Diversity Circles: Shaping inclusivity at BCIT and beyond

The Founders of Diversity Circles stand for a photo inside the BCIT Indigenous Gathering Place
Founders of Diversity Circles, photo taken in 2018. From L to R: Andrew Judge, Shannon Kelly, Kyla Epstein, and Zaa Joseph.

A respectful and inclusive environment is an important part of your education journey. Being part of any kind of community, including within your post-secondary, means supporting every member. The Respect, Diversity, and Inclusion (RDI) Office helps BCIT foster this kind of awareness and belonging within our community—and beyond—through resources, events, dialogue, and training.

Welcoming more ideas, cultures, and perspectives of different people enriches our learning experiences and our lives. A key part of RDI engagement is the Diversity Circles initiative, a framework created to magnify the strengths of diverse groups.

Where Diversity Circles began

What does a welcoming environment for all truly look like? And how is BCIT equipped to support its community as diversity becomes more complex? In 2015, BCIT faculty Zaa Derik Gammel Joseph of the Tl’azt’en Nation, and Shannon Kelly began a deeper exploration of what actionable inclusion could look like at BCIT. This process was supported by a partnership with the BCIT Faculty and Staff Association (FSA), including project manager Kyla Epstein.

Diversity is a broad term. It encompasses the needs of different races, abilities, gender identities, sexual orientations, and social backgrounds—and it takes the voices of many to make our society more inclusive for everyone in it.

Shannon, Zaa, and Kyla worked to bring different community members together to create a framework based on this principle, inspired specifically by the insights of Indigenous collaborators including Tawx’sin Yexwulla Aaron Nelson Moody (Splash) of the Squamish Nation, who also created the BCIT House Post, and Andrew Judge (Mko Mose) of the Anishinaabe Ojibway. The resulting proposal garnered over $150,000 in funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to establish the Diversity Circles initiative.

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Diversity Circles in action

What started as a smaller initiative focusing on topics of neurodiversity, gender diversity, and Indigenous knowledges, has expanded into a wider intersectional network guiding efforts to address a broad range of equity issues. Diversity Circles is one of many initiatives at BCIT working to make the Institute a more inclusive space for the entire community, from students and faculty to alumni and industry partners.

The initiative gets its name from its guiding framework, an Indigenous model made up of a series of circles and layers gathering stakeholders and community members to support equity-deserving groups. This model recognizes that each person has unique knowledge and gifts—and that bringing these strengths together makes us all better. The Diversity Circles Knowledge Map is a visual representation of just how many community voices can be involved, what they contribute, and where they connect.

To provide direction for planning Diversity Circles events, such as workshops, panels, celebrations, and other activities, the “8×8” framework of Diversity Circles brings eight different voices from across eight campus groups—students, educators, managers, support staff, student services, leadership, Indigenous partners, and other community stakeholders—into focus groups. With the reach of this model, the initiative is able to gather grassroots feedback from 64 unique voices, encouraging open conversations in an accountable space that is not motivated by hierarchy.

As the entire concept of diversity is constantly evolving, it’s more important than ever to be informed and responsive. Using the community-based expertise from its focus group sessions, Diversity Circles can address a wide range of topics from the rise of anti-Asian racism in Canada to cultivating a sustainable culture at BCIT.

Diversity Circles has also contributed to wider campus initiatives such as the BCIT Anti-Racism Framework and Moving Forward: Lets Talk Anti-Racism.

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Empowering your inclusivity journey

You’ll meet and collaborate with people from all walks of life throughout your post-secondary education. The same will be true as you move through different jobs. And the hard truth is that you’ll almost certainly encounter inequities like racism, sexism, ableism, and other discrimination along the way.

The ability to receive other points of view with respectful curiosity is integral to being a better peer, colleague, and citizen. The Diversity Circles framework makes our community stronger by amplifying more voices in the search for solutions. Instead of projecting assumptions, we recognize lived experiences. Instead of focusing on what we can’t do, we celebrate what we can.

Thanks to ongoing support from the BCIT RDI Office, Diversity Circles has delivered over 150 workshops, launched mentoring and networking programs, and shared their findings throughout Canada.

Learn more about Respect, Diversity and Inclusion at BCIT, including Diversity Circles.

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