Emily Vilcsak was among the university's first group of Champions of Diversity and Equity (CODE) volunteers. A second group begins training this month.

Students become champions of diversity and equity

January 21, 2020 | Society, Campus Life
Emily Vilcsak hesitated before applying to the Champions of Diversity and Equity (CODE) program last year. “I have led a very privileged life and felt a bit guilty applying – I didn’t want to take a spot away from someone else,” says the fourth-year Bachelor of Communication Studies student.

But when the 12-week volunteer training program began, she quickly saw that she had something important to offer – and much to take away from the experience.

“I went into CODE hoping to get resources and information that could help me be more sensitive and inclusive when speaking and writing about social issues, but I got so much more than that,” says Emily. “I also realized that with my own disability and the stories youth have shared with me in the time I’ve spent speaking in schools since 2013, I did have something to bring to the table.”

As the weekly two-hour training sessions passed and she took part in sessions on human rights, immigration, poverty, children’s rights, restorative justice, allyship and the rights of persons with disabilities, Emily uncovered a new passion for immigration and policing issues. And that discovery has changed her plans for the future.

“Now I’m looking at a career in immigration law,” she says. “There are so many positive changes to be made in the world, and I want to be part of them.”

There are so many positive changes to be made in the world, and I want to be part of them.
—Emily Vilcsak

That is exactly how Irfan Chaudhry, director of the Office of Human Rights, Diversity and Equity, was hoping students would feel after completing CODE. The goal, he says, is to help students gain a better appreciation and understanding of human rights – both in theory and action, and empower them to be champions and advocates for diversity and equity both inside and outside the university.

“We have already seen our first group of CODErs shine,” says Irfan. “Students are volunteering with community-based organizations, some are going on to become MacEwan ambassadors and one even ran for – and won – a Students’ Association of MacEwan University (SAMU) leadership position.”

Now, a second group of volunteers is set to join the CODE ranks. Throughout the Winter semester, 15 students will take part in weekly sessions developed in collaboration with the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights. The students are also committed to volunteering 20 to 30 hours each semester alongside past CODE volunteers, offering presentations, organizing awareness events, leading peer dialogue sessions and supporting community outreach initiatives.

Emily, for example, took the lead on activities tied to the International Day of Persons with Disabilities in early December, including a panel discussion on how to create more accessible and inclusive spaces.

“I tell anyone I come into contact with who is remotely interested in social issues about CODE,” she says. “I couldn’t have imagined the difference it would make in my life.”

The Office of Human Rights, Diversity and Equity will begin accepting applications for the January 2021 CODE training this March. For more information, students can reach out to the office at any time.



How CODE changed my life

“I had to get out of my comfort zone, make friends, volunteer and get experience. That was what was going to lead me to my next step.”


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