Seven people and three organizations have been recognized for making strides in equity and anti-racism work with an International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (IDERD) Recognition Award.
The award celebrates the work of students, staff and faculty to create diverse, equitable and inclusive teaching, learning and working environments. The honour has been awarded since 2012 and is a mainstay of the annual IDERD Conference, which took place on Thursday.
“It’s important to publicly showcase the work that many people are doing to create more inclusive communities in their spaces and hope that, as we celebrate the work of both groups and individuals – and the innovative and creative things they’ve been doing – that it inspires other people to learn and engage in their own efforts in the elimination of racism and discrimination of many forms,” said Kelly Hannah-Moffat, vice-president, human resources and equity.
Hannah-Moffat and Jodie Glean, the recently appointed director of U of T’s Anti-Racism & Cultural Diversity Office, were on hand to greet the winners.
The call for nominees garnered a large and diverse pool of people, said Hannah-Moffat, both within and outside the university. “This is not just about what we’re doing locally at the university but how much we’re impacting local communities. That, for me, is very inspiring and motivating and demonstrates how much this work matters.”
Deb Raji and Mikhail Burke are co-winners of this year's award (photo by Luke Ng)
Inside U of T, the winners came from multiple departments, faculties and campuses.
Deb Raji, a fourth-year undergraduate student in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, was the lead author on a recent study that showed a need for stronger evaluation practices of artificial intelligence products to mitigate gender and racial biases. One of the younger recipients of the award, Raji says she was compelled to be active in equity issues out of necessity.
“I was at the intersection of so many perspectives – an immigrant child, a person of colour, a female in engineering,” said Raji, who added that she initially felt isolated on campus.
“It wasn’t until I was contributing to the field that I understood my perspective has value and I can actually highlight different problems by virtue of the different ways I can view different issues,” added Raji, who recently presented her AI findings at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence conference on AI ethics and society.
Her effort got the attention of Mikhail Burke, the dean’s adviser on Black inclusivity initiatives at the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. The fellow IDERD Recognition Award winner, who is a student inclusion and transition adviser, is guiding efforts to assess barriers of access, inclusion and success for current and prospective Black engineering students, staff and faculty.
Burke also nominated Raji for the IDERD award. “It was a no-brainer,” he said.
Early on in his role with the faculty, he had provided Raji with resources to assist her budding AI initiatives. “As I got to know Deborah from the initial interaction, and seeing all the work she has done within machine learning and AI – the intersectionality between an equitable lens with her technical background and interests – that was just amazing to me,” he said.
Mikhail Burke (photo by Luke Ng)
Burke, who earned his PhD in engineering at U of T and whose mother was a lecturer at New College, has long wanted to see more students that looked like him at U of T. Exposed to STEM learning at a young age, he is motivated to navigate issues like barriers to access and inclusion in engineering – about which he has seen more progress.
“I now feel there are more people within engineering who are creating a space that empowers that work. I’m grateful to those people,” he said after accepting his award onstage.
Raji was grateful for Burke’s nomination, which she sees as a show of support.
“I feel one of the values of having more diverse communities [is] that there’s more of those opportunities for mentorship that feels real,” she said. “I’m really appreciative to Mikhail.”
This year’s award winners also included Henry Ssali, the executive director of the African Alumni Association, whose work celebrates the diversity of U of T graduates, and Mental Health on the Margins (MHOTM), an organization founded and run by a group of psychiatry residents that provides a platform for discussion on important social justice topics “at the margins” of the curriculum within health-care education.
U of T Scarborough’s Connections and Conversations group was one of three groups to win the IDERD Recognition Award (photo by Luke Ng)
U of T Scarborough’s Connections and Conversations group is another of this year’s recipients. It began as an informal meetup off-campus where racialized staff could share and discuss their experiences in the workplace and has grown to become part of a larger initiative with chapters on all three campuses – connecting the shared experiences of staff members across the university.
The group serves as a safe space for staff to talk about issues like dealing with colleagues who are not culturally sensitive, barriers to advancing one’s career and how to engage allies in understanding and supporting racialized colleagues who face discrimination, said Holly Andrews, a member of the Connections and Conversations executive team and a student housing assistant with U of T Scarborough’s Student Housing and Residence Life.
When Andrews first came to work at U of T Scarborough, after working on the downtown Toronto campus, Connections and Conversations served as a warm welcome to the community on campus.
“Here is a group that's actually working towards eliminating possible discrimination and working towards affecting systemic racism in a way that is constructive,” says Andrews, days before the award ceremony.
Andrews says she’s received similar comments from those who attend Connections and Conversations meetings.
“People are impressed and quite happy to know they can attend workshops and get real concrete ways to make a difference in their own departments.”
Receiving the IDERD recognition award is “really huge for the group,” Andrews says.
“We want to do more. We want to continue this work. We invite people to come talk with us.”
Here is the full list of individual winners:
- Janelle Baptiste-Brady, PhD student and co-ordinator, Centre Integrative Anti-Racism Studies (CIARS), Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
- Jenny Blackbird, co-ordinator, Ciimaan/Kahuwe’ya/Qajaq Indigenous Language Initiative Program, Centre for Indigenous Studies
- Mikhail Burke, dean’s adviser on Black Inclusivity Initiatives and Student Inclusion & Transition Mentor, Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering
- Seán Kinsella, co-ordinator of Residential Transition Programs, Student Housing & Residence Life, University of Toronto Mississauga
- Hana Lee, associate registrar, Admissions and Registration, Faculty of Medicine
- Deborah Raji, fourth-year undergraduate student, Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering
- Henry Ssali, office assistant/receptionist, Office of the President
Here is the list of groups who have won the award:
- Mental Health on the Margins, University of Toronto (members: Katrina Hui, Elaine Bradley, Aarti Rana, Beverly Guan, Zenita Alidina and Zainab Furqan)
- Muslim Justice Collective, University of Toronto (members: Aysha Ahmadjan, Lama Ahmed, Nooria Alam, Iman Bakkioui-Lahroussi, Ifrah Farah, Ahmed Hegazy, Khalood Kibria, Atif Khan, Habiba Maher, Aliza Rahman, Naima Raza and Sofietou Sakho)
- UTSC Connections & Conversations, Local Executive Committee, University of Toronto Scarborough (members: Amorell Saunders N’Daw, Danielle Bannis, Kimberley Tull, Holly Andrews, Denise Lopes, Jeevan Kempson, Kyomi Duncan-Hastings, Neil Chakraborty, Lisa Nagapen