Aug. 9, 2022Print | PDF
Wilfrid Laurier University’s Office of the Associate Vice-President: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (AVP EDI) recently welcomed Eden Hennessey to the inaugural role of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) data specialist.
In this role, Hennessey will coordinate the collection, maintenance, analysis and reporting of various data to guide EDI work. As one of 17 Canadian post-secondary institutions participating in the federal Dimensions Pilot Program, Laurier has placed an enhanced focus on data collection and analysis as a tool to inform EDI efforts.
Recent data-driven initiatives include the student self-identification form and the employment equity survey that aim to better understand the demographics of the university community. In the new role, Hennessey will work with data collected through these initiatives, among others, to establish metrics and identify areas for action, such as the under-representation of equity-deserving groups.
Hennessey is a Laurier alumna who earned her PhD in social psychology and most recently served as manager of the university’s Centre for Student Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (CSEDI). She is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Psychology and the research and programs director at the Laurier Centre for Women in Science (WinS).
Below, Hennessey talks about her background, her new role and the importance of data in EDI work.
An EDI data specialist is someone who works with data related to equity, diversity and inclusion focused on three primary areas: who is represented in terms of identity (e.g., gender, sexuality, religious beliefs); experiences related to equity (e.g., resource allocation, academic adjudication); and efforts to drive greater inclusion through evidence-based actions and policies (e.g., responding to the needs identified through assessment).
It is imperative to ground equity-related work in evidence. This can be quantitative or qualitative data that facilitates a deeper understanding of group level phenomena and/or people’s lived experiences. Data is an essential tool for EDI work in a few different ways: advocating for people historically and presently excluded from academia and/or research; providing institutions with feedback about experiences that can shape strategic policies, programming and services; and monitoring change over time.
The data we collect at Laurier will support EDI efforts much like a map; that is, to provide an understanding of where we are as an institution in terms of demographic representation across different academic areas and over time. We must advance beyond the “you are here” part of the map so we can develop pathways that promote the success of students, staff and faculty members. For example, if the data we collect as part of the student self-identification form reveals that a large proportion of students are caregivers, then we can identify this as a gap and enact deliberate actions such as providing childcare and change tables in all washrooms.
I’ve been involved with the Dimensions Pilot Program since the drafting of the federal charter, which MP Kirsty Duncan, who was then minister of science and sport, signed in Laurier’s Science Atrium. As part of Laurier’s Dimensions Self-Assessment Team (SAT), we have launched the student self-identification form for the very first time, which is an exciting step toward understanding the intersecting and diverse identities of students. I’ll be working with this data to provide the university community with insights about students’ identities, so if you are a student reading this article, please ensure you have “counted yourself in” by completing the form available now on Loris.
The most enjoyable part will be the application of the skills and experiences I’ve gained over the past several years as part of the SAT, CSEDI, WinS and as a consultant in the scientific community working with equity-related data. It is exciting to answer questions that can provide missing pieces of the puzzle. For example, who comprises the student community at Laurier? Are there particular faculties or units with more diverse or intersecting student identities? One of the most powerful aspects of answering these types of questions will be the ability to platform-specific institutional and intersectional data directly from within the community.
A major priority in the first year will be to work with the AVP EDI to develop a process for working with student demographic data so that, as an institution, we are accountable to those who have disclosed their identities to us. It is important that students, staff and faculty have a sense of shared investment in both the data that is collected and the resulting outcomes of collecting that data. This creates an ongoing cycle of collecting data and responding to community needs from an informed perspective, rather than an anecdotal perspective. Everyone at Laurier should have the opportunity to know about their own community in a transparent way. We will therefore work toward establishing mechanisms to gather and analyze data and, importantly, to communicate findings to drive purposeful action.
There are many surprising pieces of data that are impactful to learn about. For instance, a 2018 study by Holman et al. assessing the gender gap in science predicted it will be 258 years before the gender ratio of senior physicists comes within 5% of parity. This finding highlights the need for data to inform action in an urgent way or massive disparities will not simply even out. Similarly, a recent study by Davis et al. underscored the impact of COVID-19 on women and racialized scholars in Canada. The findings were surprising to some, and confirmatory to others, such as that women and racialized faculty reported higher levels of stress, higher levels of social isolation, and lower well-being compared to majority group members. Despite decades of research illustrating these institutional inequities, the most surprising thing is how slow institutions in Canada have been to apply institutional actions. Action is needed now.
As a former student and current employee with many existing relationships in the Laurier community, I’m deeply committed to working with EDI-related data in a thoughtful, transparent and intentional way.
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