Dear Healthy Brains, Healthy Lives community,
The last year has been largely defined by the shared challenges of navigating the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This past winter has been especially difficult for individuals struggling with mental health challenges. Many have encountered barriers that have affected their ability to successfully fulfill their research objectives. The pandemic has also highlighted how systemic inequities persistently and disproportionately affect individuals who identify as members of equity-seeking groups and the need for organizations to proactively support all members of the community to achieve their potential and succeed.
Recent events have focused attention on the devastating and violent consequences of racism in our society. We stand in solidarity with our Muslim community members and condemn the senseless terrorist attack in which three generations of a Canadian family were murdered in London, Ontario. The recent discoveries of unmarked burial sites containing the remains of 215 children at the former Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia, and 104 potential graves at the former Brandon Residential School in Manitoba, serve as a stark reminder of the legacy of systemic racism in Canadian educational institutions. These discoveries have reignited public discourse around the need for action to address past, proximate and persistent systemic racism affecting Indigenous peoples of Canada. HBHL stands with the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc and Wipazoka Wakpa First Nations, and all Indigenous peoples and families who continue to suffer from the genocidal legacy of Canada’s residential school system, in calls for renewed efforts and investment to find, identify and repatriate these and other missing children.
To increase transparency and accountability of our equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) initiatives and Action Plan, we will continue to provide regular semesterly updates to the community on our progress, priorities and plans moving forward. The original plan was presented to and improved upon by HBHL’s Strategic Steering Committee (SSC), and we will continue to update it as we evaluate HBHL’s strengths and areas for improvement. Over the past two years, we have implemented a number of strategic initiatives, including forming the EDI Committee, incorporating excellence levels and SGBA+ requirements into our funding mechanisms and administering a climate survey of our community to identify areas of focus.
Given this is our second community update, we are including a progress report on the six-month action plan items we shared in October 2020. These items are informed by both McGill and HBHLdata and are consistent with McGill institutional initiatives and our own identified strategic areas of focus.
HBHL actions taken over the past six months
In our October community update, we identified action items to address areas of need within the HBHL community. Below, we share progress made on these items.
Indigenous Access and Inclusion
We are in the process of developing a targeted action plan to increase access and inclusion of First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals in the broad, HBHL-related community and integrate Indigenous knowledge into HBHL’s research. This plan is informed by McGill’s Provost Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education Final Report, which identifies 52 Calls to Action. We have been researching best practices and reviewing strategies implemented in other McGill units and other universities and are actively reaching out and listening to Indigenous community groups to learn more about existing efforts and goals so that we can work alongside them towards their priorities. Specific actions:
- We are organizing a film screening of an Indigenous-made film and a panel discussion featuring Indigenous researchers, health professionals and community members around systemic barriers and access to health care, which disproportionately affect Indigenous communities.
- We are in contact with McGill’s Indigenous Mentorship and Paid Research Experience for Summer Students program (IMPRESS) to begin a collaboration and provide funding to support Indigenous students interested in neuroscience.
- We are investigating allocating dedicated funds to support neuroscience trainees to take part in the Indigenous Field Studies program.
- Consistent with McGill Indigenous Initiatives’ call to action 41 on internal research funding, we are i) investigating allocating dedicated funds for Indigenous applicants, and ii) ensuring that any Indigenous research applications are reviewed in a culturally appropriate manner, in alignment with existing frameworks and best practices.
We are developing a targeted action plan to address anti-Black racism within McGill neuroscience. We have been researching best practices and aligning strategies implemented in other McGill units and at other universities, which we can implement within the purview of HBHL’s mandate. Specific actions include:
- HBHL is actively consulting with members of McGill’s Black community to ensure the actions we are taking best serve and align with the goals of the community.
- IMPRESS is expanding their programming to provide opportunities for Black K-12 students in Montreal to participate in summer programs. HBHL is in contact with the program about providing funding to support Black students with an interest in neuroscience.
- HBHL is planning a training event for Fall 2021 in collaboration with the Equity Education, Anti-Black Racism and Anti-Oppression Advisor at Equity at McGill for members of the HBHL community.
- McGill is in the process of developing an online learning module on systemic racism, with the aim to broaden and deepen our collective understanding of what systemic racism is and how it can impact the experiences of racialized members of our communities. HBHL will be making completion of this module a requirement for all future funding opportunities for both trainees and PIs.
- Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) will be facilitating training and other resources for instructors and teaching assistants through the SKILLS21 program to support the development of inclusive pedagogies and curricular approaches that foster the learning and development of our diverse community and a sense of belonging for all students. HBHL is investigating making this module a requirement for Fellowship supervisors.
- We are updating our funding mechanisms to include support for projects that address equity in a research context and that focus on serving historically underrepresented, underserved or marginalized communities.
We have shared a series of public online EDI resources with a focus on the McGill neuroscience community, such as guidelines for supervisors to facilitate inclusive training environments and guidelines for accessible academic activities. We will continue to add to these resources as HBHL facilitates further EDI-focused training sessions and events.
We are currently organizing three EDI-related training events in the fall which will be open to all members of the McGill neuroscience community to facilitate discussion and collaborative learning. This includes an anti-oppression training event, in collaboration with Equity at McGill and the Integrated Program in Neuroscience.
Impacts of COVID-19
We continue to monitor how the COVID-19 crisis evolves. We are reflecting on how this may deepen existing inequities and taking action/adjusting plans to facilitate supportive and productive environments for all during this time. We continue to support the HBHL community of researchers and have provided with-cost extensions to our Postdoctoral fellows to accommodate delays in meeting their research objectives caused by the pandemic. Feedback collected through the annual HBHL participant survey will help inform us as to how HBHL can further support the community.
HBHL continues to work towards its goal of acting as a leader in EDI at McGill and beyond, facilitating action at the institutional level and serving as a model for future interdisciplinary research initiatives. As there is still more work to be done, we welcome your feedback, questions and ideas. If you would like to collaborate or get involved with HBHL’s EDI initiatives, andrzej.tereszkowski [at] mcgill.ca (please contact HBHL’s Training and EDI Program Officer, Andrzej Tereszkowski), (andrzej.tereszkowski [at] mcgill.ca).
The HBHL Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Committee