Faculty of Mathematics launches Equity and Inclusive Communities Principles

Thursday, February 1, 2024

“It is always a difficult balance to strike,” said Mark Giesbrecht, dean of the Faculty of Mathematics, “between reflecting what we believe, and defining actional things we can go forward with and actually apply in our everyday life.”

Giesbrecht was welcoming participants to the January 31 launch of the Equity and Inclusive Communities Principles, a new set of eleven principles developed over the last two years for the Faculty of Mathematics by a committee of eighteen faculty, staff, and students, including members from the Office of Indigenous Relationsand the Centre for Teaching Excellence’s Indigenous Knowledges and Anti-Racist Pedagogies Unit. This work was also supported by Waterloo’s Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Anti-Racism office.

Group photo of Robin Jones-Stadelbauer, Jean Becker, Mark Giesbrecht and Jeremy Steffler

L-R: Robin Jones-Stadelbauer, Jean Becker, Mark Giesbrecht and Jeremy Steffler

The principles were particularly designed to be accessible to people regardless of where they were on their journey, explains Jeremy Steffler, the Faculty of Mathematics’ Equity Officer and leader of the project.

“One of the great understandings gained through this process was an appreciation of the sense of connection and the degree of reciprocity the Faculty of Mathematics has with many communities,” Steffler says. “While the Principles are intended to guide our efforts toward greater equity and inclusion, the Faculty is part of a university and other external communities, and many diverse communities exist within the Faculty. Choosing to acknowledge ‘communities’ right in the name helps frame our intentions to be thinking in a more holistic way.”

Collaborating with community

Over the ninety minutes of the launch event, attendees heard from a panel, which included committee members who worked on developing the principles: Sharlee Cranston-Reiner, senior manager for research equity in the Office of Research; Brian Ingalls, professor of Applied Mathematics; Keeley Isinghood, an undergraduate student in Biostatistics; Robin Jones-Stadelbauer, associate director of the Office of Indigenous Relations; and Leslie Wexler, a senior educational developer, Indigenous Knowledges and Anti-Racist Pedagogies for the Centre for Teaching Excellence.

Panel members shared their experience working on the committee or their initial reflections on reviewing the principles for the first time, including sharing principles with which they particularly resonated. “One thing that’s important to me is how the principles quantify what it means to belong,” said Isinghood.

Ingalls described how serving on the committee was an opportunity for him to get out of his comfort zone. “I don’t have a lot of lived experience to bring to this work, and I acknowledge that I have had a lot of privilege in my career,” he said. “For most of my career, I would describe myself as a passive supporter of these kinds of efforts. That’s not enough.”

Attendees discuss the principles in small groups

Following the discussion, attendees were encouraged to write about what the principles meant to them at a series of stations, as well as taking time to make connections with each other. “I encourage you all to reflect on your role in applying these principles. Commit to an action that you can take to apply them,” said Jean Becker, associate vice-president for Indigenous Relations, who is Inuk and a member of the Nunatsiavut Territory of Labrador. 

Engaging with Indigenous knowledge

From the beginning, it was important to Steffler and the team that special attention was paid to Indigenous perspectives and concerns in developing the principles. Two Indigenous knowledge keepers were on the committee: Robin Jones-Stadelbauer, associate director of the Office of Indigenous Relations and a member of Saugeen Anishinaabeg nation and Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation; and Jessica Rumboldt, an educational developer of Indigenous knowledge for the Centre for Teaching Excellence who has both Mi’kmaw and European settler ancestry.

“Including a specifically Indigenous perspective is so important in developing guidelines to equity, diversity, and inclusion as it brings in diverse, spiritual, physical and intellectual perspectives,” says Rumboldt. “Through Indigenous Knowledges, there are opportunities to connect with the land, families, communities, and nations.”

As part of the Principles’ commitment to specificity, three of the principles – “Promote Meaningful Collaboration,” “Promote Holistic Approaches,” and “Employ Responsible Data Practices” – include both general descriptions of their applications as well as ones specific to interactions with Indigenous communities. In recognition that there are many Indigenous peoples around the world, these principles specifically reference working with Canada’s First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.

Jones-Stadelbauer, Rumboldt, and Steffler also co-authored an academic article, “Beyond the Checklist – Setting Intentions and Weaving Worldviews When Engaging in Indigenization, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism Work,” that is planned to appear in the June issue of New Directions in Teaching and Learning. The team use a unique format to emphasize the importance of collaboration in the development of the principles by writing and formatting the article using two parallel columns: one for the “Faculty Perspective,” and one for the “Indigenous Perspective.”

The developers of the new E&IC principles hope that their experience can provide insight both for other Faculties and for organizations beyond the University of Waterloo.

“I cannot stress enough how the care, consideration, patience, and open-mindedness of not only the group lead but the group participants as well helped the process, not only in relationship building but in development of the principles,” Jones-Stadelbauer says. “The relational approach is key to finding collaborative solutions, and will allow for deeper dialogue and understanding for similar future work across campus.”

An audience member writes their thoughts about a principle