New Smith School of Business dean talks collaborations & the importance of having difficult conversations

The Journal sits down with Dean Wanda Costen

Wanda Costen discusses changes to broaden opportunities for students at Smith.
Credit: 
Supplied by Wanda Costen

“I view post-secondary education as the provider of talent.”

Wanda Costen, the new dean for the Smith School of Business, sat down for an interview with The Journal in August. Costen will be serving a five-year term which began on Jul. 1.

“One of the reasons why I came to the academy is to show the opportunity and growth and what could be possible for people who look like me, a woman of color.”

Costen discussed how she will incorporate her experiences and her visions to further equity, diversity, and inclusion at Smith.

“My vision for the school is to basically enhance what we’ve been doing, which is to broaden the opportunities that are available for raw talent,” she said.

Costen shed light on Smith’s efforts amidst questions brought forth by Stolen by Smith’s Instagram page.

“It’s about how we work to create an environment where everyone can bring all of who they are to campus,” she said.

“Some of the [initiatives] we already did long before I arrived, and I applaud the faculty, staff, and students, are working together to create that EDII [equity, diversity, inclusion, and Indigeneity] action plan for Smith, because it shows commitment and dedication, and an awareness first, that we’re not where we need to be in a commitment to put together something that will hold ourselves accountable.”

Costen specifically referred to Smith’s teaching-learning working group as part of this work.

“We created a teaching-learning working group that had discussion with students about their experiences in the classroom.”

Costen said the group provided insights to the ways the program can work with faculty.

“We listened to them and asked what experiences they’re having in the classroom so we can work with our faculty and educate them on the experiences folks are having,” she said.

In addition, faculty and staff were given workshops on power, privilege, and bias to “engage better and more authentically” with the student body.

“People will ask all kinds of questions and not realize that’s actually a form of microaggression, so how do we also give our faculty and staff the tools they need to engage better and more authentically with our student body,” she said.

Costen added that sometimes such experiences with microaggression stem from a “lack of awareness.”

While faculties care deeply for students, it’s also important to acknowledge when mistakes are made, Costen said.

“We don’t want to be labeled something we’re not, we need to understand how to have these difficult conversations.”

On top of making acknowledgements and having difficult conversations, Costen further stressed the importance of incorporating different perspectives into teachings.

“I’m a huge advocate for academic freedom. I think faculty should have the right to teach and to gather materials to impart knowledge with our students as a collaboration,” she said.

“However, we’re equally responsible for not just showing [our own views] of the world, but the array of different viewpoints that might be countered to mine so that our students understand there’s not just this theoretical perspective.”

Different perspectives can add value to both Smith and Queen’s, Costen added.

Aside from incorporating more EDII initiatives, Costen also talked about the need for “interdisciplinary scholarship collaboration across disciplines,” and increasing collaboration with other Queen’s faculties.

“It’s really the opportunity to deeply share the contributions of Smith, and partner with other faculties to leverage and enhance the impact—I think we could be far more successful together than separate.”

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