The Equity and Diversity Office (EDO) at UTSC has been without a long-term head since December 2016, leaving students to question the future of focused, local support, and where exactly the funds for the position are going.
The EDO was established to offer an accessible resource for students, many of whom felt that the St. George campus was inaccessible to them.
The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) advocated for the installation of a designated UTSC Equity and Diversity Officer who was “meant to sit on the Upper Executive Committee to inform decisions and mandates” on campus. The position was created in 2013; Tanya De Mello was hired into the role.
De Mello resigned from the Equity and Diversity Officer position in December of 2016. The university designated an already-employed staff member to act as the Interim Equity and Diversity Officer. “Without an active Office, students are bearing the brunt for the lack support from the University,” SCSU President Sitharsana Srithas wrote in an email to The Varsity.
As it stands now, the university has no plans to rehire an Equity and Diversity Officer for the Scarborough campus. Instead, they have begun the process of hiring a Senior Equity and Diversity Advisor. Kelly Hannah-Moffat, U of T’s Vice-President of Human Resources and Equity, insists that the change to the role goes only as far as renaming the job title.
“The previous title, ‘Officer,’ was misleading because the position didn’t really have the power to conduct formal investigations, to determine the outcomes,” Hannah-Moffat told The Varsity. “It’s not a policing kind of function, which is kind of related to the term ‘officer,’ so advisor felt more appropriate.”
Hannah-Moffat said that the Senior Equity and Diversity Advisor will continue to advise students, faculty, and staff on campus resources and policy procedures; follow up on resolutions and formal complaints; and promote more collaborative work and discussion within the UTSC community.
Srithas suggested that the Senior Equity and Diversity Advisor will have less institutional power and “will not actively engage with the Senior Executive team to take action on campus issues.”
“Students, staff and faculty relied on the [Equity and Diversity Officer] for guidance, support, and to mediate equity-based conflicts that arose,” Srithas said. “People have expressed that being able to put a familiar face to the services offered by the Equity and Diversity Office made handling conflict much less intimidating.”
According to Srithas, students were not informed about how the funding for the official Equity and Diversity Officer’s salary was being used. “The Interim Advisor was already a staff at UTSC and the University has been reluctant to provide information on these allocations,” Srithas said. Srithas said that UTSC has a history of “using designated budget lines to pay for things outside the purview of those designated funds,” but did not go into further detail.
Hannah-Moffat explained that the person in the interim role has been receiving the salary designated for the official Equity and Diversity Officer. She said that when that staff member transferred into the EDO, they began receiving the EDO funding in place of their old salary.
Hannah-Moffat urges students to seek out the other resources that are available at UTSC and the other campuses, including the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office, the Multi-Faith Centre, and the Anti-Racism & Cultural Diversity Office.