February 26, 2018 | Society
Empowering human rights champions
In February 2018, Irfan Chaudhry became the first director of MacEwan University’s Office of Human Rights, Diversity and Equity.
“When I was offered the job, the first thing I said was, ‘thank you for trusting me,’” recalls Irfan. “This is a huge honour and also a huge responsibility.”
Creating this office is the outcome of an idea sparked in 2016, when Michelle Plouffe, MacEwan’s general counsel and vice-president, governance, realized the university was missing a resource for students facing discrimination.
“This office will be a place to go for information, advice and direction – a place of support for students and faculty members,” says Michelle. “Hearing what they’re going through will also help us understand our students better.”
“Universities are there to challenge misconceptions, raise awareness and make us feel uncomfortable...we’re called to come together on common ground for the greater good.”
Michelle spent over a year researching what human rights departments look like at other Canadian universities, while also hosting workshops for staff, faculty and students, finding budget dollars, and finally, interviewing for the director’s position. Now, she’s excited for Irfan to take the lead.
“What I really want is to put our thoughts into action, and we’ve found an amazing person to do that,” she says. “Irfan is gentle. He has the right approach, the right background and a lot of experience.”
For the last eight years, Irfan has taught sociology and criminology at MacEwan. Beyond his teaching accomplishments, Irfan holds a master’s degree in criminal justice, and has worked on human rights policies for the City of Edmonton and the Edmonton Police Service, while also sitting on the Alberta Hate Crimes Committee.
“People are experiencing discrimination, hate, violence and injustice because of who they are, and that’s not acceptable,” says Irfan. “I want students to understand this isn’t just historical, or happening in another country or another province – it’s happening here. So let's collectively work together to address it.”
For Irfan, this is collaborative work that involves listening to students, celebrating diversity and, ultimately, building a MacEwan with students, faculty and staff who are human rights champions both within and outside these walls.
Irfan realizes this isn’t work he can do alone. “We need to make sure the entire university community feels encouraged and empowered to help build a culture of human rights and equity and inclusion. It’s not just the work of one person, or one office.”
Irfan believes MacEwan can be a leader in human rights at the post-secondary level in Canada, and he’s grateful his goals are backed by all levels of university administration.
“Universities are there to challenge misconceptions, raise awareness and make us feel uncomfortable,” says Irfan. “You’re not going to get everyone to agree on everything, but we’re called to come together on common ground for the greater good. That’s where we can focus our energy.”