create a senior leadership position responsible for EDI.

This new position is a pivotal first step in making systemic change. And it will take time to get it right. I am now working on a job description and advancing it through the governance processes for approval, and the person we hire will be empowered to ensure that EDI values are embedded in decision-making and institutional strategies. Where our processes and practices need to be removed or re-examined, this new leader will identify areas where we need to deconstruct current approaches. In order to give the new leader the ability to set direction, we will wait until this person is in place to create a broad strategy and vision for EDI at SFU. 

2.    Create a new senior leadership position to support decolonization, Indigenization and reconciliation.

For generations harm has been done to Indigenous peoples through education and research. And therefore, to be truly equitable and inclusive, SFU must acknowledge our role in this and engage in lasting processes of decolonization, Indigenization and reconciliation.  

Every day, SFU’s Indigenous faculty, staff and students are showing how we can transform our institution by integrating Indigenous knowledges, methodologies and learning practices. But we can do more—much more—to support these efforts.

The ARC report and the $9 million that has been allocated to support its recommendations were the beginning of our journey. To be developed in consultation with Indigenous faculty, staff and students, this new position will provide ongoing leadership and support to this important work.

3.    Develop commitments to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the faculty and portfolio level.

In the Diversity Meter survey, we heard that we must strengthen our commitment to EDI at SFU’s leadership level, which can influence action and outcomes. Therefore, working with VPs, AVPs and Deans, I am committed to providing the support and resources necessary to build on the work that is being done throughout the university to address the unique EDI needs in each area of our institution.

4.    Continue the conversation about equity and inclusion.

Senior leadership is critically important to advancing EDI. But we can’t do it alone. To succeed on this journey everyone must join us. To that end, it’s my goal to have a conversation about equity and inclusion every day of my presidency. I am working with leaders across the organization who work with our faculty, staff and students to connect with equity-deserving groups who would like to share their experiences and ideas to make SFU a more inclusive community. I would appreciate hearing from you if you know of or belong to a group and would like to join me for a conversation about equity and inclusion. From these conversations we can continue building the foundation for a broader EDI strategy for the university. I will be sharing my personal reflections on these conversations on my website. Please read my first post, my reflections following conversations about our recent decision to change the name of our varsity athletics team.

Like you, I am impatient for change. And I know these initial commitments may seem small to some. But I also know that sometimes you have to go slow to go far. In taking these steps, I am fully committed to finding a way to move our community forward while also changing the story of who we are as a university. I hope you will give me the benefit of your time and your patience, and that you will join with me on this journey.