Ryerson’s new era of equity

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By Victoria Stunt

In 2007, at a basketball game organized by Ryerson’s United Black Students group, participants had to go through metal detectors to enter Ryerson’s Recreation and Athletic Centre. They blamed this on the “demographic profile” of the attendees.

In 2008, a poster for a Palestinian Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) election candidate was defaced. It read, “9/11 Terrorist.”

That same year, the East African Students group’s bulletin board was torched. Ryerson Security refused to hand over the surveillance footage, even though the crime was in direct view of the camera.

Unbeknownst to a majority of the university’s population, dozens upon dozens of hate crimes have occured and continue to occur at Ryerson.

Denise O’Neil Green has been hired to curb them.

Green is Ryerson’s new vice president/ vice provost equity, diversity and inclusion, a role that was created and filled just this year.

Before the creation of this position, there was no executive to take on issues of discrimination on campus. Two weeks into the job, Green is examining campus-wide policies, programs and practices that may be classified as discriminatory.

“No one office, no one person can truly prevent anything from happening,” said Green. “What you can do is help lay the groundwork so that the climate can be more in line with a tradition that everyone is included, everyone is valued and everyone’s humanity is valued.”

Green comes to Ryerson from Central Michigan University, where she worked as the school’s chief diversity officer. She has published research and opinion papers on diversity, and has taught both undergraduate and graduate students on the topic. She also has a PhD in higher education and public policy with an emphasis in diversity from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a master’s degree in public affairs in domestic education policy from Princeton University.

As she braves a new campus where students hail from more than 145 different countries, Green is ready to examine and reshape Ryerson’s policies.

It’s a need outlined by a 2010 report by the Taskforce on Anti- Racism at Ryerson, which identified cases of both systemic and individual cases of discrimination that have occured at the university. The report also denotes Ryerson as having a “chilly climate” when it comes to dealing with discrimination on campus. That is, many people deny it exists.

Since Ryerson is located in downtown Toronto and considers itself to be both culturally and politically correct, Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) President Rodney Diverlus believes that racist tendencies are often ignored.

“We deny the fact that racism is very pervasive covertly in everything we do,” he said. “We deny the fact that certain programs, certain textbooks, certain curriculums, have racist undertones. We deny the fact that certain racialized students have to be subjected to racist slurs on campus.”

Diverlus was also the first vice president equity inclusion at the RSU in 2011. “

People get shocked and they assume because we’re all so nice and because it’s such a nice place, that racism doesn’t exist,” said Diverlus.

It’s been a long process of change at Ryerson, and Green is just part of the puzzle, said Diverlus. The creation of a vice president/ vice provost equity, diversity and inclusion position at Ryerson was recommended by the Taskforce on Anti-Racism in their report. The hiring process for Green took eight months, as the hiring committee reviewed applicants from all over North America. Green was the unanimous decision, said co-chair of the committee and vice president administration and finance, Julia Hanigsberg.

“This is the kind of job that deals with sensitive issues and needs diplomacy and good judgment,” said Hanigsberg.

Green, who earns a $196,500 salary, reports to Hanigsberg as well as the vice president academic. Her mandate is broad, and affects both the school’s administration and students.

Green said she was interested in the position because it was in Toronto, one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world.

“The fact that Ryerson is in Toronto, one of the most diverse cities in the world … it made the position very attractive to me,” said Green. “I really hope to enhance the education that goes on here, the training, the program opportunities,” she said. “So that everyone who is a part of the Ryerson community can be included and fully participate in an equitable diverse and inclusive environment.”

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