Brock’s first EDI advisor guides research policies, practices

Equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is a practice that goes far beyond reaching target numbers — a concept Syna Thakur is passionate about conveying to researchers.

“It starts with the researcher evaluating their relationship to the research,” she says.  “It’s about how we understand the world, how we use the knowledge that we received in Western education systems, whose stories we miss and whose experiences and barriers are glossed over.

“It ranges from the research questions we ask to the methods we apply, to the findings that we elicit from that research,” says Thakur, Brock University’s first EDI in Research Advisor.

Based in the Office of the Vice-President, Research, her role is threefold.

Firstly, Thakur guides how Brock University abides by the EDI requirements of the Canada Research Chairs Program. Canada Research Chairs (CRCs) are nationally recognized experts who contribute knowledge, understanding and solutions to society.

Brock has 10 active CRCs, with a total of 14 allocations. The program’s funding comes from three federal government agencies: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

“The research methods, frameworks and outputs of equity-deserving groups are often not centred in the mainstream research process,” says Thakur. “Greater representation of equity-deserving groups in the CRC program will ensure that the expertise and perspectives of equity-deserving groups are valued.”

Brock University’s Canada Research Chairs Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Action Plan covers a range of topics dealing with procedures on attracting and retaining women, Indigenous Peoples, people with disabilities, and racialized and LGBTQ2+ people. Other documents and polices can be found on Brock’s CRC Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion page.

Within that context, Thakur provides EDI training on subjects such as unconscious bias and the advertising, recruitment and retention of CRC holders, among other tasks.

Secondly, Thakur advises researchers applying for institutional grants, such as offering inclusive practices in the hiring and training of highly qualified personnel.

“How can we ensure that young scholars, graduate students and post-doctoral researchers are supported in the research process?” she says. “How can we extend power to them as they develop their careers?”

Thirdly, Thakur is creating resources and programs to educate researchers on how to incorporate into their research EDI principles and practices in areas such as reflexivity, decolonization and anti-racism.

She says it’s vital researchers examine if and how their research beliefs, methods, results and data generated may deepen power imbalances and barriers already being experienced by marginalized groups.

Researchers must also be aware of how concepts and definitions they use in their work do or do not line up with the communities’ understanding to maximize the relevance of the research, says Thakur.

“How do we ensure that we’re meeting the needs of the people who are contributing to the research, the people who the research is about and the people who are taking up that research?” she says.

Thakur makes a distinction between equity, diversity and inclusion:

  • Equity refers to removing historical and contemporary barriers and biases so that the power to construct knowledge in the research lifecycle is broadened and shared.
  • Diversity involves thinking about who is involved and what world views are prioritized in the research lifecycle.
  • Inclusion means figuring out if everyone in the research lifecycle feels safe, integrated and supported.

Thakur, who is a graduate student in sociology and migration and ethnic relations at Western University, has extensive experience with conducting qualitative research in immigrant and racialized populations.

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