EDI Action Plan Builds Way to Greater Understanding

April 5, 2023
Members of EDI Committee hold action plan outside of Castlegar Campus.

Empowering underrepresented voices and prioritizing initiatives that lead to tangible outcomes is the focus of Selkirk College’s freshly released Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Action Plan.

A living document that captures the college’s commitment to advancing vital equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) work both within the institution and throughout the region, the 10-page plan provides a vision that will be carried forward towards broad goals that touch all areas of the post-secondary institution. The result of several years of dedicated work, the plan aims to grow understanding and spur action that will benefit students, employees and community stakeholders.

“I’m proud of Selkirk College for making this a priority and the leadership shown to get us to this point,” says Marissa Carrasco, the chair of the college’s EDI Advisory Committee. “To me, equity, diversity and inclusion involves an ongoing process of reflection. As individuals, we need to recognize that we all have existing biases and as an institution we need to identify systemic barriers. This reflection is vital in advancing our values and commitments.”

A document that aligns with the Government of Canada’s Dimensions Charter, the Selkirk College action plan is fundamental to identifying and addressing systematic barriers experienced by underrepresented groups, including women, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, members of visible minority/racialized groups and those in the 2SLGBTQ+ communities.

Focus with a Rural Canada Feel

Carrasco moved to the West Kootenay in 2012 from the Lower Mainland when she and her husband were enticed by the idea of raising their children in a small community. A high school teacher, Carrasco started as an on-call math and physics teacher in local high schools before moving over to Selkirk College in 2015 to join the School of Academic Upgrading & Development team.

The daughter of Ugandan refugees of Indian descent who came to Canada before she was born, Carrasco grew up in Calgary and Richmond at a time when those communities lacked the diversity seen today. Life as a visible minority is part of Carrasco’s everyday reality and her experience is knowledge that forms the foundation of who she is.   

“I joke that I seem to follow a pathway where I find myself in places that are predominantly white,” says the 40-year-old.

In 2016, Carrasco was at a townhall meeting with former Selkirk College President Angus Graeme at the Trail Campus where she worked. At the time, the population of international students was growing significantly with learners from India arriving to the West Kootenay to enhance their education and many looking toward Canada as a new home. During that meeting, one of Carrasco’s colleagues made a comment that she felt was inappropriate and made her feel uncomfortable. 

“It became very clear to me in that moment that if we are bringing a population of students that are going to be facing racism in our community, we have a role to make sure that our instructors and staff are not perpetuating the racism,” she says. “I also realized that I was facing ongoing situations where it made me question a lot. I didn’t want to work at a place where people feel unsafe because of their diversity, that was not okay.”

The uncomfortable moment in that meeting was a catalyst and when Carrasco approached the former president about her concerns, she found an immediate supporter and ally in Graeme. With work in the area of EDI already underway at the college, the road toward an action plan was becoming clearer.

Lived Experience Provides Groundwork

There was significant work required to move the process along. The college hired renowned consultant HRx to undertake an audit and provide a structure for moving forward. The groundwork led to the formation of the college’s EDI Advisory Committee in 2021, a group of 12 employees that was assembled to provide advice, guidance and support based on their diverse lived experiences and perspectives.

“I don’t have a degree in this area,” says Carrasco, who became the chair of the committee of her dedicated peers. “What I have is my lived experience, a commitment to continue learning, and my ability to hear and have empathy for other people. I feel a greater responsibility to speak up because I feel it a bit more in my life. I know what it feels like to face racism and that means I might be heard a bit better because I am a person of colour.”

Members of EDI Committee discuss new action plan inside Castlegar Campus.
Selkirk College’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Action Plan has been released and provides an essential step for growing understanding and spurring action that will benefit students, employees and community stakeholders. Some of the individuals of the college community involved in the creation of the plan include: (L-R) Jennie Barron (Chair, Mir Centre for Peace), Rodney Noskiye (Indigenous Student Navigator), Marissa Carrasco (Chair, School of Academic Upgrading & Development) and Marta Abel (People, Culture & Organizational Development Advisor).

Core authors in the recently released plan, the advisory committee worked diligently to lay out the lenses that must be applied to the college as a whole, including the allocation of resources to the implementation and expansion of equitable practices. It provides the groundwork for the work of advancing EDI that will be prioritized through policy development, programming and other initiatives.

“This plan is an essential step toward our ultimate goal of embedding these values into all of our work,” says Marta Abel, the college’s people, culture & organizational development advisor, who is part of the HR Department and worked with the advisory committee throughout the process. “It helps get us to that point where everyone realizes that this is something they need to consider in their work. It’s meant to drive more concerted action and to provide reporting that will create opportunities for conversations on successes and where we need to do more.”

With the action plan now complete, President Maggie Matear and the college’s leadership team are committed to the ongoing work. Taking the reins from Graeme a year ago, the new president shares the same passion for ensuring the goals are met by allocating resources and implementing EDI tactics college wide.

Though the plan is broad in scope, Carrasco says a lot of the work will boil down to individuals having brave conversations that create more understanding by all involved. A culture of considered openness is what ultimately produces the outcomes set out in the action plan.

“It’s about momentum,” says Carrasco, who is now the chair of the School of Academic Upgrading & Development. “Once it starts happening and people see the benefits, then most everyone will at least start to slowly move toward what we are trying to accomplish with being a more respectful and understanding community. We’re all afraid to make mistakes and say the wrong thing, but ultimately, it’s okay. Humility goes a long way and both sides of a conversation need to know that everyone is trying to do better. This is how we learn and get better, because if we don’t then we will stay stuck in this same place.”

Read the Selkirk College Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Action Plan.

SDG 5 Gender Equality

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

SDG 10 Reduced Inequalities

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #10: Reduce inequality within and among countries.