Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: Reflecting on the School's Progress and Challenges

Members of the School's Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee share their perspectives on the crucial work of the past year.

As we round out another year at the Max Bell School of Public Policy, the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Committee is reflecting on all that has been accomplished to date. The committee's work over the past three has seen progress, growth, learning, unlearning, and actionable steps towards building a more equitable environment for all students, faculty, and staff. This year the EDI Committee was led by chair Pearl Eliadis, faculty member Jennifer Welsh, alumni Nayantara Sudhakar and Yvette Yakibonge, and 2021-22 MPP students Mune Mafusire and Sugandha Gupta.  All members worked together to bring diverse perspectives to the fore at the School.   

“Above all, EDI is about culture change and about understanding that this is work that we all have responsibility for across the School, to support each other,” said committee chair Pearl Eliadis. “It is not about a particular committee or particular individuals working alone – it is about shared responsibility. When an equitable mentorship program is created, whoever does it, that is EDI work. When the communications staff support us by finding ways to celebrate diversity in a meaningful way, that is EDI work. When hiring committees consider systematically who they are hiring and why, and who is left out, that is EDI work. When we as instructors consider who we are teaching, and what we are teaching, that is EDI work. 

However, culture change is not easy, Eliadis emphasized. 

“It is iterative work. We have had exceptional support over the last two years, and I look forward to seeing this work continue apace.” 

In 2021, the School took the important step of creating a standing EDI committee and developing and approving a two-year EDI Report and Plan (2021-2023). The plan is part of our shared responsibility as a learning community and represents initiatives and ideas that have been undertaken not only by the EDI Committee, but also by the Public Policy Association of Graduate Students (PPAGS), other students, faculty members, and staff. It is informed by the broader McGill Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Plan, its Task Force on Indigenous Studies and McGill’s Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism, and it is based on five key priority areas that were developed last year based on surveys and inputs from students, staff, faculty, and alums.   

While there is still much work to do, the committee, working with the wider School community has made major strides in their efforts to build a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive environment. 

Major strides  

In an effort to create a sustainable base for EDI related initiatives in the future, the School has made and fulfilled a number of commitments to address systemic gaps in accessibility and inclusive design. 

Early in the EDI process, students indicated a strong interest in having more substantive course material that is relevant to students from international backgrounds. All course evaluations at the School now contain a standard question on respect for EDI principles in the classroom, and the School has begun tracking representativeness for sessional lecturers and EDI-related topics such as Policy Case Study lecturers. We have a Complexity Seminar on an issue related to systemic racism. Policy case studies have also engaged with a wide range of topics that include the non-profit sector and international development.   

The School has implemented stronger supports for students whose first languages are not English, and we launched a successful mentoring program that was put in place last year by the Program Director; it was subsequently extended this year. Catherine Stace, Career Services Manager, also worked with students and the Onyx program to facilitate mentoring and professional opportunities for Black students.  

Last year, the School began tracking data on the diversity of School events and guest speakers, including representativeness and engagement with topics such as anti-Black racism, Indigenous issues, and scholarship and EDI issues. From improving the accessibility of recruitment processes, to tracking the degree of diverse participation in School events, these data are providing us with some information on progress.   

Importantly, the School established a paid EDI research assistant position to ensure continuity and support for EDI work as part of a larger commitment to improving the School’s capacity to deliver in all EDI priority areas. Striving to create a culture that uplifts and empowers diverse voices within and beyond the School community, the committee has also provided support for “The Equalizer”—a student-run podcast. Students looking to engage in informal conversations on or raise concerns pertaining to EDI topics can do so at weekly “EDI and Chill” sessions. 

Committee member Mune Mafusire, a member of the Class of 2022, shared some of his favourite accomplishments of the past year. 

“The EDI and Chill have allowed students a platform to candidly discuss what diversity and inclusion means at Max Bell and beyond. I would like to highlight our use of audio-visuals which has been particularly helpful in engaging members of our cohort.” 

Mafusire shared that his committee work has helped his personal growth. 

“As VP EDI, I have been constantly learning how to clearly articulate student concerns without centering myself or imposing my own beliefs,” he explained.

The EDI Committee has also played a key role in supporting Max Bell School events centred on issues pertinent to the committee's work. Last September, Max Bell School students and faculty with professional, academic, and lived experience in Indigenous issues hosted "National Reconciliation and Public Policy: Where do we go from here?" In February, as part of the School's marking of Black History Month, the public was invited to attend "Reconciling Decolonization and Public Policy," a thought-provoking panel featuring Tshepo Madlingozi and Terri Givens. Back in March 2021, the School hosted our best-attended event to date: "Racial Profiling in Policing," which looked at the causes and effects of the disproportionate rate of police violence against—and harassment and detainment of—Black people and other people of colour in Canada. The afternoon-long conference highlighted the lived experiences and academic research of 12 experts from across the country.

Overcoming barriers

From the early days of the School’s establishment, students, faculty, and staff were seeking ways to share their ideas, feedback, and concerns pertaining to EDI-related issues with the School. The committee promptly created structured pathways for students and staff to disclose EDI-related concerns, including a First Responders Program and an anonymous online disclosure form. 

Pearl Eliadis and Office Manager Adriana Goreta hae served as the First Responders for the 2022-23 academic year. 

Goreta explained that, over the past year, all issues and disclosures within the School were handled through the program. Further, she said, “The First Responders program is trained to refer students to other resources in the University in the event that students or staff require more information about mechanisms in the University.” 

Concerns surrounding accessibility became paramount during the pandemic. COVID-19 taught us that the accessibility of digital infrastructure is just as important as the physical environment, for all students and staff, including those with disabilities. It is key to further develop our understanding of how the School’s new online and digital spaces be leveraged in the future to make resources and services more accessible to all students. 

One such example of how online tools can be employed is the School’s online disclosure form. 

“The form is an important way for members of the Max Bell community to share their experiences and concerns related to discrimination and other equity issues with the School in a prompt and, if preferred, an anonymous manner,” said committee member Nayantara Sudhakar, Class of 2021. “The digital nature of the form provides a safe space for students, staff, and faculty to access this disclosure mechanism form anywhere, anytime, and without the need to wait on the availability of an EDI first responder. This means that feedback and all concerns related to equity issues can be brought to the School's attention quickly, which will allow them to be dealt with as they arise.” 

Collecting and evaluating data

After hearing countless calls from students, alumni, and staff for curriculum topics to better reflect the diversity of the student body, the committee took some time to gather relevant data to inform more equitable and inclusive hiring and course creation decisions. There was a need to recruit professors and lecturers from equity-deserving groups to teach courses beyond the topics specifically linked to their racialized identities. Recognizing that Black members of the McGill community have told us that many Black students experience isolation partly due to underrepresentation of Black faculty and administrative leadership, the committee recognizes that this work must be undertaken without delay. The diversity of content, speakers, lecturers, and advisory boards has increased significantly over the course of the past three years. 

Celebrating diversity

As part of the shift to online learning, a mentoring program was established to help students build lasting relationships with and receive career support from faculty and staff. Given that mentorship is a viable pathway to inclusiveness in academic settings and may be of particular benefit to minority and international students, the committee reinstituted this program for the present cohort. 

“Academic mentorship is instrumental in providing students with personal support, especially during the fast-paced journey of the MPP program,” explained committee member Sugandha Gupta, Class of 2022. “Having access to a senior role model in the school provided students with the guidance to excel in their academic performance, identify, and plan future career trajectory and develop personal attributes such as confidence and resilience. Mentoring sessions also acted as effective spaces for dialogic education where students could discuss a wide range of topics and gain valuable insights.” 

Paving the way forward

As Pearl Eliadis completes her term as committee chair this year, the School is pleased to welcome Dr. Leslie Fierro, the Sydney Duder Professor in Program Evaluation, to join the Committee as incoming chair for the 2022-23 year. We are deeply grateful to Professor Eliadis for the incredible progress she has spearheaded and facilitated during her tenure. 

Looking ahead, the committee is poised to continue delivering on its important objectives. Through the establishment of the EDI Report and Plan and the countless initiatives undertaken to achieve progress across its five priority areas, the committee is steadfast in its commitment to build a stronger, more diverse, and more inclusive community for all students, staff, faculty, and alumni. 


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