Tracelyn Cornelius (MEB ’21, PhD in progress) is the anti-racism communications manager in the University’s central communications unit. She is also a PhD student in the Sustainability Management program in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development (SEED).
As a full-time employee, mature part-time student and mother of three, I often question whether my decision to embark on PhD studies was a wise one. Reflecting on the numerous nights and weekends dedicated to reading, completing assignments, and participating in study groups, I wonder, “Is the commitment of time and energy really worth it?”
I got the answer to these questions at the special ceremony held for 2020 and 2021 graduates during 2022 Spring Convocation, when I graduated with a master’s degree.
As I crossed the stage, amidst the applause, I heard shouts of “Go Mommy” from my three children, who were in the audience. It was then that I knew, without a doubt, that my rigorous schedule and demanding workload were indeed worth it.
Whenever I get the PhD blues, a term used to describe the combination of imposter syndrome and study-related anxiety, I remember this moment.
As a member of Professor Amelia Clarke’s research team in the Sustainability Management program in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development (SEED), I am part of a team building community by working with local municipalities to implement community sustainability and climate plans. Fortunately, my research focus, which involves embedding equity, diversity and inclusion into the tools and resources used for knowledge mobilization, complements the work I do for the University.
Challenging oppressive narratives
I’m currently on secondment from Waterloo International as the anti-racism communications manager in University Relations. I work with senior leaders like Jean Becker, associate vice-president of Indigenous Relations (IR) and Dr. Christopher S. Taylor, associate vice-president of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-racism (EDI-R) to develop and implement strategic communications plans that effectively challenge oppressive narratives.
Long before EDI-R became buzz words, I have been applying these lenses to communications, community engagement, project management and strategic planning and implementation for more than 25 years. I was honoured to work with President’s Anti-racism Taskforce to assist in planning and coordinating activities. I was also a member of the Professional and Academic Development working group and the Race, Culture and Ethnicity working group.
When I worked with PART, I was at the cusp of completing a Master of Environment and Business degree. I wanted to support the successful implementation of PART recommendations, so I focused my research interests on exploring the intersection of EDI-R and sustainability management.
Equality is a fundamental component of sustainability; therefore, dismantling systemic biases, discrimination and inequities is essential for a sustainable future. I aligned this premise with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), focusing on SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities (ensuring no one is left behind), and SDG 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong institutions (promoting peaceful and inclusive societies). I found that there was a significant research gap in this field, and I look forward to contributing meaningful and original research.
I will be forever grateful that I chose to connect my professional EDI work to my sustainability management research. No matter who you are, where or what you’re studying, completing a PhD while working full-time takes its toll. Managing extremely demanding professional and academic workloads and trying to achieve a healthy work-life balance are common struggles.
Sometimes I feel like it’s impossible to stay motivated. What has and continues to sustain me is a strong support system of family, colleagues, professional and academic supervisors and friends. My academic and professional interactions at the University of Waterloo have had a tremendous impact on my life and for that I’m extremely grateful.
I will leave you with my favourite quote coined by the great author, poet and social activist, Maya Angelo: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour and some style.”
UWaterloo alumni podcast
Hear more from Tracelyn Cornelius about her anti-racism work that is challenging oppressive narratives by implementing strategies to develop better understanding and inclusivity.