You are now in the main content area

Laying the groundwork for ‘a research culture more informed by equity’

TMU recognized nationally for efforts to foster a representative research community
By: Tania Ulrich
July 20, 2023
Group of people stand in front of TMU and Dimensions program banners

TMU receives government recognition for its commitment to EDI in research and fostering a representative research community. Dimensions Pilot Project Team members, including Dimensions Faculty Leads, Art Blake, TMU Dimensions director, Tanya (Toni) De Mello, vice-president, equity and community inclusion, Dr. Alejandro Adem, president, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and Steven N. Liss, vice-president, research and innovation. Photo: Alyssa K. Faoro

Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) received a Dimensions Recognition (external link)  from the federal government for its efforts to strategically integrate equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) within its research environment.

The recognitions are awarded by the Dimensions: equity, diversity and inclusion Canada program (external link) , which aims to cultivate transformational change in the postsecondary research community by identifying and eliminating barriers to inclusion and inequities. TMU was one of 17 Canadian postsecondary institutions selected to pilot the federal program and one of 10 universities receiving recognition (external link)  this spring.

The Stage 2 Dimensions Recognition acknowledges TMU’s coordinated effort to transform academic research culture by collecting and analyzing data to inform the construction of a five-year action. The plan will lead to embedded EDI-informed practices and the removal of systemic barriers to enhance research excellence, innovation and creativity across disciplines. 

“We recognize that deep cultural change happens slowly, incrementally, but fundamentally, it happens collaboratively,” says inaugural TMU Dimensions Pilot Program director Art Blake. “No one unit, program or initiative can be the sole driver of that type of change.” 

Strengthening the intersection of research, equity and diversity

The TMU Dimensions Pilot Program strengthens the integration of the EDI and SRC priorities of the Office of the Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion (OVPECI) and the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation (OVPRI).

The OVPECI has diversity self-ID systems that analyze demographics to help address disparities. They also advance education and awareness of EDI across the university community. The Dimensions programs used the Diversity Self-ID data collected by OVPECI to address gaps in representation and help drive education, awareness to encourage faculties to use the data to address disparities. 

As the inaugural director, Blake, who is also a history professor at TMU, engaged deans and Dimensions Faculty Leads (DFLs) to help drive this work. DFLs, created as a core faculty-based Dimensions priority, are accomplished researchers who are called on by their deans and faculty colleagues to share their expertise on EDI in SRC activities, listen to colleagues and students experiencing EDI-based barriers in SRC, and collaborate with them and the TMU Dimensions Pilot Program team to remove such barriers.  

“I have been inspired to see the ways in which faculty members have taken leadership roles in embedding equity, diversity and inclusion in their research, curriculum design, teaching and programming. The formalizing of the Dimension Faculty Leads establishes the importance of this work and has had incredible success,” said Tanya (Toni) De Mello, Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion.

Opening up dialogue with diverse researchers and acknowledging internal and external structural barriers are also having an impact on granting policies and procedures, widening access to vital research funding. 

“Our future success as a university community depends on identifying and removing barriers that exclude or discourage participation in knowledge production,” said Steven N. Liss, vice-president, research and innovation. 

“Our approach to enhancing our EDI efforts is to build researcher-to-researcher conversations among students and faculty at all career stages in all areas of research and creative practice. This will amplify research and innovation opportunities, foster multiple worldviews, and cultivate an enriched environment for SRC excellence and success.” 

Embedding EDI into the institutional culture and fabric 

Rupa Banerjee, a Dimensions Faculty Lead in the Ted Rogers School of Management, seeks to dispel the misconception that EDI is only relevant to specific research areas. “Regardless of the subject area or methodology, we want to show how incorporating EDI lenses can enhance the usefulness, applicability and perspectives in the field.”

Strategies include widening recruitment from a more diverse talent pool. As an example, the make-up of research assistants (master’s, PhD and postdoc students) was shown to lack the diversity representative of the student body. Correcting for this requires taking into consideration how job postings are written and intentionally inviting underrepresented students to apply. One outcome of applying these strategies was increased applications from women-identifying students.

Professor Banerjee also emphasizes that an EDI lens encourages a different view of knowledge beyond traditional understandings and urges graduate students and faculty colleagues to consider alternative perspectives. By broadening the research questions, analyses, and approaches, researchers can benefit from decolonized and anti-racist perspectives.

Putting the findings into action

TMU’s Dimensions Pilot Program action plan, the development of which is one part of the federal program’s four stages (external link) , prioritizes certain areas for change and identifies the units responsible for addressing them. Blake says the action plan will provide a roadmap and set of institutional EDI commitments along with a pathway for continual self-assessment, examination and evaluation.

The objectives of the action plan are to eliminate obstacles and inequities faced by marginalized communities such as women, Black and Indigenous people, persons with disabilities, racialized groups and 2SLGBTQI+ communities. This will bolster fair access to research funding opportunities, enhance equitable participation in SRC, and integrate EDI into research design and practices.

Ongoing commitment to EDI

The Dimensions Recognition comes as Art Blake wraps up his term as program director and is a demonstration of the leadership of professor Blake and the Dimensions Faculty Leads in establishing the Dimensions program at TMU. 

Building upon the foundation laid in these first years of the pilot program, TMU is transitioning Dimensions to a permanent and integrated institutional initiative. Dimensions Faculty Chair and English professor Hyacinth Simpson will lead the next phase of TMU’s Dimensions as the interim director.

Professor Simpson specializes in decolonial, Black, and Caribbean studies, and her SRC work focuses on valuing the knowledge creation and cultural productions of historically marginalized groups. She is a champion of integrating equity, diversity and inclusion into curriculum development and envisions creating more equitable and inclusive SRC cultures at the unit/program level in each TMU faculty.

Dimensions is an initiative of the three federal granting agencies in collaboration with Universities Canada and Colleges and Institutes Canada. Objectives of the Dimensions action plan include strengthening the integrity of admission application and selection processes, improving access to qualified researchers, creating stronger research outputs and increasing the positive impacts, quality and social relevance of research.

Related stories:

More News