University of Manitoba’s first executive director for diversity and inclusion hopes to help spur ‘transformative’ action

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The University of Manitoba has appointed one of its professors to serve as its first Executive Director for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion – a new role that the university hopes will help build an inclusive community in Manitoba’s largest post-secondary institution.

On Tuesday, the U of M’s board of governors named Tina Chen, a distinguished professor of history at the university, to the newly created post.

“I have to say when I saw the ad come out today and it said ‘will lead… [equality, diversity and inclusion] initiatives to eradicate all systemic inequities and biases… “I thought ‘Why did I sign up? Up to speed.

“It’s definitely a lot of work, but I think I’m incredibly excited because I know the decades of work that has been done by the University of Manitoba community.”

It’s a role that was created after the university launched a task force in 2019, mandated to explore issues of diversity and inclusion at the school.

The resulting report made a series of recommendations, including the creation of the new leadership position as a necessary step.

Inequality ‘is part of the social fabric’

The key findings of the report were that the university should strive to strengthen leadership and planning, increase diversity and equity, and build an inclusive community.

“For me, the report gave us evidence, I think, of what we all already knew,” Chen said. Up to speed host Faith Fundal.

“Systemic inequalities around ableism, racism, for Indigenous peoples, for people with disabilities, for LGBTQ2+ communities — it’s all part of the very fabric of the university because it’s part of the fabric of society,” she said.

“What remains is how to put these recommendations [from the report] into action…in a transformative way that is more than a series of checkboxes.”

When asked what she would say to marginalized people seeking change, Chen said she would encourage them to make sure their voices are heard.

“Now is the time for us to finally hear the voices on an institutional level,” she said, and so now is not the time to “start being quieter, but to keep the voices present.”

Chen, shown here in a 2017 file photo at Winnipeg’s Chinatown Street Festival, is a “highly regarded historian and advocate for human rights and inclusion,” the U of M president said. . (Daniel Igne-Jajalla/CBC)

Chen has been at the university for more than 20 years, starting as an assistant professor in the history department in 1999, according to the U of M press release.

She was named department head in 2013, becoming the first person of color and only the second woman to hold the position.

“Holding a professorship at a university is a privilege – and with privilege comes the responsibility to act for equity, justice and dignity,” Chen said in an online post from the University of Manitoba in October 2021, after being named to a list of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network.

Outside of U of M, she has participated in two national forums on anti-Asian racism and was a Canadian figure skating anti-racism leader.

Chen said Wednesday that in her new role, she hopes she will be able to bring change across the university.

“System change isn’t the job of one person, it’s the whole institution, but leadership plays an important role in making sure those spaces for change are there.”

His two-year term in his new position begins on February 1.

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