Context / goal
The Department of Civil Engineering is located within the Faculty of Applied Science at the UBC Vancouver campus. The department’s goal is to build equity, diversity, and inclusion into their strategic planning process and ultimately to develop a community that embeds EDI values into all aspects of its work. EDI has become increasingly important to the department’s agenda, especially considering changes to Tri-Agency grants that require researchers to incorporate EDI into their research . As part of this, the department sought to identify EDI-specific needs and areas for improvement, and wanted to ensure a transparent process in gathering input and strategies around EDI.
The department has had an EDI committee since mid-2020 and is also connected to the larger support structure of the Faculty of Applied Science’s EDI committee.
To achieve this, the department designed a series of mini-retreats with all faculty members. They wanted to engage faculty in brainstorming the relevance of EDI in their research, teaching, service and day to day interactions in the department. Through the retreats, the department hoped to build EDI into the process and operations through ways where they engage and listen to faculty and their concerns.
EDI initiative implemented
The department held their first “mini”, one and a half hour EDI retreat virtually in December of 2020. This session was introductory and designed to help lay the groundwork for a more in-depth session the following year. Some of the activities included:
• Icebreaker activities that brought faculty together in new ways to consider their relationship to EDI: Faculty were split into groups to discuss questions ranging from casual ‘get to know each other’ questions, to more substantial EDI-related questions, such as ‘based purely on how you look, talk, or present yourself, what does an incorrect assumption people sometimes make about you?’
• A prioritization activity to identify priorities and topics for the EDI committee to focus on: Faculty worked in groups to discuss priorities and identify some barriers in achieving these goals. To assess the feasibility of these emerging priorities, they identified some of the benefits and challenges to each priority. After the retreat, this information informed the EDI committee’s decision-making about what to focus on next.
• Dedicated time to participate in the department’s EDI survey: The EDI committee had developed a survey to better understand faculty members’ perspectives on EDI. At the retreat, a dedicated time window was created to allow faculty members to complete the survey resulting in a response rate of over 70 per cent. This survey also helped to inform future directions for the retreat series.
From the information gathered during the first retreat, the department identified several ideas that helped to inform the next retreat. The second retreat, a full-day, five hour virtual retreat, was held in June of 2021. The agenda included: a presentation and discussion of the EDI survey results, a mini-panel on EDI in engineering teaching, a teaching reflection and discussion of EDI best practices in the classroom, and a group brainstorm of strategies and action items.
Tracking progress and learning
Faculty have had good engagement with the retreat sessions and have participated, worked together, listened, and expressed their concerns productively. The retreats have helped to build consensus that EDI is an important pillar of teaching, research and service.
By using an iterative approach to conversations about EDI, the department has been able to build on efforts made in previous retreats, learning from what has gone well and adapting subsequent retreats to meet faculty members’ needs.
The department has taken a ’bottom-up’ approach by spending the time and effort to engage with faculty, and sees this as integral to the success of their initiative. Providing an opportunity to have a conversation about EDI and share ideas for the future of the department has increased engagement and cohesion in the department. The retreats have also been a chance for faculty who have been more isolated to build more community in the department.
Dedicating specific staff time and resources to these efforts has also been crucial to their success.
The department will continue to hold faculty EDI retreats to dive deeper into specific aspects of EDI as it relates to the department’s teaching, programs, and research. Currently the department is moving to the next stage of their strategic planning process and focusing on concrete actions/plans.
Bernard Laval, Professor and Department Head, Department of Civil Engineering
Donna Seto, Manager, Research and Strategic Initiatives, Department of Civil Engineering
YEAR OF IMPLEMENTATION