Awad Ibrahim is building capacity for EDI through courageous conversations

Equity, diversity and inclusion
Student life
Awad Ibrahim
Awad Ibrahim, Vice-Provost, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusive Excellence, Holder of the Air Canada Professorship on Anti-Racism, Faculty of Education.
At a time when universities are working to ensure the success and wellbeing of increasingly diverse populations, Awad Ibrahim is an unyielding champion of “courageous conversations” to establish equity, diversity and inclusion as meaningful priorities across uOttawa campuses.

The new vice-provost, equity, diversity, and inclusive excellence, says the urgency of his mandate is drawn from the students he meets on campus each day. 

“The students are calling us out on it. The students are the ones demanding this work,” says Ibrahim, who began his term in the summer of 2023.  

All universities are grappling with the divisiveness in society playing out on their campuses, including strong emotions triggered by conflicts abroad, as well as the imperative to include Indigenous culture and knowledge in teaching and research.  

“Until now, in education, we’ve talked about creating safe spaces. But in EDI and anti-racism, safety can mean we simply aren’t going to talk about difficult topics. So, we need to move from safety to courage. From safe spaces to courageous spaces. From safe conversations to courageous conversations.” 

Empowering community members and finding ways to remove systemic barriers

Rather than backing down from difficult or unfamiliar topics, Ibrahim is focused on creating more opportunities to empower University community members in conversations that aren’t always comfortable.  

This includes bringing people together to find ways to remove the systemic barriers on campus. Next month, Ibrahim will welcome vice-deans of equity, diversity and inclusion to a University-wide retreat to discuss the challenges they faced in their faculties and the best practices that are making a difference. 

Focused on lasting systemic change, Ibrahim is building his mandate from the ground up, beginning with a consultation process across the entire University community. 

The presence of French and English on campus offers distinct, complementary pathways to address diversity and inclusion issues, Ibrahim says. It’s important to consider the distinctive ways that race, and related topics like culture and ethnicity, are talked about in each language. 

“uOttawa is so particular in the sense of the bilingual nature, the issues that are brought thanks to this bilingual nature, the history of this place itself,” said Ibrahim. “We don’t speak of race in the same ways in French as we do in English.”  

The global perspective that Ibrahim brings to this work grew out of an academic journey that has spanned continents and disciplines. Raised by a hardworking mother in Sudan, he studied French and psychology at the University of Khartoum before moving to Canada as a young adult refugee to pursue cultural and curriculum studies. Ibrahim developed a nuanced understanding of cultures. His personal encounters with racism, combined with active roles in progressive movements in both Sudan and France, honed his resolve to fight racism and promote inclusion. 

Creating a more equitable, diverse and inclusive campus together

Ibrahim will continue to connect with people widely to inform his approaches, but maintains that success will be driven by data and evidence. He aims to move away from ad-hoc solutions to ensure that anti-racism and EDI perspectives become an unavoidable element of how learning and business are conducted here. He says it’s helpful to think of EDI as a lens through which to see one’s surroundings, one that helps us to map a path forward.  

Although Ibrahim believes the work he’s undertaking can’t be accomplished by one person or without widespread buy-in, he’s certain that his knowledge and experience have equipped him to meet the challenge. 

“It is a calling more than a job, but I feel I have the vision, the language and the know-how, but above all, I have a moral obligation,” say Ibrahim. “I am feeling the urgency of the moment. This moment is historic.” Ibrahim invites the uOttawa community to join him in his vision and approach to become a more equitable, diverse and inclusive campus.