The University of Toronto (UofT) has had a long-standing commitment to promoting Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) to ensure a safe and respectful working environment for their staff and students across the three campuses. More specifically, several Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Departments at UofT have fairly recently begun adjusting their foundational elements to include important principles that foster EDI.
Commonly known strategies used to promote EDI must consider the team composition and recruitment processes, training and development opportunities, and inclusion and accessibility opportunities.
Team Composition and Recruitment Processes
The discrepancy in recruiting people from marginalized groups has been a focal point for all EDI initiatives across UofT, particularly in the field of STEM. One such example is the underrepresentation of women as they progress through the STEM pipeline, particularly in the fields of engineering and computer sciences. These findings are much lower for women that identify as Black, Indigenous, or as a person of colour (BIPOC). These women often have lower academic self-confidence than their male counterparts, which is one of many contributing factors to their departure from STEM. STEM Faculties at UofT have employed several strategies to improve recruitment and this includes (but is not limited to) ensuring diversity in the search committees, improving job advertisement language, and using active recruitment and outreach by advertising to diverse audiences.
Training and Development Opportunities
The STEM Faculties at UofT have greatly improved on their training and development opportunities for employees and students. While it is expected that Faculties provide all of their staff and students with the appropriate scientific training, over the last few years these training opportunities have expanded to include courses focused on respect in the workplace as well as ethics training that help promote the professional development of their staff and students.
Inclusion and Accessibility
STEM Faculties at UofT have made inclusion and accessibility a strong focus in their promotion of EDI principles. Several STEM Faculties have established strategies to ensure equitable access to funding opportunities for all of their researchers and trainees, and additional funding opportunities continue to be established for people that identify as BIPOC. In addition to Faculty level initiatives, several student-founded outreach initiatives have been established that promote STEM to students across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) (IMMspire, Let’s Talk Science, Science Rendevouz, Saturday Program). These programs focus on making STEM and postsecondary education more achievable to youth in the GTA.
Institutional EDI Initiatives at UofT
With over 93,000 students (as of the 2019-2020 academic year) and over 20,000 employees across all three campuses in the GTA, the UofT community is highly diverse. In addition to the highly diverse domestic students enrolled, students from 159 different countries are enrolled as international students at UofT. As a result, several institutional initiatives have been established to ensure intentional inclusion in the university community and some of these are highlighted.
The Division of Human Resources & Equity:
The Division of Human Resources & Equity was developed by the University to establish and support a wide range of institutional initiatives. Recent actionable items include adjusting institutional recruitment processes and practices to ensure EDI principles are included as foundational elements in hiring, improving complaint resolution, and ensuring the continued support of additional UofT initiatives focused on inclusion. Visit hrandequity.utoronto. ca/inclusion/edi-at-u-of-t to learn more about the Division of Human Resources & Equity.
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Office (AODA):
AODA focuses on meeting the provincial standards to ensure that UofT is barrier-free for all students, faculty, staff, and librarians across all campuses. In the most recent EDI report, AODA reported focusing on training accessibility and education in several areas including: web accessibility, planning and hosting accessible events, and overall AODA training requirements. Visit hrandequity.utoronto.ca/inclusion/accessibility to learn more about AODA initiatives.
Anti-Racism & Cultural Diversity Office (ARCDO):
ARCDO supports the development of intentionally racially diverse and inclusive environments for all UofT members. Recently, ARCDO launched Restore @ UofT – a Restoration Program for Black, Indigenous, and Racialized Communities in partnership with Allision Hill. This initiative focuses on addressing the impacts of racism through restorative activities and community activations hosted by BIPOC culturally sensitive professionals. Additionally, in 2019, ARCDO established the Race, Equity & Action Speaker Series which hosts local and international experts that engage the UofT community in dialogue on how educational institutions think about and advance EDI. Visit antiracism.utoronto.ca to learn more about ARCDO initiatives.
Office of Indigenous Initiatives (OII):
OII supports and guides the reconciliation between UofT and Indigenous people, ensuring respect, humility, and opportunity. OII continues to work with academic and non-academic communities to guide UofT in its efforts to address its 34 Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action in order to ensure that it is a place deserving of Indigenous community members. Visit indigenous. utoronto.ca to learn more about OII initiatives.
Sexual & Gender Diversity Office (SGDO):
SGDO prepares and provides educational resources and programming on sexual and gender diversity for the UofT community across all three campuses. SGDO works to challenge discrimination by building supportive learning and working communities. Actionable items include the training of over 1000 student & employees on EDI and/or sexual and gender diversity. SGDO is involved in several initiatives focused on promoting sexual and gender inclusion. Initiatives include the Gender Talk Discussion Series, a conversation café for trans+ students, and the Lead with Pride Conference, a LGBTQ2S+ student leadership conference. Visit sgdo.utoronto.ca to learn more about SGDO initiatives.
Student and Employee Initiatives at UofT
Efforts to promote EDI at UofT extends into the community beyond institutional initiatives with over several hundred student, faculty, or staff organizations and initiatives that focus on ensuring UofT is an intentionally inclusive, safe, and welcoming learning and working environment. Some of these initiatives are described below.
Women in STEM:
Leading and Reading: Created by Dr. Christine Allen, professor and scientist in the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, this monthly book club began as a place for women across campus to meet and share ideas regarding EDI in STEM in a safe environment. The book club has expanded since its inception and now includes students and faculty from several disciplines.
UofT Black Medical Students Association (BMSA):
Founded by Dr. Sean Wharton in 1999, BMSA focuses on supporting and encouraging students from backgrounds typically underrepresented in medicine to become successful medical school applicants. The group focuses on student outreach by working with high schools and undergraduate student associations to motivate and inspire students. BMSA also focuses on initiatives that increase medical students’ awareness of health care needs of the Black community in the GTA.
Founded in 2016 by undergraduate students (Sunny and Nicole), Healthy Minds is a health advocacy and support group that focuses on providing a physical and mental space for individuals seeking to improve their mental well-being in the UofT community. The group focuses on peer support and community integration to create social leaders who are more aware of their mental health. Healthy Minds holds monthly events that include mindfulness workshops and de-stressing events.
Musical Minds Community Outreach:
Created in 2012 by UofT students (Pam, Zahra and Greg), Musical Minds Community Outreach is a volunteer organization that works to make musical education accessible to children and youth in the GTA that may not have the means or opportunity to receive musical training. By offering free weekly classes with trained volunteer instructors to youth aged 7-13, Musical Minds Community Outreach provides quality musical education and youth mentorship, while also respecting diversity of the students they teach. To celebrate the advancements made by their students in their musical training, Musical Minds holds end of year recitals where students can showcase what they have learned.
As a graduate student, I particularly appreciate the many diverse student-founded initiatives available at UofT as they are often established as a means of filling gaps that institutional initiatives may not meet. As UofT continues to develop new strategies towards creating a more equitable and inclusive environment, the effects of that culture will benefit not just its own community, but that of the Greater Toronto Area as well.
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