York U creates and uses new online inclusion tool for Orientation Week

Student leaders at York University are using a new online tool – an Inclusion Lens – to proactively ensure its close to 500 orientation week events are welcoming to incoming members of the York community.

The Inclusion Lens may be the first online event management tool created by a Canadian university to provide students with both a comprehensive how-to guide along with a checklist to track progress towards inclusive events on campus. The Lassonde School of Engineering and York’s Centre for Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion worked together to develop the tool.

Rhonda Lenton

“Inclusion is a core value of York University,” said Rhonda Lenton, York University’s president and vice-chancellor. “We are committed to proactively celebrating our differences and reflecting the value of inclusion in the ways we teach, govern ourselves, interact as a community, and research solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. Since its earliest days, York University has been dedicated to social justice. The Inclusion Lens is an important new tool to help us continue this legacy of leadership and innovation, ensuring a truly welcoming and inclusive campus environment for all.”

The Inclusion Lens drew from the Ontario Public Service Inclusion Lens to help students see their events from a perspective other than their own. Added were an event planning guide, easy-to-find university resources and a checklist to track progress.

Marisa Sterling

“The Inclusion Lens is about going beyond policy compliance to leading by example,” said Marisa Sterling, assistant dean, Inclusivity and Diversity, Lassonde School of Engineering. “When students want to create an event, they easily click through the planning, advertising, implementing and evaluating tabs on the website. At each stage, they receive guidance, education and a link to university resources.”

Inclusive considerations include advertising broadly to reach more diverse communities, accommodating for sliding scale ticket prices for affordability and arranging for prayer services throughout the day of the event.

The Lassonde School of Engineering is tackling a longstanding gap in the field of engineering, where in 2015 only 20 per cent of undergraduate students across Canada were women. After launching its Inclusivity Project in 2016, the school realized the desire for inclusion existed, but the community needed the tools and education on how to get there. After training more than 90 Lassonde students as inclusivity ambassadors, the school started work on providing its students practical steps to weave inclusion throughout all of their campus experiences.

“In 2015, we were the first engineering school in Canada to launch our 50:50 Challenge for gender parity,” said Sterling. “Our goal is not simply to have diversity but to do something with that diversity by innovating and leading. I am very proud of our students who continue to embrace this positive culture change each year.”

Acknowledging that inclusion and accessibility are key values of the University’s Academic Plan 2015-2020 and the administration’s Strategic Priorities, the newly re-named Centre for Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion is implementing an enhanced mission to give institution-wide form and content to those values and assist York in proactively cultivating difference.

“The Centre for Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion (REI) is very pleased to have been instrumental in the development of York University’s Inclusion Lens,” said Executive Director Michael Charles. “The tool will serve as an additional means to embed the values of access, equity and inclusion into the activities and campus life of our students.”

The Inclusion Lens can be used by anyone at York and beyond, but the team focused their work on student leaders who plan and run events, recognizing that they are the next generation of leaders.

The lens is being used this fall by all colleges and faculties of York University to plan, advertise, implement and evaluate orientation week events that run until Sept. 10 and welcome close to 7,600 new students to the campus.

More than 1,200 student orientation leaders have also been trained in inclusive and positive language and have signed an Orientation Leader Contract to ensure they both create an inclusive experience and show respect for a student’s right to choose the activities they wish to participate in.

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