Highlights from my Interview with Tanya De Mello, Equity and Diversity Officer, University of Toronto Scarborough
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Tanya (Toni) De Mello, Equity and Diversity Officer, University of Toronto Scarborough on her role at the university and her insights on how an organization could become more inclusive.
Tanya De Mello works closely with the Tri-campus Equity Officers to promote inclusion and accessibility within the learning, living and working environments for faculty, staff, and students. On a day-to-day basis, she identifies and fields diversity and equity concerns, delivers training and educational events, and makes recommendations on organization-level strategies / policies / processes to create a more inclusive environment.
Highlighted below are some of the D&I initiatives at the university over the past several years:
Int’l Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
This campus-wide event boasted the highest engagement of faculty and staff with students in conversations around race on campus. Over 150 people actively participated, Dr. Thembela Kepe gave a keynote speech on his story of surviving apartheid, and several international and local artists from the diaspora and indigenous communities performed theatre, dance and poetry. The dialogue opened up a conversation where university administrators were able to hear ideas from students about ways in which to tackle questions of race and representation at the university. In the last few months, the University of Toronto has announced a Diversity Internship Program to recruit more racialized candidates, the creation of affinity groups for racialized staff, and the collection of demographic race-based data to get a better sense of representation by race.
Washroom Inclusivity Project
In these two projects, Tanya worked as the lead on her campus to engage faculty and staff (including unionized custodial staff) to identify accessibility features of washrooms and change rooms on campus that would enable diverse communities to have better access to washrooms. For example, disabled communities, parents with children, people that wash before and after prayer and many LGBTQ community members who may struggle with the way washrooms are currently equipped. The Washroom Project sought to understand these needs and gaps better and begin the process of building more inclusive washrooms. For this work, she was awarded the Excellence Through Innovation Award in 2016. Within months of the project, the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus installed change tables in the bathrooms of the two most used building. The university is currently examining the slow conversion of several bathrooms in order to make them gender neutral washrooms.
Outburst! Young Muslim Women’s Project
The Outburst! Young Muslim Women’s Project is a community-centred response to the increased focus on violence against women in Muslim communities. People often speak about the women in Muslim communities, but not with the women themselves. Formed in 2011, the project is a movement of young Muslin women in Toronto to break the silence and to speak out about the violence. The group came together to shape the conversations about violence in the communities and to define safety needs within institutions, such as mosques, school, housing, child welfare. As a result of the project, staff and interested faculty at the university will be provided with culturally sensitive training while peer leaders were created to provide resource-information and support. More information on this project can be found at http://outburstmovement.com/
The following were some insights that Tanya shared on how to become an inclusive organization:
- D&I has become a trendy topic and everyone wants to do it because it is the “thing to do”. It is important that there is real commitment to long-term organizational culture change, and not just an exercise in tokenism.
- D&I is an intangible topic. Many organizations are focusing on using numerical metrics to measure their progress (e.g. the number of women on the senior leadership team). However, to make real progress, we need to look at both quantitative and qualitative data such as “sense of belonging” that could be garnered through satisfaction surveys.
- Strategies that an organization can employ to become truly inclusive include:
- Embedding D&I goals within the organization and each staff member’s performance plan.
- Creating D&I champions in each department instead of having one representative across the entire organization. Oftentimes D&I issues are not considered if the individual is not at the table.
- For universities in particular, ensure that faculty and staff are reflective of the student population. This is not generally the case in universities across Canada.
More information on the D&I work at the university can be found at http://equity.hrandequity.utoronto.ca/