Embraces difference and possibility.
Founded by a pioneering Canadian immigrant, and situated at one of the country's hubs of linguistic and cultural diversity, McGill University thrives on multitudes. Cultures, languages, perspectives, backgrounds: many is good, more is even better. You can see this philosophy at work in classrooms and labs, where people's broad spectrum of experiences helps them challenge assumptions, expand thinking and deepen knowledge. You can see it at work in communities near and far, where initiatives like the Dentistry Outreach Program and the McGill Middle East Program in Civil Society and Peace Building help make good on the University's mandate to better society. You can see it in ongoing efforts to cultivate an even more diverse group of outstanding students, faculty members and staff – because fully engaging with the worlds around us is a lifetime pursuit.
When Charmaine Lyn looked at her fellow McGill law students, she saw diversity. Sort of. "There may have been people of colour in class," she recalls, "but typically they were quite privileged people coming from great schools, with highly educated, professional parents." And McGill, she notes, "is, comparatively, one of the most diverse universities in the country." In 2004, Lyn found herself in the position to help change things when she returned to the Faculty of Law as Assistant Dean, External Affairs. Responsible for admissions to the program, she read every single one of the 1,500 applications, an exercise that quickly revealed who wasn't applying. By organizing regular conversations between Law students and faculty members and Grade 10 and 11 students at the Kahnawake Survival School, she helped teens identify skills and potential that, all too often, they didn't recognize in themselves. "There's a very distinct need for more aboriginal people in post-secondary education and in the legal profession," she says. "We're saying, 'Go to university and you can effect change in your community, you can advocate for things you believe in.'"
"It's not just about McGill," adds Paige Isaac, Community Outreach Coordinator and career advisor at McGill's First Peoples' House. "It's about urging the youth to understand how vital education is to their quality of life, and letting them know that I, along with many others, will support them through it." In addition to participating in the Kahnawake Law visits, Isaac talks to aboriginal students, from middle schoolers to adults, in Quebec and Ontario about their futures. Being a Mi'gmaq and a fresh university grad herself – she left her Listuguj, Quebec, home to study biology at McGill – she says, makes her "someone they can relate to and feel comfortable asking questions, not just about McGill, but about life in the city and even personal things." Isaac and Lyn stress that these initiatives are about awareness and opportunity, not affirmative action. "We're encouraging these kids not to shut the door on post-secondary education," says Lyn, who left the Faculty of Law at the end of 2009 to lead similar efforts in the Faculty of Medicine. "It's about getting them to think about their lived experiences – from downloading music to health care – as sites for intellectual inquiry. It's about talking to them like adults who have some serious, exciting decisions to make in the next couple of years."