Building an inclusive university

Jody Paterson

When the call went out across the country in 2017 to ensure that the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion were factored into some of Canada’s most important research, Royal Roads University was listening.

Royal Roads’ research services and human resources departments took that call as a challenge to build those EDI principles even deeper into everything that the university does.

Four years later, RRU’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Plan is a living document that not only guides EDI policy and practice but is also helping to lead change at other universities.

Royal Roads Research Development Coordinator Gwen Hill, along with Human Resources Associate Director Lisa Robinson, will present on the development and implementation of that plan to their post-secondary education colleagues at an EDI virtual symposium in March, led by Dr. Amanda Wager at Vancouver Island University.

“It’s a great opportunity for all of us to come together, to share ideas and develop some institutional best practices,” says Hill. “We want to build an ongoing network and some recommended frameworks out of the work we’re all doing.”

The Canada Research Chairs Program’s EDI challenge, issued by the federal government in 2017, imagined change that would encompass all aspects of a university’s research environment – from how a researcher teaches to how they conduct themselves in the classroom and community, including their hiring practices and publication platforms.

The goal of the CRC EDI program is to increase representation among women, persons with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, and members of visible minorities. Hill and Robinson knew that achieving equity, diversity and inclusion in the research environment ultimately meant achieving that goal across the university.

“Our roles provide the scaffolding – the formal relationship between Royal Roads research and human resources,” says Robinson of the work that she and Hill are leading.

“Although the funding for the work is coming through the Canada Research Chairs Secretariat, and has a research focus, it can’t be done in isolation. It needs to be across the organization. The nature of the symposium is around research, and a holistic approach to EDI,” says Robinson. “At Royal Roads, we have taken a hard look at all our policies anywhere there’s a connection to EDI. Our president and the federal government have given us this call to action.”

Knowing how to get started was one of the biggest challenges for Royal Roads initially, as there are no guidelines for smaller universities wanting to meet federal EDI research requirements. Hill set out to learn what other BC universities were doing, taking herself on a round of visits to some of those universities to find out more.

Through Hill’s leadership, Royal Roads has received two grants in support of its EDI work from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canada Research Chairs Program. The grants have enabled resourcing and support of many EDI initiatives.

Royal Roads has had a Diversity Action Group in place for a decade, and its work created a solid foundation for the EDI team. The team’s accomplishments in the past two years have included the creation of the President’s Steering Committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, training of staff and managers on equitable hiring practices, a campus-wide benchmarking survey, “Everyone Counts,” and training on implicit bias, gender diversity and micro-aggression.

“There’s no separating anything out of the research environment in terms of the principles of EDI,” notes Hill. “That extends to the community as well. If you come out of your research publishing only in peer-reviewed journals, your research may not reach the people who need it.

“An EDI perspective says yes, absolutely publish there, but also find a way to communicate the findings out to the world around us. Researchers at Royal Roads have always done that extremely well.”

When a university is getting the principles of EDI right, students, staff and faculty feel that they can be “their true and complete selves,” says Robinson. Everything from the way a job is advertised to onboarding a new employee or faculty member is approached with an EDI perspective.

“I’m grateful for this awakening among universities, and that I’m here in the time that it’s happening,” says Robinson. “I’m so proud to be at Royal Roads with its passion and commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.”