VIU Campus

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Vancouver Island University serves a diverse community of learners, supporting a total student population of over 13,000, which includes more than 2000  international students and over 1,500 Indigenous students.  More than half of these students are of ‘non-traditional university age’, that is, they are over 25 years of age.  In addition to these cultural, experience and age differences, our students come to us with a wide variety of talents and abilities.  A complicating factor is that no individual person is easily categorized into a single group.  Individual people may self-identify in one or more of these groups. 

Having such a diverse population of students has important implications for the way we structure learning, and for the way we interact with our students, whether face to face or online. 

Designing your course for equity goes a long way to help all students learn. When we speak of ‘designing for equity’, we mean finding ways to give all students the same chances to succeed, even if that means creating special access for students who otherwise would not have the same chance to succeed. Treating all students equally or identically (as opposed to equitably) gives some students a better chance to succeed than others. The focus should be on the intended learning outcomes of your course: students may be able to achieve them in a variety of ways.  By understanding our students and focusing on learning outcomes and equity, we can make learning more successful for all students.

The following paragraphs about various groups should be understood as an attempt to present general information about these identities, rather than describing the reality of any individual student.

Indigenous Students

Situated on the traditional territory of the Coast Salish peoples, VIU is fortunate to host a large number of Indigenous students. Indigenous students make up over 10% of our students and are thus a significant population to think about when creating your courses.  

Teaching practices that provide strong learning for Indigenous students include those that increase 

  • Student well-being 

  • Self-confidence 

  • A sense of community and belonging

  • Competence in academic pursuits

  • Personal development 

  • A sense of identity, including connection to values and pride in their heritage

All students come to us with varied backgrounds and experiences, including potentially traumatic ones.  Indigenous students come with a particular history and experience of western education that may affect their perception and relationship with university learning. No single teaching strategy will address this complex history, but intentional efforts to design your course to address the elements listed above will create a context for successful learning. 

Indigenous students prosper when they see that a faculty member is actively including them. At its simplest, this can be initiated by incorporating Indigenous protocols and Indigenous materials into class, not as an add-on but as integral to the way you conduct class. Inviting Elders to the class is also a powerful way to signal that Indigenous students belong here. 

For information on how to maximize Indigenous student success, VIU has a number of supports for faculty, including Elders, and opportunities for one on one consultations with CIEL staff.  

Inviting Elders

Our Elders are one of our most valuable resources. They provide counseling, support, and guidance to all students at VIU, and they are also available for visits to your class to discuss Indigenous protocol and to foster cross-cultural sharing.  You will often hear the students referring to the Elders as "Auntie" or “Uncle”, which is a sign of both affection and respect. Vancouver Island University Elders are active in a variety of areas encompassing direct student support, class-room instruction, and teaching traditional protocols to both faculty and students.

When planning to include an Elder in your class, please work with the staff in the Office of Indigenous Education and Engagement unless you are already working with an Elder.  Elders are open to being contacted directly, but if you have any further questions or you need assistance connecting with them, please feel free to contact Aboriginal Education and Engagement.

To learn more about that office, please visit the Office of Indigenous Education and Engagement website. 

Map of Vancouver Island Indigenous Nations

International Students

International students compose 11% of VIU’s students and come to VIU from over a dozen countries across the world. They bring with them a great variety of cultural backgrounds, perspectives on education and aspirations for learning at VIU. Many of them are working in their second, third or even fourth language when they tackle your courses in English.

Educational contexts and expectations for students in our international students’ home countries may be different from those in your classroom. We often expect students to bring specific skills into our classroom, such as knowing how to quote and cite sources, understanding reflective writing, and feeling comfortable speaking their opinion, even when it is different than that of their peers or instructor. International students may come from cultures that value different ways of knowing and of demonstrating their learning. All students, no matter where they completed their previous education, can benefit from clear communication of your expectations and opportunities for formative practice. It also benfits all the students in your course if you can find ways to acknowledge and celebrate the different ways of knowing that students bring to your class. You might achieve this through creative assignment and in-class activity design that allow students to demonstrate their own culturally diverse ways of knowing and doing.

In 2023, one of VIU's international students, Becky Duarte, shared her experience as a first year student coming to Nanaimo. You can read her post 5 things that surprised be about Vancouver Island University on the VIU blog.

VIU’s Faculty of International Education and the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning (CIEL) collaborated some years ago to capture valuable insights from International students on their experience at VIU. We interviewed four international VIU students from China, France and Kenya asking them to reflect on the differences in education they found at VIU as compared to their home, positive experiences they have had, challenges they’ve faced and how instructors can help international students excel. We are pleased to be able to share the results with you!

Open What Helps Me Learn playlist in a new window

Students with Disabilities

The issue of treating students equitably rather than equally is particularly important when we are talking about students with disabilities. In many cases, students with disabilities can reach or exceed your intended course learning outcomes, but they may not be able to do so under the conditions that other students can. 

An example: 

A student with a reading disability is just as intelligent as other students and might even out-perform the other students in your class if given the chance.   But when taking a timed test, this student’s disability makes it impossible to perform as well as others, even if the student knows all of the content and understands how to apply it properly.  A timed test in this case does not measure knowledge or understanding--it measures reading speed and the student’s levels of anxiety and fear.  

Giving more (or even unlimited!!) time for a test leads to all students being able to show what they have actually learned, not their ability for reading quickly. 

Giving more time may require a redesign of the test and the expectations of students.  Similarly, online tests require redesign: the test becomes a ‘take-home’ test where students have access to their study materials.  This, in turn, means you can ask the harder ‘application’ type questions where students need to solve problems they have not seen before, rather than just knowledge level questions. With the lack of time restraints, all students have the same opportunity to show off their learning. 

There are many different types of abilities and challenges for learning, and this is just one example of a suitable response. VIU has an excellent resource for students and for faculty: Accessibility Services.  Staff in this office work with both students and faculty to ensure that all students have the same chances at learning and that legally required accommodations are offered to students with disabilities. 

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning is an excellent way to address the broad diversity of students you will surely find in your class. What is Universal Design? Here’s the clearest definition:

Universal Design is the design of products and environments that are usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.
- Ron Mace, The Center for Universal Design NC State University

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) applies this principal to education with the goals of ensuring every learning environment is designed to allow as many students as possible to succeed. UDL's goal is to create a flexible learning environment that provides students with multiple means of engaging with course materials and multiple means of expressing their learning. These UDL guidelines from CAST provide a useful framework for understanding how you can implement UDL in your course.

UDL reminds us that, no matter how clear we believe our course design is, we may have unwittingly built in unintended challenges that leave students with differing backgrounds or abilities out and impede their success. Your course design, your face-to-face in-class practices, and the way you use the online tools you use can help make your classroom accessible and usable by all your students. The Accessible Syllabus is a rich resource that provides guidelines to help you create an equitable classroom through policy design, language choice, text presentation, and purposeful use of images.

Why We Need Universal Design

Michael Nesmith's 2017 Ted Talk "Why We Need Universal Design"

Additional Resources