The Rights Stuff

by Deirdre Kelly

photography by jeff kirk

Michael Charles (LLB ’94) knows what it is like to be on the outside looking in.

“I have the perspective of someone who is not from a dominant culture,” says the graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School. “My experiences as a first-generation Canadian of Caribbean descent – and as a gay man – have informed my passion and curiosity about what an inclusive society might look like.”

Fostering a sense of belonging has been high on his agenda since returning to York University to head up the Centre for Human Rights in the fall of 2016.

Under his watch the renamed Centre for Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion (REI), has adopted an expanded mandate that Charles says better reflects the University’s enhanced commitment to social justice.

“The idea is to look not just at compliance and prevention under the Ontario Human Rights Code,” explains Charles, who beforehand ran a successful private legal practice and, later, a management consultancy specializing in diversity and inclusion, “but at how we, at an institutional level, are able to operationalize our mission-critical values within our academic priorities. It’s a proactive approach.”

To ensure everyone at York is on board, Charles and his 11-member team recently spearheaded a new initiative aimed at strengthening the University’s commitment to human rights, inclusion and diversity on campus.

Launched last October and accessible through REI’s landing page, the Inclusion Video Project is intended to use community member experiences to explore and evaluate inclusion-related performance at the University.

Supporting the initiative are participatory workshops and pan-university events like Inclusion Day, presented in collaboration with the Centre for Aboriginal Student Services, Osgoode Hall Law School and the Lassonde School of Engineering, held this year on Jan. 25.

“Each one of us has an important role to play to make sure that our differences and commonalities are brought to bear in the process of making our campuses more creative,” Charles says.  “I’m just doing my share to make sure we have the resources to make it happen.”

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