Dal science's first equity and inclusion dean looks to change status quo

·3 min read
Kevin Hewitt is the faculty of science's first associate dean of equity and inclusion. He said he is focused on bringing Dalhousie's many reports and recommendations on diversity into reality. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC - image credit)
Kevin Hewitt is the faculty of science's first associate dean of equity and inclusion. He said he is focused on bringing Dalhousie's many reports and recommendations on diversity into reality. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC - image credit)

Dalhousie University's first associate dean of equity and inclusion for the faculty of science wants to turn the department's diversity goals into action.

Kevin Hewitt has been at the university for over 20 years in the department of physics and atmospheric science, and more recently as a Dal senate chair.

He said there have been many reports and recommendations around diversity and inclusion in the sciences at the university. But he says implementation is missing.

"There are a lot of allies in the university and the department, many people who want to do something but are unsure exactly what to do," Hewitt said. "So I hope to provide those resources so that they can actualize their goals."

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

Hewitt grew up in Saint Vincent and was always interested in science.

He excelled in school, but when he immigrated to Canada, he was put back a grade. In university, he had to work multiple part-time jobs, sometimes falling asleep in his classes.

Despite these barriers, he made it through his biology degree and continued into graduate school in physics at Simon Fraser University, where he earned his PhD. One of his main goals in his new role is to improve the student experience for everyone.

"I didn't see myself reflected in the curriculum, I didn't see myself reflected on the walls of the academy," said Hewitt. "And to overcome that isolation, you need to create opportunities for students like yourself to get together."

Ruth Riley recently graduated from Dalhousie with an undergraduate degree in biology. She said Hewitt mentored her and helped her feel more comfortable in the department.

Decades after Hewitt was an undergraduate, Riley agreed that she didn't see herself reflected in the field either.

"I was able to get that mentorship, but not everyone gets that same experience that I did," Riley said. "So, I really hope that Dal will really focus on getting more mentors out there, getting more support for Black students, that they can see themselves and know that they can do science."

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

She said she is confident that Hewitt will make a difference in the department.

"I feel that this is a good step forward that we can improve on making it more inclusive for everybody," she said, noting that could be particularly true for Black students from the region.

Hewitt also supervises PhD students, like Hao Guo. Guo did his undergraduate degree in China, where he grew up.

He said he was nervous about being welcomed in a new country when he arrived in Canada.

He arrived a few days early, but he soon realized that all the hotels in Halifax were full.

"If nobody helped me, I [would] have to sleep on the streets," said Guo. "But Dr. Hewitt and the department of physics helped me to find a place."

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

Guo said Hewitt has mentored him over the years and taught him more about inclusiveness — not only directly, but also by example.

"He has spent a lot of time in this community on educating students and informing people on his insight and his understanding on developing a better university or community of diversity and inclusiveness," said Guo. "I don't think there is anyone else who has done more."

Hewitt does have a history of promoting diversity in science. He started the Imhotep Legacy Academy that encourages Nova Scotian youth of African descent to become involved in STEM.

As the new associate dean, he wants to update and improve the curriculum, continue outreach to youth, and address the university and the field's colonial past.

He said there's a mountain of work ahead of him. More than anything, he wants to focus on the students.

"I hope we can create an environment where they feel welcome, plain and simple; that they have an opportunity to express themselves, their whole selves at the university."

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