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A year as the Director of Equity at Let’s Talk Science

Blog | June 21, 2022 | Share on:

As a First Nations female with a wide range of education and experiences, my skillset is unique. In this world of understanding equity and equity deserving entities, I know that I want to engage with an organization that has done some of the preliminary work to understand how equity realities and issues play out in their systems/organizations – which led me to Let’s Talk Science.

Recalling my own educational experiences that started with a B.Sc from the University of Waterloo, I was one of a handful of First Nations students in a post-secondary environment. From my recollection and knowledge, I was the only First Nations student in Science at University of Waterloo at the time. But social media and electronic communication were not even a possibility at the time, so knowledge of our community during the early 90’s was based on personal connections.

I was always drawn to subjects such as biology/ecology due to the relational nature that I observed, which was keenly similar to what I learned as First Nations. Embarking on education in colonial institutions came with its challenges and is a building block to this story of equity, science and landing where I am. Over time, I became disengaged and disillusioned with the world of academia but knew the significance of those letters after my name. I also started to engage with early adopters in post-secondary education on transforming and ‘Indigenizing’ these systems. I would go to classes and write papers based on other perspectives that were missing. Often, I would challenge the academics, the resources and the professors. Sometimes my marks reflected those challenges, but the end results remain  – many upper and lowercase (B.Sc, B.A Hons, B.Ed, M.Ed) letters after my name. In this early phase of my journey, I honed my skills in assessing situations, appropriate ways to educate and to enable people to shift their understandings.

Moving into the world of education, I was immersed in understanding systems and the glacial pace that provincially or federally funded systems move at. I also learned that for change to happen, education is critical. Educating on perspective taking, curriculum, delivery and how different groups of people viewed education. We needed to talk and have those heart-to-heart conversations that were missing. So, I started to speak, and I started to listen. A lesson learned from my earlier university days – no need to always challenge people. Instead, have civil, humane conversations to build the relationships that have been missing.

With all this in hand and a recognition of my age, my gender, my cultural knowledge, my qualifications and skills, I set out for an opportunity to continue to build my own knowledge, understanding and professional development. In scouting positions of equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility (EDIA), I had certain things that were important to me. One of the most significant was the level of work a system has started. I came to Let’s Talk Science at a point in my life where I had been building awareness in a system, and I wanted to dive into the next level of transforming a system. It was important for me to see and work with an organization that is genuinely committed to transformation through EDIA. Often organizations ‘say’ that they are committed but have very little evidence of this change. During my first interview, I felt that Let’s Talk Science was different. The questions asked were thoughtful, intentional, and demonstrated some of the preliminary groundwork that had taken place. The interviewers came from many departments and at various levels, and the fact that the position reported to the President shows the commitment taken by Let’s Talk Science. When a company begins to acknowledge their growth and education, puts actions in place and continually strives to make improvements, that is a good sign.

I share a cautious optimism with many in the field of EDIA – one that we hope continues and sustains our future generations. It is needed in order for students and even adults alike to begin to view STEM through a lens of anti-oppression. Almost a year into my role, I continue to be optimistic and proud of the work at Let’s Talk Science. The foundation laid before my arrival continues to strengthen and evolve. This June -  a month to recognize and celebrate accomplishments of First Nations, Inuit and Metis – I am taking the opportunity to write this article to thank all those before me who forged the path that I am on.

Tammy Webster, Director, Equity, Let’s Talk Science