Creating safe and inclusive spaces
July 29, 2020
In 2019 to provide a dedicated space on campus for students, as well as student groups, working to advance social justice, anti-racism, and inclusion. Housed at 140 Stuart St., the space is typically known on campus as the Yellow House.
Deanna Fialho recently joined Student Affairs as its director. In this role, she will lead the development of programs, activities, and services dedicated to supporting the university’s equity-seeking students. The Queen’s Gazette connected with Fialho to learn more about her experience and her goals.
Tell us about your professional background and the work you’ve done to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in your previous positions.
This is a great question, and one that I believe must be rooted in my personal background and identity which has shaped both my approach to equity and desire to come to Queen’s in a meaningful way. I am a first-generation woman born and raised in the Greater Toronto Area. My family is originally from Goa, India and were raised in Karachi, Pakistan, immigrating to Canada in 1971. The value of education was defined clearly for our family by my maternal grandfather who faced the need of re-educating himself as a chartered accountant despite a fruitful education and career in Pakistan. My grandparents on both sides of my family sacrificed a lot for our family and have supported each of their grandchildren to build a bright future in Canada through education. I truly believe in the power of Canada’s post-secondary institutions to build the skills, self-awareness, and innovation that will ultimately drive an equitable future for all.
I spent key years of my early adolescence in a rural Ontario town, which defined for me the incredible value of building community through inclusive learning environments, as well as an early awareness of the risks to safety, development, self-worth, and big aspirations for young people who operate in environments that do not place value on diversity.
Foundational to my work and experience in EDI is a strong understanding of how race, class and gender shape the various power structures that build our current reality. This was fostered through a Master of Educational Leadership and Policy degree from OISE at the University of Toronto and an undergraduate degree in Sociology from Carleton University.
My vision for equity and inclusion is rooted in a strong passion to build environments that foster a sense of belonging, where people feel safe and are empowered to share their identities, and unique experiences. This approach has drawn a vibrant career path for me within Canada’s corporate landscape where I have gained extensive experience and expertise implementing large-scale EDI programs at several large organizations, most recently at KPMG and NAV CANADA.
In the early days of my EDI career, I supported student success programming through a unique grassroots engagement and peer mentorship initiative in Halton Region that brought local communities and the private sector together to empower safe decision-making amongst equity-seeking youth. These early experiences shaped my personal approach to EDI in a powerful way, underscoring the value of including diverse perspectives, experiences, and ideas in every part of the planning process for EDI strategies.
What interested you about the position?
I see the student-centered approach to EDI at Queen’s as central to the future success of the space. The vibrant student clubs currently placed in the Yellow House, as well as the multitude of student leadership and engagement initiatives on campus, make me feel hopeful about the change we can make together to advance a culture of inclusion at Queen’s and in the city of Kingston.
Do you have a sense of what goals you would like to achieve in your new role?
I am prioritizing active listening as my first step to building a strong foundation of support for, and engagement of, student-led EDI initiatives at the Yellow House. My vision includes the creation of safe and accountable spaces for racialized and equity-seeking students and student clubs to hold dialogue and campus-wide engagement on EDI, opportunities to enhance EDI acumen through co-curricular education and resources for all students, as well as creating a physical and virtual hub for EDI resources on campus. Meaningful collaboration and partnership with student clubs in the space are central to bringing this vision alive.
How do you see this role supporting broader efforts to promote equity and inclusion at Queen’s?
I believe together we can create a bright future for all students at Queen’s that is rooted in active celebration and value of diversity within each aspect of our institutional operations. I believe embedding inclusion into the various policies, procedures and structures that shape the student experience at Queen’s will advance a culture of belonging in a strong way, and see the centre as a strong catalyst for this work in collaboration with other units in Student Affairs and the Human Rights and Equity Office.