New associate director hopes to bring culture change to co-op

By: Matthew King (he/him)

Colleen Phillips-Davis (she/her) has spent almost 20 years making her mark at the University of Waterloo. Her experiences and passion to create change will be a major asset as she embarks on a new leadership role.

Phillips-Davis began her tenure at Waterloo as a co-op coordinator before moving into the role of account manager. She spent the last 10 years leveraging her relationships to foster successful connections between students and employers. In July, Phillips-Davis stepped into the newly created role of associate director, equity, diversity, inclusion & anti-racism.

Her role will focus on strengthening the approach within Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE) to lead the department’s strategic direction in the critical areas of equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism (EDI-R). Phillips-Davis will report to both the Associate Provost of CEE and the office of equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism at Waterloo.

“Colleen brings an extensive knowledge of CEE’s inner workings as well as a passion for making a difference in the EDI-R realm. In this role, Colleen can continue to deliver advocacy and devotion for EDI-R while impacting change within the department and institution,” says Norah McRae, associate provost, CEE.

Preparing for the future

Co-operative education is a key area of development in the EDI-R space at Waterloo, as the department helps to prepare the next generation of talent for the workforce. Waterloo’s current students, several of whom are part of Generation Z, will be the most diverse talent to ever hit the workforce. Dr. Christopher Taylor, associate vice-president, equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism, believes Phillips-Davis' experience gives her a deep understanding of the changes that need to happen.

“CEE is a juggernaut, so to have someone who has been in that space for a long time and understands the nuances, understands the partners, understands the relationships across the institution, is really important,” says Dr. Christopher Taylor.

“To have somebody like Colleen, who has that experience is top notch and fantastic. On top of that, she does have that experience in EDI-R. So, to be able to marry those two skill sets is essentially finding a unicorn.”

A crucial aspect of the position will involve building internal campus-wide relationships to align with Waterloo’s vision and strategic direction for EDI-R and accessibility.

“Waterloo is known for being the most innovative university and this is our opportunity to embed innovation from an EDI-R lens,” says Phillips-Davis. “It's our opportunity to disrupt some of the policies and procedures that are in place that create a barrier, but having diverse ways of seeing, knowing, and being will set us up for the next 100 years and beyond.”

In alignment with the CEE strategic plan, Phillips-Davis will focus largely on future-proofing our students and staff. She will deepen the understanding of the student experience with the lens of equity, diversity, inclusion, anti-racism and anti-discrimination. With staff, Phillips-Davis will lead the development of staff awareness and engagement in these areas.

“It starts with staff, because staff are the ones who engage with the students, so you must give staff the capacity, that knowledge, to be able to work with students who come from very diverse experiences,” says Phillips-Davis. “Having that knowledge about how to triage if it is a mental health and wellness concern, or if there are other concerns, gives them the information to support the students appropriately. So, it is capacity building, it’s knowledge building. But staff is critical to ensure that students have that incredible experience that they should have.”

Further to ensuring that student and staff experience, Phillips-Davis will continue to work with co-op employers.

Providing our industry partners with the tools to overlay EDI-R in the workplace is important as they play a critical role in providing an inclusive environment where students can thrive as they navigate their co-op work-integrated learning experience and beyond.

Colleen Phillips-Davis, associate director, equity, diversity, inclusion

& anti-racism

The associate director will play a key role in the development and implementation of the 2022-2025 EDI-R strategic plan. Upcoming projects include:

  • AIWL: Advancing into Waterloo Leadership
  • EDI-R Office Fellowship Program
  • Anti-Racism Impact Assessment Black and Indigenous Faculty Mentorship Program
  • Transitional Year Program
  • Inclusive Washrooms
  • Anti-Racism Policy and response guidelines
  • Anti-Racism response case review system
  • Accessibility to menstrual products

“When we look at the EDI-R office, when we look at our office, when we look at Colleen's role, it's not just about making people's lives easier, it's about making services more accessible,” says Dr. Taylor.