A comprehensive approach to culture change is needed to advance the University of Waterloo’s equity and anti-racism goals. Institutional support, resource allocations, collaborative efforts, community engagement, and a carefully planned strategy are necessary for sustainable and purposeful impact. In 2022, the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism (EDI-R) took on the challenge of identifying an effective methodology that would achieve this goal, which led to the launch of the Program Area Leads (PALs) initiative. The initiative would eventually align with the 85th recommendation of the President’s Anti-Racism Taskforce (PART).

The purpose of the PALs initiative is to lead and facilitate culture change by embedding equity and anti-racism into various programs, services, and units across campus. Over 25 volunteers, including staff, faculty, and postdoctoral scholars worked collaboratively together to drive this purpose. The program adopted a multifaceted approach.   

The initial phase focused on equipping members with relevant knowledge and skills, while encouraging discussions and self-reflection on often difficult topics. Members completed six online training modules including Collective Impact and Inclusive Leadership, Disrupting and Decentering Whiteness, Confronting Anti-Black Racism, Understanding Indigenization, and 2SLGBTQ+ Fundamentals and Gender Equity, which served as foundational building blocks for the program.  

With the knowledge and skills acquired in the learning phase, members proceeded to the application phase earlier this year. Guided by advisors from EDI-R office, they completed case studies in various areas tailored specifically to the institution’s needs, including communications, competency building, online course reviews, and policy and process reviews. By engaging in real-world scenarios, members gained a deeper understanding of how to conduct equity and anti-racism work more effectively.  

Finally, members drafted practical resources, based on their experiences and learnings, which will be published for the University community, following a final review from EDI-R. These resources will serve as preliminary guides for embedding equity considerations in roles, programs, and environments.  

Three essential and valuable lessons were shared across members of PALs:

  • An essential step in equity and anti-racism work is to engage in significant self-reflection. Decentering the self is pivotal in this introspective process. 

  • It is crucial to allocate dedicated time for this work. These efforts cannot be afterthoughts or sideline endeavors while managing full-time roles.  

  • Achieving a cultural shift necessitates community engagement, with strong leadership and peer support. Leaders play a critical role in setting the tone for the institution, while peer support creates a collaborative and inclusive environment.  

On October 26, the program wrapped up with a celebration. Congratulations to members of PALs from across the University, including faculties, ASUs and AFIWs, on your dedication to and accomplishments in the program.   

Are you involved in equity and anti-racism work in your department?

Be a part of the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism Community of Practice (EDI-R CoP) for staff and faculty. Members meet monthly and engage in online discussions to share information on equity and anti-racism initiatives across campus. Join the EDI-R CoP on MS Teams to get more details.