Trent University Alumni Association: Intentionality is key to embedding EDII principles
Written by: Janet Gottlieb Sailian
Featuring: Lee Hays, Director of Alumni & Donor Engagement at Trent University, and Gemma Grover ‘07, Past President, Trent University Alumni Association
While Canada’s advancement offices are at various stages and phases of integrating Equity, Diversity, Inclusivity and Indigeneity into their strategies and operations, advancement leaders across all institution types are working to encompass these essential principles.
Following on its acclaimed CCAE EDII Forum in Fall 2021, CCAE has reached out to advancement leaders to learn about and share their initiatives, at whatever stage they find their operations along the continuing journey to embed EDII principles and practices.
Lee Hays, Director of Alumni & Donor Engagement at Trent University, detailed the work of her shop, while Trent University Alumni Association’s Past President, Gemma Grover, shared her insights on how the TUAA has worked to better reflect Trent’s diverse alumni community.
Lee Hays, Director of Alumni & Donor Engagement
What steps is your alumni operation taking to strategically diversify your alumni association, department and programs?
The first step that the Trent University Alumni office took on the road to embedding EDII in all their initiatives and perspectives was to establish diversification and inclusion as a priority by including it as a focus in our strategic plans. This objective was shared with the Alumni Association Council and colleagues throughout Advancement.
Members of the advancement team participated in CCAE workshops to gain a better understanding of the issues facing marginalized people, and steps Trent could take to become more diversely representative and inclusive.
The Alumni staff searched through LinkedIn and alumni Facebook groups to find a variety of alumni who could bring different perspectives; specifically, alumni from the BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ communities.
This search expanded the pool of volunteers and volunteer leaders, and of alumni to profile, invite to events, or have a conversation with.
Staff has been intentional to seek diversity in:
- Nominations for alumni awards
- Voices involved in each event and initiative
- The alumni magazine, TRENT, with more representation of Trent’s diverse alumni population than ever before, featuring covers and articles that promote the voices of marginalized individuals and groups
- Digital, video and print publications
- The Indigenous Alumni Chapter, established in 2010, is involved in organizing alumni reunions during an annual Elders’ Gathering event at the University.
Several issues of TRENT have been dedicated to Indigenous matters featuring Indigenous alumni. Convocation ceremonies (organized by the Alumni department) include Indigenous ceremonial components.
The new Trent Alumni Strategy Advisory includes a wide diversity of alumni that discusses EDII and ways to make progress at each meeting.
We have also been intentional to expand the diversity of our teams. We have had some success in this area, but we know we need to continue to seek a broader diversity of candidates as positions come available.
What have the results been to date and how will you measure progress / success?
There has been a marked difference in our alumni volunteer leadership and visibility of our diverse alumni population. We have not had specific measures in place to date. There is still so much work to be done and this will remain a priority for our organization.
For the future, Trent is setting specific EDII goals, including targets for:
- Number of alumni events and initiatives specifically designed to address diversity.
- Number of of magazine articles and of alumni profiles for the magazine and
- Opportunities for a diversity of Trent alumni to be featured speakers or contributors to external conferences, events, publications, and / or to be nominated for awards.
Gemma Grover ‘07, Past President, Trent University Alumni Association
Grover, who identifies as lesbian and disabled, reflects on the evolution of the TUAA during her term as President. This conversation has been edited.
Trent hasn't necessarily “changed” its culture on EDII since I was a first-year student in 2002 as much as it has enhanced it and invested greater resources into equity and inclusion, in particular.
When I applied to Trent, it was in part because there was already a greater Indigenous presence. As a queer teenager, I definitely knew the reputation of Trent as a very queer-friendly school. I came to Trent from New Brunswick, sight unseen, because of factors like that.
Over the last 20 years, a great deal has been done to invest in better representation. Especially within the alumni association, we have continuous conversations about who is sitting around our tables and which voices are missing.
I've absolutely seen what inclusion looks like change at the university. There is greater and greater effort to include diverse voices from the ground up. I think, for instance, of the handbook that was created around institution / Indigenous relations, which won a CCAE award. Moments like that are not the beginning of a change in how things are done; they are the result of the change being underway.
Voices from nearby Indigenous communities weren't just listened to; they are leading the conversations and dictating the terms on which they happen - which is vital for these changes to be meaningful and create more equitable relationships.
A key change has been in how visible minorities are represented at university events and in university media. When I was a student, a lot of racialized folks (especially Black and Asian folks) were assumed to be international students, and the representation was very Othering. While students who come from those areas (both as international students and as immigrants /children of immigrants in Canada) are important, it's vital to recognize that it's not a dichotomy of “white students are from here” and everyone else is from “away.”
Now, representation of racialized folks and visible minorities doesn't focus on heritage, unless it's directly relevant. This does a lot to naturalize a plurality of ethnicities all belonging, and that leads to more and more types of people feeling at home on campus and as part of our alumni family.
The newer student buildings - like the Student Centre which opened just a few years ago - are beacons of accessibility and inclusion.
These changes and the progress that has been made are happening in three key areas, all of which are important:
- Physically, there is more visual representation of difference through publications and in the spaces (i.e., all-gender bathrooms) of campus.
- Financially, there are more resources being put into ensuring more voices are heard and it's uniform across the community.
- The nature of inclusion is changing too - it's much more consultative, grassroots, and based on listening and discussion, not just top-down directives that may or may not resonate with the communities they aim to represent.
Mentorship programs are incredibly successful. We see many alumni return for events like the annual Elders Conference. Staff have worked very hard to ensure that lots of voices are highlighted.
For our younger alum and students, seeing people who look like them and sound like them and share identities with them being successful AND Trent recognizing that by including them as mentors is incredibly validating. Representation matters!
Our awards evaluations now include references to diversity, and we aim to encourage applications from as many folks as possible - and our awards are not based solely on high-level career/academic achievement. The Spirit of Trent Award (my favourite!) is for those who carry the spirit of inclusion, the spirit of changing the world, the spirit of belonging, in their lives.
Women are very well represented in many staff and volunteer areas (often way more than 60% of any particular committee), but we have great strides to make in terms of trans and non-binary representation. Folks who are underrepresented in post-secondary areas are underrepresented in almost all areas of life. I also think there needs to be more financial compensation for marginalized folks when we ask for their intellectual and emotional labour.
Finally, it's going to take a lot of patience. You need to keep leaving a seat open everywhere - even if it’s not filled, it is a visual marker of what's missing. That's key to EDII - we aren't adding people/representation to a complete group, we are noting that we are fundamentally lacking something now. That will take a lot of cultural, structural, and mental shifts, and a lot of emotional, mental, and financial investment.
Trent Magazine 52.1 (trentu.ca) - Fall 2021 issue - Includes a Q&A interview (cover story) with Indigenous alumni reflecting on the legacy of residential schools and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
Trent Magazine 51.2_web2 (trentu.ca) - Spring 2021 issue - Features a cover-story interview with alumna Anita Erskine ’99, named one of the Top 100 Most Influential Women in Africa. Erskine, who is from Ghana, established multi-platform Anita Erskine Media which focuses on women and girls across Africa.
Trent University :: AGM Introduces New Leaders - myTrent Community – (our new leaders are a gay man and an international graduate from Mexico).
Trent University :: Trent Talks - myTrent Community – A series that ran in 2020, featuring thousands of alumni, that Trent plans to re-ignite.