Dr. Malinda Smith is a driving force behind UCalgary’s momentum to ensure all equity-deserving groups have equitable opportunity to succeed
Dr. Malinda Smith is knowledgeable, experienced, committed, and determined. As one of Canada’s foremost researchers and academic-administrators in the areas of equity, diversity, anti-racism, and inclusive practices in higher education, she has a vision of inclusive and equitable pathways for accessibility and success for all within the UCalgary’s community. And she’s working hard to build the EDI infrastructure, collaborative teams, and communities of practice necessary to see it through.
In her role as inaugural vice-provost in the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Smith unapologetically names and challenges inequities, arguing that “without acknowledgement, and a commitment to action, meaningful change is not possible.” Smith advocates for equity as fundamental fairness that individuals deserve, not because we’re nice or legislative compliance requires it, but because unfairness is a threat to human dignity, human flourishing, and the future of great public universities.
Dr. Smith’s many accomplishments make her uniquely qualified for this role. Before joining UCalgary in August 2020, she was a professor of political science and Provost Fellow EDI Policy in the Office of the Provost at the University of Alberta, and a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellow researching Black trailblazers in education, law, and politics. Dr. Smith is an author, editor and co-editor of numerous books in political science and trans-disciplinary studies. These works include the co-authored book, The Equity Myth: Racialization and Indigeneity at Canadian Universities (UBC Press, 2017), which was funded by a four-year SSHRC grant; the co-edited Nuances of Black in the Canadian Academy (UofT Press 2022), and Critical Concepts: An Introduction to Politics, 6/E under-revision with Oxford University Press. Dr. Smith is also the “From the admin chair” contributor for University Affairs Magazine. In recent years, she was the recipient of the Susan S. Northcutt Award from the ISA Women’s Caucus, and the Equity Award of the Canadian Association of University Teachers and was named as a Distinguished Scholar by the International Studies Association-Canada, and as a “2021 Compelling Calgarian” by the Calgary Herald.
At the UCalgary and nationally she is engaged in efforts to embed EDI in the research ecosystem. She is the Chair of the University’s Dimensions EDI Executive and Steering Committee, and the university’s Equity Chair for the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) Program, both roles previously held by Deputy Provost Florentine Strzelczky. Until January 2021, Dr. Smith served on the Tri-Agency’s Advisory Committee for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Policy for the CRC Program, where she chaired the Peer Review Panel for the institutional CRC Action Plans. Last month, Dr. Smith was appointed to SSHRC Governing Council, a first for a UCalgary faculty member. She also serves on the Statistics Canada Advisory Committee on Immigration and Ethno-cultural Statistics.
Since launching the EDI portfolio, Dr. Smith embarked on an extended virtual listening and learning tour of the university community, meeting with all deans and many unit leaders, and actively engaging with students, faculty, staff, senior leaders, with the aim of getting their perspectives on the strengths, gaps, possibilities and hopes for a next generation approach to EDI and equitable pathways for members of equity-deserving groups – women, Indigenous peoples, visible/racialized minorities, persons with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ2+ communities.
In a short time, she has:
- Built collaborative university relationships to advance equitable pathways and shape the next generation of research-informed, evidence-based policy making;
- Partnered with Office of Institutional Analysis to complete and launch the EDI Dashboard;
- Launched with the Provost, the Office of the VPR and in collaboration with Indigenous Engagement, the Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowship for Indigenous and Black Scholars;
- Supported the Student leaders in their Quality Money applications, including for the Violet King Engaged Scholar Award, and the transdisciplinary African Studies Program;
- Held numerous internal workshops that challenge a checkbox and technocratic approach to EDI, colonial legacies, racism, and discrimination;
- Initiated the Courageous Conversations Speaker Series to bring to our (virtual) campus renown researchers, practitioners and activists to deepen our understanding and improve our practices in equity, human rights, anti-racism, harassment and complaint;
- Represented UCalgary in the city and nationally on EDI, anti-racism, Pride, Black History Month, Trans Day of Visibility, Trans Day of Remembrance, among others;
- Formed a new office, built a new team, forged alliances, and created cross-institutional committees to get the hard work of EDI done.
She’s done all of this during a pandemic, and in a virtual environment where she’s never met many colleagues face-to-face. And it has not slowed her down.
“We’re in a pandemic, and this is challenging for building relationships. However, we can’t wait. Yes, we have done some things very well, but there are also gaps, and many areas where our community is calling for a new vision, concrete actions on what we are not doing, and for changes in how we are doing things. We can’t keep pursuing ideas, policies, and practices that have not produced needed change in the representational diversity of students, staff, faculty, and leadership. With an equitable pathways approach we are moving beyond generic, checkbox approaches to EDI that have failed higher education everywhere. We cannot treat equity-deserving groups as a monolith, as a one-size-fits-all approach; rather, we must do the difficult but necessary, work to develop research and data-informed understandings of what is required for us to advance equitable pathways for women, Indigenous peoples, visible/racialized minorities, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQ2S+, as well as religious, linguistic and cultural minorities. And we must develop a sophisticated intersectional analysis of their relationship to structures at the university. As a community that strives for academic and workplace excellence, for inclusive excellence, this means that we must cultivate an inclusive leadership mindset and campus community that is respectful of all equity-deserving groups in the workplace, in teaching and learning, research and scholarship, service and administration, community engagement, and across our governance and leadership structures.”
She continues, “This requires us to look at ourselves closely, to see if we are modelling in our everyday practices what we say in our rhetoric and statements. As Shakespeare put it in Othello, we must avoid, “Mere prattle without practice” – talk is cheap. What we need, instead, is accountability measures. Any barriers and biases, including attitudinal, disciplinary, rank or other that systematically excludes or limits some members of our community from participating and thriving in all spheres of university life, from having a seat and voice at the decision-making tables on matters that affect us all, collectively, must be acknowledged and transformed. I am hopeful. Of course, this is easier said than done, and we will need for all of us to hold each other accountable and to develop metrics to monitor outcomes over time. Courage is indispensable to this often difficult work.”
UCalgary is on a path of change. “Change is not easy, and can be unsettling. Nextgen EDI requires a new vision, and a renewed commitment to human rights and dignity, and an institution-wide infrastructure to deliver, even as we are mindful of the need for belt tightening.” Dr. Smith, the collaborative cross-campus EDI teams and communities of practice she is cultivating, are leading the way.