EDI and Indigenous Initiatives in Action on Campus



SJU President’s Working Group on
Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

 

Carol Ann MacGregor
Vice President Academic and Dean
Co-chair

Mike Gourlay
Executive Director of Finance and Administration
Co-chair

Bruce Rodrigues
Chancellor, St. Jerome’s University

Tammy Webster
Indigenous Educator,
Waterloo Catholic District School Board

Jessica Vorsteveld
Director of Student Affairs

Jenny Fu
Student Representative

Leslie Moss
Student Representative

Michelle Metzger
Staff Representative

Anastasia Tataryn
Faculty Representative

Diana Lobb
Contract Academic Staff Representative

Cristina Vanin
Committee Resource
 

Students from EDI Working Group
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The first steps to moving forward can at times be the most difficult. At St. Jerome’s University however, when an important step was taken on April 20, 2020, toward improving equity, diversity, and inclusion work on campus, it affirmed a commitment made in the University’s 2016-2021 Strategic Plan, and significantly advanced work towards fostering “a respectful, inclusive community that is centred on the wellbeing of (SJU) students and the promotion of the common good.”

It was on that day that the University’s then Interim President, Scott Kline announced the formation of the first SJU President’s Working Group on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI). The group was mandated to engage the SJU community in the work required to prepare an EDI Action Plan for campus: part of the University’s endorsement of Universities Canada’s seven Inclusive Excellence Principles that members committed to in 2017. To make good on this commitment, SJU’s new EDI Working Group would begin a three-phase process leading to the creation and implementation of an EDI action plan. The impact of this announcement on the university has been felt in a variety of ways. 

“The development of the EDI Working Group expedited the work of review under five areas within the University,” noted EDI Working Group Co-chair and SJU’s Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Mike Gourlay, adding that those areas are Hiring Systems and Practices, Curriculums and Programming, Outreach, Marketing and Recruitment, Campus Facilities, and Campus Culture. “Last year the Working Group reviewed each of these areas. We also broadened the scope of this work to ensure that Indigenization was included within the context of our review. We look forward to using the data we have collected over the past year to create a draft Action Plan, which will be shared with the SJU Community in early 2022.” 

Working Together
Members of the working group represent a cross-section of the SJU community, including members of the Board of Governors, staff, Faculty, Contract Academic Staff, and students. The group also welcomed an Indigenous educator from the Waterloo Catholic District School Board. Together the group completed phase one of the three phase work plan, taking an inventory of current EDI initiatives at SJU, identifying current institutional strengths and challenges, reviewing promising practices, and formulating baseline recommendations to be used in the development of SJU’s action plan. The report developed in response to this work is featured in the EDI section of the university’s website and its contents will help guide the next steps in this process.

“So far, our research has led us to form an action plan that addresses EDI in multiple facets of SJU and aims to correct existing gaps and improve our future,” noted Jenny Fu, a third-year Environmental Resources and Sustainability student, minoring in Earth Sciences, and a student representative in the group. She was elected by SJU’s Students’ Union to be on the working group and was motivated by her desire to ensure SJU is truly a safe, welcoming, and inclusive space. 

“Being a part of this group to me means facilitating a stronger, more transparent, honest, and accountable relationship between the students of SJU and the University Institution as a whole. As student representatives, we have the responsibility and honour of providing a direct avenue for student voices,” added Fu, “so that their concerns can be included in decision-making processes at higher levels. As a part of this group, I feel that we have contributed perspectives, learnings, and guidance on how SJU can create a more holistic community for its students.”

Putting the Work into Action
“The teams I have had the pleasure of working with throughout both phases have held the most passionate people I have ever met,” added Fu, “I am confident that the drive of the Working Group will bring about actionable change at SJU.” 

While Fu’s hope is shared by all members of the Working Group, the University has not taken pause to wait for the action plan. Opportunities to advance EDI and Indigenization work on campus have been supported, while the EDI working group completes it Phase 2 plan. 

“While the Working Group is developing an official Action Plan at the university, it was not at all surprising that a proactive approach has been taken across campus to advance this important work before that plan is formalized,” added Gourlay. “We were pleased that the following initiatives have helped to demonstrate our cross-departmental commitment to change in meaningful ways. These actions are only a small part of the effort being made to ensure that we improve, which we will articulate more specifically in our Action Plan.”
 

Red Dress Day display on campus
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RED DRESS DAY display led by SJU Department of English, Lecturer, Andrew Deman and his family, was installed on campus on May 5th. The display honoured the National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-spirit People in Canada. 

“My wife and two young daughters are Metis, members of the lost generation,” noted Deman, “and in recent years we've found that connecting our children to their cultural heritage is a difficult parenting exercise, given the tradition of violence, inequity and - quite frankly - atrocity that is a part of Canada's historic treatment of Indigenous women...it's only through awareness that we can actually move forward - the hope being that my daughters' daughters will never have to see red dresses hanging from trees because all the women of their generation made it home safely.”
                

Orange prayer ribbons on bridge
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Campus Ministry held an evening INDIGENOUS HEALING PRAYER SERVICE on the September 30th, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Messages of hope filled orange flags that were displayed on trees during the service, and then shared on the bridge crossing the creek to the University of Waterloo, as a reminder of the work yet to be done. Director, Campus Ministry, Sean Hayes has also reached out to the local Indigenous community as part of his outreach in the Kitchener-Waterloo community. “I am trying to meet people where they are, be present to them, open and listen deeply to them and their story and simply try to build relationships,” noted Hayes, “and through that some level of healing born out of ongoing work and an unfolding or evolution of these connections."

 


Graydon Nicholas
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The HONORABLE NICHOLAS GRAYDON, a member of the Order of Canada, and current Endowed Chair of Native Studies at St. Thomas University, was featured as the guest speaker at the university’s annual Feast of St. Jerome student bursary fundraiser on October 2nd, offering his own reflections on the past and the route to reconciliation for Catholics.

 

 


 

Melissa Nelson
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The LECTURES IN CATHOLIC EXPERIENCE welcomed ecologist and Indigenous scholar-activist, Melissa K. Nelson in November to speak about “Restorying the Medicine Line as Indigenous Land Guardianship” and the important reassertion of First Nations leaders renewing their sacred relationships. A copy of the lecture will be available in the PAST LECTURES area of the Lectures in Catholic Experience website page.

 

 

 

 

Book glasses computer
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Assistant Professor, Honor Brabazon, who works in SJU’s Department of Sociology and Legal Studies, is working on a "DECOLONIZING EDUCATION" RESEARCH PROJECT designed to help members of university communities learn about how to respond meaningfully to the calls to action issued by the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The project includes developing a depository of resources on decolonizing to help those at St. Jerome’s and other universities learn about what is being asked of them and how they can respond in useful ways. The project, which is partially funded through a St. Jerome’s Faculty Research Grant, emphasizes the need not only for increased knowledge of Indigenous histories and communities, but also for an epistemological broadening throughout the university and for the facilitation and celebration of Indigenous scholarship. The project also includes the creation of a Decolonizing Education Action Group, which will be open to all members of the St. Jerome’s community who wish to engage in learning, discussion, and action around decolonization at St. Jerome’s. The group will start up in the new year. “As communities where knowledge is debated and certain ways of knowing are produced and reproduced, universities have a responsibility to address head-on their role in the devaluation of Indigenous epistemologies that was integral to the violence of colonization,” stated Brabazon.

ITALST 296 poster
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ITALIAN STUDIES 296 - MEDITERRANEAN CROSSINGS: THE EMERGENCY OF BLACK ITALY has been added to the course offering for the winter 2022 term at SJU, teaching about Italy’s colonial past, the repercussions, the Mediterranean migration crisis, and the emergence of new generations of Afro-Italians. 

 


 

 

PHOTO AT TOP OF PAGE: SJU Director, Student Affairs, Jessica Vorsteveld, is joined in the Boardroom by the student representatives working on the SJU President's Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Working Group, including Jenny Fu (standing left), Jasleen Brar (standing centre), and Leslie Moss (seated on right). Photographer: Bryn Gladding Photography

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