‘Dimensions’ pushes for diversity and equity in academic research

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By Aaliyah Dasoo

Last June, Ryerson endorsed Dimensions, an initiative created by the Government of Canada to increase equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) within scholarly research.

Ryerson Professor Art Blake will be the first transgender man to be appointed as director of Dimensions, by the Office of the Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion (OVPECI) and the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation (OVPRI).

Blake is a professor in the history department under the Faculty of Arts and was previously the first Equity and Community Inclusion Faculty Chair under OVPECI.

According to a study from the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, non-white scholars have consistently been underrepresented in publication rates and citation rates.

The 2018 study, titled #CommunicationSoWhite concluded that this misrepresentation allows racial inequalities and colonial legacies to “permeate scholarly and public discussions.”

“There will not be just one group that’s focused on. The point of [Dimensions] is to recognize those five groups and the intersections among them. And on top of that, to think about those groups and intersections across different levels—from senior faculty to undergrad students,” Blake said.

“I am confident that with this appointment, he will continue to play a crucial role in strengthening Ryerson’s position as an active leader in social justice issues,” said Denise O’Neil Green, vice-president, equity and community inclusion, in an article for Ryerson Today.

The aim is for institutions to use EDI as a means of improving the “quality, relevance, and impact of research.”

Blake says Ryerson is lucky to already have great EDI structures in place—but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement.

For instance, the NYU study proves that in scholarly articles that focus on race, the difference in average author citation count between non-white and white scholars is 22 to 23, respectively. The difference in average document citation count is also relatively small—2.7 to 2.5, respectively. 

However, white scholars are half as likely to publish race-related work, so the overrepresentation of white scholars leads to their published work addressing race having higher visibility and circulation than authors of colour.

Ryerson sociology professor Amina Jamal says when she conducts research, she does so from a feminist, critical, post-colonial and post-structural lens. In scholarly research, a certain level of objectivity is expected, but Jamal says it’s important for her to take a point of view so as not to exoticize her subjects.

She says she knows that as a result of this, certain “mainstream” sociological journals may not accept her research since her perspective does not fit their detached standard. But for Jamal, “there is no view from nowhere.”

She also says her experience with research as a woman of colour is that often marginalized groups become over scrutinized.

“We’ve been under the microscope of the Western lens for a very long time,” she said.

“It’s not that we don’t feature. The problem is we’ve always been objects of their Research, what we need is to be subjects of that research—to present the research from the point of view of the people who are being represented.”

Jamal reiterated that it’s important to keep different types of diversity in mind. Racial diversity may be what comes to mind at first, but diversity within sexuality and disabilities should never be pushed to the sidelines.

Blake says that Dimensions will focus on 5 different marginalized groups: women, racialized people, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community and Indigenous peoples.

“Everybody is part of our research system in the same way that everybody’s part of the university,” he said.

Part of Blake’s job within the next two years at Dimensions will be to lead a team of faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students to submit an application in December 2021 to have Ryerson recognized for the Dimensions award. 

According to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) website, Dimensions awards are designed to be “a positive step towards significant cultural change for an institution.” It will also “help build on and celebrate the progress made to date and publicly recognize increased commitments to and tangible results from equity, diversity and inclusion.”

Dimensions awards are separate from the EDI grants offered by NSERC.

If Ryerson is successful in winning this award, it will be the first institution in Canada to receive it.

Blake says that aside from leading the application for the Dimensions award, he also plans to put a Dimensions team in place within various faculties. Each team will be made up of at least 1 faculty member, post-doctoral fellow, graduate and undergraduate student who will be responsible for addressing gaps in their research areas where EDI could be improved.

“We’re not going to have all the answers after two short years. But we’re going to move forward and we can only move forward with that kind of breadth of activity.”

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