“It is Too Fundamental to Defer to the Future:” Exploring EDI with Malinda S. Smith

For more than two decades Professor of Political Science Malinda S. Smith has worked to advance equity, diversity, and intersectionality…

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For more than two decades Professor of Political Science Malinda S. Smith has worked to advance equity, diversity, and intersectionality into her teaching, research, service, and community engagement, but two years ago she assumed a role that allowed her to further share her EDI knowledge and policy expertise with the U of A community. In 2018, she became the inaugural Provost Fellow in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Policy. We sat down with Malinda to learn more about her work as the Provost Fellow.

What drew you to the role?

It gave me the opportunity to be much more strategic in designing initiatives, and more deliberate in making direct and sustained contributions to EDI policies and practices rather than ad-hoc and fragmented interventions. It also aligned with the release of the Strategic Plan for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity so the timing allowed me to contribute to the broader university initiative.

Given that the role is all about EDI, how collaborative is it?

EDI is everybody’s responsibility and something all units and leadership at all levels need to work on as part of their strategic direction. I think of the university as an EDI league where different teams are working individually and collectively to advance a shared strategic vision of a more accessible, equitable, diverse, and inclusive campus.

Everything I’ve worked on has been as part of collaborative teams. Yes, there is an EDI leadership team in the Provost’s office under Wendy Rodgers, but there are also other EDI teams at the level of faculties at the U of A. Collectively we all work on concrete measures in the EDI Strategic Plan that aim to move the dial toward a more equitable campus.

What have been some of the highlights?

Working with the Provost’s office, the EDI Scoping Group, and EDI Action Group in order to develop, launch and implement the Strategic Plan goals has been a highlight because I think this work is beginning to have an impact. But it must be sustained. The Strategic Plan has strong leadership buy-in at the senior levels, a commitment to EDI in recruitment, hiring and retention, to EDI in research and scholarship, and to enhancing the student experience.

The second most important thing for me has been working with the EDI Survey Equity group on the EDI Workforce Diversity Census that was launched in fall 2019. The survey was intended to get an understanding of the representational diversity of the U of A’s faculty and staff. Now we probably have among the best workforce survey and data in Canadian universities. The data are essential for identifying successes, gaps and needs, and for making EDI decisions informed by sound evidence.

One of the things I was really keen to do is create an EDI website. For many faculty, staff, and students, their first experience with the U of A is online, so it’s important that we have our commitment to equity visible, accessible, and prominent on the web. And that’s why the website is a central hub for all things EDI at the university. There are lots of initiatives that appear to be separate and fragmented across the campuses. The website is a gateway that will allow you to see how they are connected, including reports on the work underway, everything happening at the institutional and faculty levels, the various services and supports available, and education and awareness initiatives that are underway. It even includes a look at the history of EDI on campus.

What are your EDI hopes for the U of A community?

EDI is not something that we should ever put it off, it’s not a luxury item to be pursued only in good times. It is too fundamental to defer to the future.

Serious EDI work is often hard. Systemic and culture change are a challenge, but essential for a better learning, research and work environment. We need to see more strategic collaborations across and among units to achieve shared goals and objectives, to establish best EDI practices in recruitment, hiring and retention, to see our professoriate and university leadership reflect the diversity of our student body, and to ensure Inclusive and decolonized classrooms.

I would love to see us think more deeply about diversity in practice, such as creating innovation hubs with diverse students and faculty aimed at solving the big issues of our times.

And finally, what does uplifting the whole people” mean to you?

This quote from Henry Marshall Tory is deep and profound and of continuing importance. Our great university exists because the people demanded it, and insisted that knowledge produced was not only for scholars; rather the final goal was liberatory and inclusive — uplifting the whole people. It’s a vision that we must continue striving to achieve. I don’t think we can do better than trying to uplift the whole people.

As an inclusive community, the University of Alberta encourages and supports individual and collaborative efforts to identify and address inequities, and we welcome and enable contributions of all voices as we engage in diverse ideas, knowledges, and perspectives in the pursuit of inclusive excellence for the public good. Learn more about our EDI plan, initiatives, reports, and more by visiting the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity website.