University of Calgary's new vice-provost focused on equity, diversity and inclusion

Malinda Smith, the University of Calgary’s new vice-provost of equity, diversity and inclusion, says she’s committed to real action, not just virtue signalling.

Malinda Smith wants to move beyond decades of lip service

Prof. Malinda Smith, who researches gender and racial diversity in Canadian universities, is committed to improving equity, diversity and inclusion at the University of Calgary. (Submitted by Malinda Smith)

Malinda Smith, the University of Calgary's new vice-provost of equity, diversity and inclusion, says she's committed to real action, not just virtue signalling.

She's the first person to hold the position designed to address racism and diversity at the university, which has embarked on an ambitious campaign to improve equity, diversity and inclusion on campus.

"The aim is to move beyond decades of talking about equity, diversity and inclusion policies on the books, but little action, to actual proactive measures to make the campus more equitable," Smith told The Homestretch.

"To move beyond talking about, say, gender equity, which we have made some progress on but not enough, to be much more inclusive, and talking about racialization, indigeneity, persons with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. So, to create a big tent for the university — and of course that makes sense in Calgary, which is Canada's third most diverse city."

Smith is an award-winning Black scholar, political science professor (most recently at the University of Alberta) and the co-author of the book, The Equity Myth, Racialization and Indigeneity at Canadian Universities.

Smith grew up in the Bahamas but finished her post-secondary studies in the United States on a field hockey scholarship. She became one of the few Black female political science professors in the country, and continued to play high-level field hockey.

"Team sports is good at teaching, I think, leadership skills, because you learn to actually play with others," she said. "You don't just have top leading scorers, you have good defence. What I like about Calgary is that it works, the leadership is actually led by teams of people who work collaboratively."

Smith brings her field hockey experience into her academic career.

"The thing about a team is even when you're out there, you're in it together — and I like that," she said. "And so, in a way, if we can think about advancing equity and diversity, inclusion as a team with the interests of building up not just the University of Calgary but the City of Calgary in Alberta, I think that's a vision that we should all be able to throw our weight behind."

Smith said she brings her own background into the new role. She will be part of a pilot project that will help guide other universities in the future. 

"I think being a Black Albertan helps me to see opportunities and possibilities where others might not see them, and they hope being at University of Calgary I'm able to help create a bigger tent, and make more opportunities for more people in the same way that I have benefited."

Beyond the university, Smith is invested in Calgary as a city. Last month, she co-chaired the public hearings on racism for the City of Calgary.

"In a nutshell, that hearing helped us to focus our attention on key challenges that have been part of inequities for a long time. What was concerning for me was that experiences that I had, say, 30 years ago, there are young people who are experiencing that now," she said.

Smith applauds Calgary's city council and Mayor Naheed Nenshi for unanimously agreeing to prioritize the issue.

"The experiences were concerning, because it's clear in all institutions — from elementary school to junior high high school, in the health-care system, in public services, city services, with the policing and corrections — people are experiencing inequities," she said.

"It's clear that there's a pattern of behaviour that people, diverse Calgarians, are experiencing, that needs to be addressed, and there is an urgency to that which, I think, city council understands and is prepared to address."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of.

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With files from The Homestretch.