The Interview USA
Trent University
Director of Equity, Inclusion and Human Rights

Rona Jualla von Oudenhoven

As the landscape of higher education evolves, the need for equitable access and outcomes has become a key imperative. Rona Jualla van Oudenhoven, Director of Equity & Human Rights at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, is a driving force behind her institution’s commitment to social justice and equitable outcomes.

Rona sat down with Max Webber, Co-Host of The Interview, to share her insights on encouraging respectful dialogue across divides, striving to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels valued, and using a rights-based approach to equity. 

Rona's Journey

Max: Let’s start with a brief introduction to yourself and your institution…

I’m the Director of Equity, Inclusion and Human Rights at Trent University. I started this position in September 2023. I've operated as an EDI practitioner in many institutions, and I have a background as a sociologist and an author.

Max: What inspired you to pursue a career in higher education?

My main goal is to promote equitable outcomes – I've always been driven by a keen sense of social justice. As a young kid growing up in the Caribbean, I was exposed to inequities and an education system highly based on privilege. Very early, I realized that the system was not equal for everyone. That affected me and inspired me to become a teacher and carry out some research on teacher training. As a sociologist, I’m used to looking at society and how it operates under systemic inequities and power dynamics. So it was a natural transition to EDI, because at its heart the work is about dismantling power structures and creating a more inclusive society for everyone.

Max: What’s your approach to creating an inclusive environment for everyone, regardless of their background?

For me, the key is realizing that we all are unique and different. That’s especially important if, like us, you have a large international cohort of students or domestic students from diverse backgrounds. When we talk about EDI, it’s crucial to recognize that we all embody an element of diversity. So we need to make that message resonate with students, so that our campus is not only seen as a place for one group. We want them to see that they all bring a lot of things to the table, no matter their background. EDI isn’t just about gender or racial equity, but about making things better for everyone at the table. So I think that helps a lot in the narrative of giving everyone a voice.

Max: What’s the key to getting your messages across about what kind of behaviors are needed to create an inclusive environment?

Our EDI and Human Rights Office operates from a rights-based approach, and I think once that’s your operating baseline, you can't go wrong. We use the Ontario Human Rights Code to help us define what we mean by marginalized groups and equitable access. At some point, all of us operate from a point of power and privilege, depending on our social setting and identity. When you work to create a level playing field, you can help people understand that we are all entitled to certain rights and privileges. For example, if you have certain disabilities in the classroom, and you require certain accommodations, then it’s the institution’s responsibility to deliver them. We’ve really found our balance by using this rights-based approach.

Max: How can we encourage students to engage in respectful dialogue across divides? 

It's quite difficult. We don't shy away from difficult conversations, and I encourage students to have their voice and use their platform. But I think you have to also encourage respectful, humble inquiry, as well as respectful listening. When you enter a debate, you need to define the rules of engagement together; that helps you to disagree. You need to give others the opportunity to speak and understand that you may not be able to change everyone's minds otherwise. If everyone thought the same, we’d all be worse off. But before you engage, reflect and think, “Am I intentionally saying this to cause harm?”

If those are your intentions, then it’s probably best to remove yourself from the debate. We understand that during these conversations, some people might feel triggered or distressed, so we make sure to share the resources where they can find support. 

Max: Students have a lot of demands on their time. How do you encourage them to get involved with these kinds of initiatives?

You need to have realistic expectations. For example, if we’re having a conversation about something like white privilege, you can’t expect or demand that everybody know what it's like to walk in another's shoes. People without a disability cannot know what it feels like to live with a disability. But through sharing different perspectives, we can encourage people to behave with empathy and consider the lived experience of others. It’s unrealistic to think that we will all want to take on the mandate of understanding these different perspectives, so you just push to reach as many students as possible.

Max: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received in your career?

My partner once told me that you can’t move the ship on your own, but can can nudge the wheel to help it change direction. My personal advice to others would be that you can’t go wrong when you operate from a point of integrity. In the end, you can't please everyone all the time. But you have to be comfortable within yourself that you are coming from a point of integrity and respect. 

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Max Webber
Max works closely with people leaders and change-makers in our professional services markets. If you're looking to feature on The Interview, or simply want to learn more about GoodCourse, then get in touch at

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