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How SFU’s Work Integrated Learning EDI Team champions justice, equity, diversity and inclusion at SFU and beyond

August 23, 2021
Pictured, from left to right: Amie McLean, Ph.D. (she/her), Course Author, Facilitator, and Manager; Heather Williams, M.Ed (she/her), Course Author, Facilitator, and original Manager; Simran Ahmed (she/her), Course Facilitator; Akanksha Thakur, M.Ed. (she/her) Course Contributor and Facilitator; Kyra Garson, Ed.D. (she/her), Curriculum Consultant and Facilitator. The development, improvement, facilitation and administration of the Effective Intercultural Communication suite of courses has been and remains profoundly collaborative. This photo represents only a small portion of the curriculum designers, educators, graphic designers, researchers, workers and students who have made important contributions to the course. We acknowledge and are grateful for all of their wisdom and hard work.

What you learn at university, you’ll take out with you into the world. Perhaps no unit at SFU embodies that mentality more than the Work Integrated Learning (WIL) team, which helps thousands of students each year to land co-operative education opportunities and acquire work experience as part of their university degree.

As a result, WIL is one of the most external-facing programs at SFU, working regularly with not just students, staff and faculty, but also employer and community partners. Those community connections are exactly why equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is such a core part of WIL’s mission—and why WIL hosts a team dedicated to advancing justice, equity and inclusion at SFU, in the workforce and beyond.

One of the WIL EDI team’s greatest success stories is Effective Intercultural Communication (EIC), a free online course for SFU students that helps participants increase their intercultural knowledge and skills and develop tools and strategies to work across differences. The course takes an intersectional and anti-racist approach that embeds the need for intercultural development and lifelong learning in the context of colonialism and systemic injustice.

“While EIC covers many complex topics, from power and privilege to reconciliation and decolonization, we try our best to present the content in an accessible and easy to understand format,” says Simran Ahmed, an educator on the WIL EDI team and one of the course facilitators.

“And we do our best to bring students together in a safe space, with room for questions and discussion. When we create an environment where they can learn from each other, it’s magic waiting to happen.”

EIC was originally designed and developed by SFU employee Heather Williams in collaboration with a team of expert authors, in response to the internationalization of post-secondary education and the labour market as well as responsibilities towards decolonization and reconciliation as outlined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2015).

 Since 2016, the course has been completed by nearly 1,000 SFU students, and the WIL EDI team has continued to update course materials based on the latest academic research, world events and feedback from students—feedback that has been consistently positive.

“[The course] made me aware of my own prejudices and privileges and think about aspects of my identity on a deeper level,” wrote one student whose feedback has been shared with permission. “It has enhanced my mindfulness, empathy and ability to build respectful relations with people from other cultures. It has sparked my interest in so many topics I didn’t know much about before.”

Akanksha Thakur, program coordinator for the ACE-WIL EDI Resource Hub, has contributed to the development and facilitation of the course since its inception. She agrees that the course’s ability to engage students is one of its greatest accomplishments.

“One of the most encouraging pieces of feedback we keep receiving from students is how the course has taught them the importance of questioning assumptions, being curious and exploring alternative perspectives and ways of being,” she says.

“Often, it is the group discussions that have had the most impact on learners as they see first-hand that there is more than one way of interpreting a certain scenario. This creates empathy, open mindedness and understanding across different cultural perspectives, which is incredibly powerful to witness as a facilitator.”

EIC’s impact also reaches far beyond SFU students. To date, it has been adopted by over 15 post-secondary institutions. In partnership with organizations such as the Canadian Bureau for International Education and Colleges and Institutes Canada, an employee version of the course, entitled “Foundations of Intercultural Development,” has been offered to professionals and university staff, faculty, and administrators across four continents.

The WIL EDI team recently collaborated with SFU Human Resources and Faculty Relations to pilot a customized offering of the course that saw SFU faculty and staff learning together.

For Amie McLean, manager of EDI curriculum for the WIL team, the most important contribution of the course lies in its potential to empower participants to take meaningful action on EDI issues in their workplaces, communities, and everyday lives.

“From where I’m sitting, I’m really excited about what I see across SFU right now, about the communities of practice that are focused on moving EDI and social justice knowledge into action,” she says.

“At one of the faculty and staff sessions, someone was saying, ‘Check back with me in a year and you’ll see what I’ve done with this knowledge.’ I’m looking forward to that check-in—to seeing where people might take these seeds of learning, and how they’ll grow.”

You can learn more about the WIL EDI team, Effective Intercultural Communication and other EDI-related programming by visiting the WIL website.