Ongoing EDI-AR efforts at Memorial: An interview with Dr. Delores V. Mullings

dr mullings headshot
dr mullings headshot
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Dr. Delores V. Mullings was appointed as the vice-provost of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism (EDI-AR) on August 27, 2021, for a five-year term. 

In a recent interview with the Muse, Dr. Mullings gave insight into the EDI-AR office, its purpose, and the progress they’ve made thus far.

Purpose and importance of the EDI-AR office

Dr. Mullings has been in the position for almost two years now. Since beginning the role, she says the implementation of the office has been a slow process. 

“With the appointment in this office, we’ve been a little slow in getting the office off the ground,” says Mullings, “As you know, whenever you start anything new, it comes with its pluses and areas of improvement.” 

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There have been numerous obstacles over the last couple of years. With the faculty strike and new president, among other administrative changes, it’s taken longer than expected to fully establish the office at the university.

However, over the last few months, Dr. Mullings says she has seen a change in the support for the office. Since April, the office has filled five new positions.

“We have a permanent executive assistant, a program manager that was renewed, a policy analyst who is focusing exclusively on policies in the environment and specifically a human rights policy; we don’t have one at Memorial, so we’re getting there, and we have a communications advisor basically to let people know that we exist,” she explains, “For the first almost year and a half, nobody knew we existed or what we were doing.”

There are various developments and achievements to celebrate. The office is now moving into a permanent location, where they will have a dedicated space to focus on their current projects, including the creation of a digital database in partnership with the university library.

“We’ve got so many bits and pieces going on,” says Mullings. “We’re coming out soon with a digital database that’s going to be accessible all around the world, where people can look to find EDI-AR-type material— from policy to literature. We’re developing lots of partnerships. We’re also partnering with ARC-NL and all campuses across Memorial to do research on accessibility through a racial justice lens. We are very excited to be doing this work.”

In our interview, Mullings explained the importance of the office to the university, saying, “In appointing me to this position, the competitive process is just basically in line with the rest of the country and other cases across the world that recognize the importance of ensuring that the people who are working for us and the students who are coming to get an education feel a welcoming presence on all campuses, are treated with dignity and honour, and feel as if they have a sense of belonging– that they have a place here.”

The strategic plan

The establishment of a strategic plan was one of the first things on the vice provost’s to-do list. The office’s first step with the strategic plan was to set up consultations with faculty, staff, and students across campus to get feedback and insight into their experiences at the university. 

“[The strategic plan] was one of the first things I wanted to get done when I went in the office, but that was not the case. Last September, we started speaking to people about what they thought about Memorial’s EDI-AR infrastructure and current situation. We finished speaking with people this past June,” she explains. “ In between that, we’ve had some pauses in terms of the strike or labour disruption. There were some gaps with people being off on leave and those kinds of things; it doesn’t look linear in terms of when we started.”

“We finished this past June with massive amounts of consultations from all campuses, all constituents. We had sessions with students, faculty, and staff. We had surveys for the same groups, and because we didn’t get enough feedback from students, we held a second round of surveys just for students, and that was successful. We bugged the living daylights out of students. We were all over the UC; that worked out well for us.”

When asked about the timeline for the implementation of the strategic plan, Dr. Mullings explains that while she would have hoped it would already be in place, unfortunately, that is not the case. 

“What’s going to happen is once we get the report back, we’ll go into phase three, and that is developing the strategic plan itself because a report is not the plan,” she continues, explaining, “We develop the report, the strategic plan, and the guidelines and after that, then we develop metrics for how we’re going to hold people accountable and how we’re going to make sure that we’re being successful.”

The “What We Heard” report

The EDI-AR office, through numerous consultations, has now spoken with almost 2000 faculty members, staff, and students. The culmination of all these consultations has resulted in a massive amount of information to sort through. 

Dr. Mullings says that in light of the incredible amount of insight and feedback, the office is now in the process of hiring a research analyst to help put together a “What We Heard and What We Learned report.”

She explains, “We’re not saying it’s a what we heard report because, boy oh boy, did we learn. Also, not everybody can hear, and we need to be mindful of that too.”

The office is hoping to have the report finished in the fall, as the information in the report will be a major driving factor in the implementation of the strategic plan.  

Reporting discrimination on campus

When it comes to reporting discrimination on campus, Dr. Mullings says that the student non-academic route is the most common route taken by students. She explains that “There’s a whole policy that speaks to the different processes about what happens or what should happen when a student reports experiences of discrimination.”

If you are unsure if a fellow student has violated the student code of conduct or have questions about the process, you can reach out to Kyle Langille (Advisor, Student Code of Conduct) via Phone: (709) 864-3489 or Email: kylel@mun.ca.

  • If a student wants to register a complaint against a faculty member or university employee, the process follows The non-academic appeals process.

However, Dr. Mullings very clearly emphasized her understanding that it is not easy for anyone, especially those who are disadvantaged, to report incidents of discrimination. Students are dependent on members of the university community for grades, labs, and work placements, so reporting is never an easy thing. 

When discussing her hopes for how the office can help in these instances, she says, “One of the things that I am really hoping to turn the corner around is to have policies in place, it’s not here yet, but to have policies in place where anyone can report to this office. It starts off being anonymous, and obviously, my portfolio would have people who are well-versed and qualified in handling instances of discrimination.”

The human rights policy, currently in its development stage, is another avenue students will have when reporting discrimination. With this policy, Mullings says, “It’s not only you report something, but you report something, and there are consequences attached to that, whatever the findings are.”

These developments have not been advertised because they are not yet available to students. While the office may not have the capacity to directly offer resources to students, Mullings says,

“We cannot wait to have that capacity with that policy— We’re really excited to move into our office in, I would say, September or October, and people can still come in and chat with me or someone else even if we don’t have the policy to support them yet. It’s very informal in that case; we’re not going to file anything because we don’t have the capacity, right, we don’t have the infrastructure.”

The Scarborough Charter

On November 18th, 2021, Memorial signed the Scarborough Charter along with more than 40 other post-secondary institutions. By signing the Charter, post-secondary institutions across the country are committing to take action and eliminate barriers for black scholars, students, faculty, and staff.

In regards to the work accomplished in line with the Charter, the vice-provost says,

“I’m going to be frank. We haven’t really done anything since we signed in 2021. Last year we really focused on the strategic plan, and because we were so under-resourced, we were not able to take on big chunks of projects. So, while the Scarborough Charter was one of the priorities last year, the strategic plan sort of overwrote it. I think, for me, in this position, that strategic plan is going to be an umbrella for everything, and so, we are going to go back this year now to the Scarborough charter.”

Mullings says that thanks to the Charter, “We’re now in touch with other universities who are a bit more seasoned in their EDI-AR work, and we can learn from them. We can also learn specifically about so many things that they’re doing to address anti-black racism and black inclusion.”

“We are in the process, actually, now that we’re back with a bit of a focus of doing an anti-black racism scan,” she explains, “That’s one of those things that would show up in the Scarborough Charter in terms of taking feedback from who’s on campus and what we need to do.”

Community table talk

Image credit: Memorial University (via website)

Even before being offered the position, Dr. Mullings was adamant about the importance that whoever is in the role needs to demonstrate transparency in the processes of the office.

She explains that while building the office and establishing its resources has been a longer process than expected, she remains committed to transparency with the university community.

“One of the things I can do, without having a lot of resources, is talk to the whole community once a year, and that’s what the community table talk is all about,” she explains. “We did one last year where we did a full update on what we’ve done, what we’re going to do, and what our priorities are. We’re having one again this year, and that’s at Grenfell.”

The Community Table Talk will be held in person at Grenfell Campus on Sept 28th, 2023, from 12:00-1:30 p.m. However, all students are also able to attend the event virtually via the following Webex link: 

https://mun.webex.com/mun/j.php?MTID=meac6b6bd69d792d593a464945cbd3fb7

With an overall goal of transparency with faculty, staff and students, the Community Table Talk offers the opportunity to get direct insight into the ongoing efforts of the EDI-AR office in making our university a more welcoming environment.

Editor’s note: Special thanks to Dr. Delores V. Mullings for taking the time to speak with the Muse.

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Anasophie Vallée
Anasophie (she/her) is a 3rd-year Communication Studies and French student at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. She is very passionate about advocating for human rights, mental health awareness, and inclusivity both within the arts and in our community as a whole. Anasophie is eager and honoured to be Editor-in-Chief of the Muse. She has written for both the Muse and the Independent and is excited to be a part of such an amazing team. Anasophie is also an avid member of the NL arts community, having danced for years with Kittiwake Dance Theatre. When she is not writing or working, Ana can typically be found reading, cooking, or seeing a local production. If you have a tip or question, reach out to themusechief@gmail.com