More than a decade after it was first launched, McGill’s Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) office is undergoing a significant realignment in order to strengthen the University’s ability to support its objectives in relation to employment equity, Indigenous success, and harassment and discrimination prevention.
Under the new structure, which took effect at the beginning of August, equity education advisors currently within SEDE will shift their work to focus more prominently on anti-harassment and anti-discrimination work, notably in relation to the University’s Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment & Discrimination Prohibited by Law. At the same time, a new Senior Equity & Inclusion Officer (SEIO), Sinead Hunt, will be in office. Hunt will come to the SEIO position from a previous post at McGill, equipped with broad experience and expertise in equity and human rights law. By October, the equity education advisor (Indigenous education) will be working in direct connection with Kakwiranó:ron Cook, Special Advisor to the Provost on Indigenous Success.
At the same time, SEDE, under the direction of its founding associate director, Veronica Amberg, will focus more deeply on community outreach.
“My new vison of SEDE will be to expand the access and community engagement programs and become a resource hub that will be predicated on recognition of the need to create pathways to education through longitudinal support, mentorship, and targeted outreach of especially those populations who may experience barriers to getting an excellent post-secondary education,” Amberg said. “The ‘Community Outreach and Engagement’ axis is directly linked to the ‘Access’ component in that it will rely on and establish stronger partnerships with local communities to provide opportunities for community-engaged learning and research and will promote the perspectives and experiences of underrepresented communities in our curricula.”
Angela Campbell, Associate Provost (Equity & Academic Policies), indicated that these changes are intended to strengthen the equity mandate at the University, aligning this work with University policies and priorities. She noted, “The community engagement focus of SEDE will remain firmly in place, as we simultaneously bolster our efforts on employment equity, Indigenous success, and preventing and responding to harassment and discrimination on our campuses.”
Tynan Jarrett, McGill’s Employment Equity Advisor, agreed that the coming changes “make a lot of sense, as, especially in recent years, equity has become a big priority for the University.”
McGill has made a number of new commitments on equity and “this change is in response to those commitments. We need to shape things with regard to institutional priorities,” he said
SEDE has been doing good work for more than 10 years, Jarrett said, and it was time for a tweak and an upgrade. “We’ll be able to provide more and better service and we’ll increase our capacity to do the work,” he said. “Putting more resources toward employment equity is an important priority for the University.”
Added Equity Education Advisor Meryem Benslimane, “Institutional change that centres communication and collaboration is important in order to continue meeting the evolving needs of all those in the University community.
“The Office of the Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) aims to be more proactive regarding equity education and increase its impact, and I believe these changes will help achieve this goal at McGill.”
Amberg said SEDE had its origins in discussions among students, members of the administration and faculty.
“I have had the privilege of leading the creation of the SEDE Office in Fall 2005,” Amberg said. “This was the result of more than a decade of ongoing discussions between students, administration, and various other community members regarding McGill’s official response to the pressing issues of harassment and discrimination on campus.
“One of the key objectives was to promote positive and constructive leadership within the campus community, while also encouraging meaningful community engagement. Eventually, the SEDE Office began to act as a resource in the implementation of several initiatives in partnership with academic units.”
Campbell noted that equity issues have become larger and more complex in recent years and, as a result, the University’s administrative structure required review to ensure the ability to respond to needs and demands.
“A lot has changed in the 13 years since the SEDE office opened,” she said. “Equity is a greater priority for the University than it was then, as it is true in other areas like the private sector and government. Our work is focused on having the right resources in the right place to address these issues and continue our progress toward an equitable and inclusive campus community.”