It is more important than ever to work together to foster a sense of belonging and community, and to have the utmost respect for diversity, says Indira Naidoo-Harris, University of Guelph’s AVP, diversity and human rights (DHR).

To help in that effort, her office has put together a handbook aimed at maintaining a focus on equity, diversity and inclusion during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guide, entitled Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Handbook for Individuals and Organizations During COVID-19, is for all those working to be good neighbours, friends and colleagues to those in our community needing a voice or assistance during crisis, Naidoo-Harris said.

“Our diversity is our strength and that diversity will play a powerful role as we search for solutions in the difficult days ahead,” she added.

The handbook is a response to the ongoing challenges for the University and wider community during the COVID-19 pandemic and is part of U of G’s ongoing commitment to create an equitable, inclusive and accepting learning and working environment, she said.

The handbook includes important tips for reducing stigma, fostering allies and ensuring inclusive leadership. It offers guidance on how to cope with and support those who are dealing with mental health difficulties, disabilities, or sexual or domestic violence during heightened isolation. The handbook is available on the DHR website.

“The crisis has forced people to physically distance and isolate,” she said. “It is vital that we ensure that everyone is included as we move forward under these unprecedented circumstances.”

The handbook reminds readers to think of community members who are disadvantaged or who may become a target of stigma. It champions kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity in our dealings with others, especially those who may already feel marginalized in society.

Women in red jacket along stone wall
U of G AVP (diversity and human rights) Indira Naidoo-Harris

The booklet warns that stigma and discrimination can occur when people associate COVID-19 with a specific group, ethnic community or nationality. Discrimination may take the form of racism or xenophobia. Stigmatized groups may be subjected to hurtful and harmful comments, differential treatment in social services like health care or even physical violence.

“Treating each other with respect and fairness is always the path forward to building a stronger community,” Naidoo-Harris said. “Equity, diversity and inclusion is about making sure that we treat everyone in our community with respect.”

During crisis, people tend to turn inward, focusing on themselves and their immediate needs, she said. They may neglect to think about how to treat others who may be feeling particularly vulnerable.

“This crisis shines a spotlight on how important and valuable strong human relationships are to our well-being, as individuals and as a society,” said Naidoo-Harris, a former Ontario member of Parliament and cabinet minister, and an award-winning journalist. “It allows us to pause and reflect on how we’re all in this together no matter who we are or where we come from. We need each other.”

Naidoo-Harris said she believes this pandemic will be a defining moment for humanity’s future. “Everyone must have a voice if we are to find solutions and ways to support each other during this demanding time,” she said.

Other tips from the handbook:

  • Remember to be sensitive, patient and empathic as you make important decisions. Broaden your perspective by seeking out advice and resources to understand the unique needs of our diverse community.
  • As we solve the unique challenges presented by COVID-19, include diverse voices. To arrive at the “right” answer, we require diversity in thought, experience and professional expertise.
  • Reject racism, sexism, xenophobia and all hateful or intolerant speech, in all dealings.