UTM appoints first equity and diversity officer

Nythalah Baker
Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 1:49pm
Sharon Aschaiek

U of T Mississauga is strengthening its commitment to cultivating a safe and welcoming campus by introducing its first-ever equity and diversity officer.

Appointed to the newly created role is Nythalah Baker, an experienced and accomplished human rights and accessibility expert who will work to enhance the learning, living and working environments at UTM.

“I’ll be working with students, faculty and staff to build a community where people feel really comfortable and have a sense of belonging,” says Baker, who will start in the role on Feb. 25. She will report to Professor Deep Saini, Vice-President, U of T and Principal of U of T Mississauga, and to Angela Hildyard, Vice-President, Human Resources & Equity at U of T.

Baker has 15 years of professional experience in the equity and diversity field in Canada’s post-secondary sector and beyond. Most recently, she was senior advisor of education and communications at York University, where she developed strategies to raise awareness about human rights, diversity and inclusivity. Before that, she was equity advisor at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus, where she dealt with human rights complaints and led initiatives to create a more inclusive campus.

Outside of academia, Baker has engaged in human rights and equity work in a variety of roles in British Columbia, including as YouthGLO (Gay and Lesbian Organization) coordinator of the social planning council for the North Okanagan region, coordinator of the B.C. Rural Women’s Network, and coordinator of the District Women’s Centre Society. Baker is also a member of Canadian Association for the Prevention of Discrimination and Harassment in Higher Education, which trains university and college employees in discrimination and harassment laws.

Over the course of her career, Baker, who holds a bachelor of arts from the University of Alberta and a master of social work from UBC, has developed communication and educational strategies, built partnerships with diverse groups, facilitated workshops on the social and cultural contexts of discrimination, organized awareness-raising events and handled human rights case management.
Baker’s first goal is to meet with members of UTM’s community of 13,000 students and 770 faculty and staff to gain an in-depth understanding of the campus’ current equity issues and initiatives. She plans to connect with representatives from departments and groups such as Student Life, UTMSU, Human Resources, Health & Counselling and the various faculty associations.

“My big hope is to reach out to all these different constituents to learn about what programming is in place on campus, and to work with them to enhance these efforts, whether through coordinating events, developing workshops or other measures,” says Baker, whose office will be open to UTM community members with equity concerns.

Among the equity policies and practices Baker says she may focus on at UTM are those relating to providing accommodations for individuals who have physical or learning disabilities, religious observance needs, or responsibilities relating to caring for a child and/or aging parent.

Says Baker: “It’s exciting for me to support students, faculty and staff in building greater awareness of how we can be more inclusive and affect change in our day-to-day lives and on a larger community level.”