Feb. 1, 2022

In conversation with nursing changemakers on equity, diversity and inclusion

Nursing students and faculty share their personal commitments to challenging systemic inequities in education and health care

Nurses have a long history of promoting social justice through their professional work. As a workforce made up of people from different religious affiliations, ages, specialties, sexual orientations, race and gender, nurses also serve a patient population equally diverse in background and health-care needs.

Working to eliminate discrimination, racism and oppression is a collective effort. At the Faculty of Nursing, UCalgary students, faculty and staff are championing an equitable, diverse and inclusive environment on and off campus.

Associate professor Dr. Añiela dela Cruz, equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) lead for UCalgary Nursing says, “This is a really exciting time in that there's a lot of momentum going on around equity, diversity and inclusion at the University of Calgary community broadly.”

Just last month, the Nursing EDI advisory committee was formed, bringing together students, faculty and staff, who as dela Cruz puts it, will be “working together in our different circles, but side by side.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen changes in the classroom, which is awesome. I’ve noticed a marked increase in the number of conversations among students and between students and faculty about these very issues of equity and inclusion and Indigenous Canadians and Indigenous health.

Professionally, dela Cruz says she’s had a handful experiences of racism as a visible minority nurse in practice. “Even up until last year, when I was working out at one of the federal quarantine sites as a nurse, it’s still there, it's alive and well.

“These are very hard things to talk about for many people for many reasons. But we can start having dialogue and conversation with one another, sharing stories and sharing advice. That’s a step forward in this journey of understanding these challenges and working together to address things like ignorance, lack of knowledge or discrimination in the workplace.”

Dr. Añiela dela Cruz, Associate professor and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) lead for UCalgary Nursing; Louise Baptiste, instructor and director of Indigenous Initiatives at the Faculty of Nursing.

Añiela dela Cruz, associate professor and equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) lead for UCalgary Nursing; Louise Baptiste, instructor and director of Indigenous initiatives at the Faculty of Nursing.

Louise Baptiste, director of Indigenous initiatives at the Faculty of Nursing, adds that representation matters. “We have a diverse population of students, and it is important that they see themselves reflected in faculty and welcomed on campus. We want a safe educational environment, where students are able to engage and share their backgrounds to enrich the learning of others.”

The nursing faculty has already seen increased enrolment of Indigenous students and supports for those students including tutoring, mentoring and access to Elders in recent years. UCalgary Nursing has also created safe spaces through incorporating a smudge room and Indigenous art murals in student spaces and collaborating with community partners like Old Sun Community College.

“We are hoping to expand the rural nursing program to include remote Indigenous nations that have barriers to entering and attending on campus, and possibly bring the program to their nations.

“Cultural safety is imperative in educating our nursing students so that they can go out into health-care settings and provide exceptional care to their patients,” says Baptiste. “Diversity enriches the learning environment, as it provides different perspectives and ways of knowing, doing, and learning.”

UCalgary Nursing student leaders in both the undergraduate and graduate level are integral to continuing this conversation. We asked a few to reflect on why EDI matters to them and what they hope to achieve in their respective roles.

Rupinder Brar, Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Nursing Graduate Students’ Association (NGSA)

Rupinder Brar, director of equity, diversity and inclusion, Nursing Graduate Students’ Association.

Rupinder Brar, director of equity, diversity and inclusion, Nursing Graduate Students’ Association (NGSA)

Brar is currently in the graduate certificates program and working toward her Master of Nursing degree. “First and foremost, as a woman of a different ethnicity, I was just happy to see diversity in the program. I came to Canada as an 18-year-old, many moons ago from India. I have experienced racism in my life, too, and even back home. Throughout my work, I started off as a health-care aide, then I became an LPN, then an RN.”

Brar’s role at NGSA is focused on advocating for and amplifying the voices of people seeking equity, including persons with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, women, racialized individuals and LGBTQ2S+ people. She says she was drawn to the EDI position because “I'm bit of a feminist, all about women empowerment, especially women of colour and immigrant women. That's my big passion.”

Since the NGSA role is brand new, Brar says the first step is to identify the needs of current graduate nursing students around these issues. “I’m planning to send out a small survey, to do an environmental scan of the population that we will be catering to, to see how we can offer or help in terms of all of these three things (equity, diversity and inclusion).”

Mikki Lim, Nursing Inclusivity Committee (NIC) Chair, Undergraduate Nursing Society (UNS)

Mikki Lim, Nursing Inclusivity Committee (NIC) chair, Undergraduate Nursing Society.

Mikki Lim, Nursing Inclusivity Committee (NIC) chair, Undergraduate Nursing Society (UNS)

Lim’s main passion is advocating for LGBTQ2S+ populations. In their role as nursing inclusivity chair with UNS, they and their committee will be addressing student initiatives for the representation and celebration of culturally diverse and minority populations within the undergraduate student body.

“The committee that I'm running is pretty broad. We're working with LGBTQ2S+ topics, but we're also advocating for BIPOC students, and also for men in nursing.”

Lim says initial meetings and meet-and-greets with students have already led to ideas they want to pursue like visiting GSAs in high schools, when COVID restrictions permit, to encourage LGBTQ2S+ students to pursue nursing careers and to explore local organizations to host webinars to help further cultural competencies skills for future nurses.

Canada is seen as being very advanced compared to most countries in terms of diversity and being accepting and honestly, it’s what I thought too before coming here from the Philippines. Then, I realized ever since I came out as queer and nonbinary, even though Canada has the universal health-care system, there is still a lot of disparities that minority groups face.

“The health-care system is very heteronormative. Even in class, we’re learning about asking patients for their pronouns. I think that’s a good start, but more work needs to be done.”

Evangalina Haigh-Baptiste, Vice President Indigenous Initiatives, UNS

Evangalina Haigh-Baptiste, vice-president Indigenous initiatives, Undergraduate Nursing Society.

Evangalina Haigh-Baptiste, vice-president Indigenous initiatives, Undergraduate Nursing Society

As an Indigenous student leader who is involved within Indigenous communities, Haigh-Baptiste is able to bring the lived experience to the UNS executive team.

“I’m Cree from Samson Cree Nation,” she says. “Although I've never really been faced with direct discrimination due to my appearance (I don't appear to be native), I have seen racism through my mom and I've seen the ignorance that has existed is so common throughout this country, and throughout the health-care system. My grandma was in residential school and I was always aware of this discrimination.”

Her role is to be the primary resource on Indigenous initiatives within the UNS and to collaborate to amplify Indigenous voices on both a student and professional level. Haigh-Baptiste says mentorship in Indigenous communities is a big goal of hers. To that end, she is working closely with Faith Moghaddami, Faculty of Nursing Indigenous initiatives representative and Louise Baptiste, director of Indigenous initiatives to represent and support Indigenous nursing students.

“It’s so vital to have conversations and to understand these personal circumstances. It helps to create connections and it’s how we learn better. Our role is to help change viewpoints and to remove this veil of ignorance.”

Faith Moghaddami, Faculty of Nursing Indigenous Initiatives Representative, UNS

Faith Moghaddami, Faculty of Nursing Indigenous initiatives representative, Undergraduate Nursing Society.

Faith Moghaddami, Faculty of Nursing Indigenous initiatives representative, Undergraduate Nursing Society

Moghaddami says she almost didn’t apply for this UNS role because she thought she had to be an Indigenous student, which wasn’t the case. As the Indigenous initiatives representative, she acts as a representative for Indigenous nursing students, and liaises with various stakeholders across the nursing faculty around events and student opportunities.

“Last semester, we talked to Louise and she identified a lot of key areas where we could grow as a faculty,” says Moghaddami. “She told us about an Elders-in-Residence program, something that started at Bow Valley College, and it was an opportunity for students to come in and learn about Indigenous perspectives from an Elder. We want to kind of find a way to support that at the university as well.”

To that end, Moghaddami says the students are looking at fundraising opportunities and have since applied for a Quality Money proposal for the project. In the meantime, they’re spreading awareness and building support through a newly created Instagram account at @uns_indigenous.

“You can't be a nurse without diversity, equity and inclusion,” she says. “And it's so important to learn about different communities and to talk about your implicit biases.”

This year’s EDI Week at UCalgary runs from Monday, Jan. 31, to Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. The theme for this year is From Commitments to Action – Building Equitable Pathways and Futures in the University. Learn more

Stay connected with NGSA and UNS on social media.