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Equity practice sessions help Ivey students to bridge differences

Apr 13, 2023

Erin Huner with MBA students

Erin Huner with MBA students at the Foundations of Equity Practice session.

Having immigrated to Canada from Sri Lanka as a child, MBA student Gayan Ferdinands knows what it’s like to settle into a new environment and how those roots shaped his identity.

But some students in Ivey’s MBA cohort might be experiencing what it’s like to be part of a diverse group for the first time.

That’s where the new Foundations of Equity Practice education session can help. Co-created by Erin Huner, Director of Culture and Inclusion, and Ladan Mowlid, Senior EDI Associate at Ivey, with input from the Ivey community, Foundations of Equity Practice offers an educational conversation on equality, equity, and inclusion. Topics include positionality; privilege and oppression; equality, equity, and justice; bias; allyship; antiracism; addressing harmful comments; and how to get called in and call others in. It also includes 10 practice prompts to help in building a personal equity practice. The content is also available as a PowerPoint tool on Ivey’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) site with fully accessible features so that Ivey community members can do self-guided learning.

Foundations of Equity Practice was piloted with about 1,600 Ivey students, faculty, staff, and alumni in 2021 to gain feedback before a 2.0 version was rolled out in the fall of 2022 to HBA and MSc students. The MBA Class of 2024, which started in March, was the latest group to participate in a recently held session.

Creating awareness of what shapes your values

One of the main takeaways for Ferdinands, who attended the session, was that people form their identities based on their skin colour, race, ethnicity, and experiences and that can impact how they carry themselves in society. It’s a lesson he relates to, given his background.

“Even though I came to Canada when I was young, I still try to hold onto my roots and embrace them, as it adds a sense of uniqueness to my story and overall identity as a person,” he said. “Growing up in both Canada and Sri Lanka has certainly shaped my identity and given me a unique perspective in terms of the ethics and values that I carry.”

Ferdinands said he thought the session was an important addition in the MBA program, particularly for creating awareness and addressing the biases that people may be carrying and encouraging communication.

“This MBA class is a very diverse group and for some students this may be their first exposure to a class of this nature, so I think it is crucial that we engage in these conversations to ensure there is clear understanding and communication happening at all times,” he said.

MBA students at Foundations of Equity Practice session
MBA students at the session.

Influencing positive change through education

Encouraging awareness, communication, and action is the ultimate goal. Huner said, unlike training sessions, which offer a set of conditions and constructs, Foundations of Equity Practice is an educational intervention and focuses on supporting changes in what people come to know, value, and do.

“We’re trying to engage in an educational conversation with our community. We’re committed to measure the learning outcomes – what people know, value, or do differently – because of the education,” she said. “This is learning. This is not orthodoxy. None of this is beyond challenge and that’s what we hope to grow in the conversations around EDI.”

Mowlid said she is impressed with how the students are progressing to deeper and more practical questions during the sessions so far. Feedback from the sessions with the HBA, MSc, and MBA students this year will be used to create a 3.0 version for next year.

“One of the areas of improvement for version 3.0 is making it more of a conversation as opposed to a training session where we are sharing information. This way, it’s a conversation that’s rooted in theoretical concepts, but also in the practicality of applying to practice directly. How does one go ahead and practice equity in those different areas, whether it’s about thinking about their biases and unpacking their biases or assessing their privilege and how to extend the benefits of their privilege onto others?,” said Mowlid.

A collaborative process

Already, Huner and Mowlid have had students come forward wanting to give input on future versions of the program.

“We’re really committed to doing this work in collaboration with students because they want to make sure this work is accessible, engaging, and really supports the learning of not only them, but their peers and future generations of Ivey students,” said Huner. “As we create new versions, they’ll be able to see our transparent commitment that our learning and unlearning journey coincides with theirs.”

We fundamentally believe that we are building an iterative toolkit where those pathways and processes should be updated as our community shifts, changes, learns, and unlearns. Our hope is that with the toolkit, people will start problem-solving together.”
– Erin Huner