Saturday, April 10, 2021

Princeton Award for Dr Toni De Mello

 In recognition of the many contributions of the late Edward P. “Buddy” Bullard, III. Awarded annually to Princeton's School of Public and International Affairs alumnus who works professionally with communities of colour and who serves as a mentor to current students of colour at Princeton SPIA. 

Bullard Award Recipient 2021

Toni de Mello (MPA '08)Dr Tanya (Toni) De Mello (MPA-URP '08)

(Toni's family were originally from Dar es Salaam)

With a background that includes finance, management consulting, public policy, urban and regional planning and law, Dr Tanya (who we call "Toni") De Mello has spent much of her career researching and addressing equity, diversity and inclusion with a focus on bias in the workplace. She is a human rights lawyer who has worked on issues of discrimination, harassment and sexual violence for the last decade. Through her extensive research, work and advocacy, Toni has become a leading expert in equity and inclusion in Canada.

Toni holds two Bachelors Degrees of Economics and Political Science from the University of Waterloo; a joint master’s degree in Public Affairs and Urban and Regional Planning (MPA-URP) from Princeton University; and a dual law degree from McGill University. She holds a Master of Education in Counselling and Psychotherapy from the University of Toronto. In July 2020, Toni completed her Phd in Social Justice Education at the University of Toronto, where she researched bias in the hiring of racialized people with a focus on Black candidates. 

Currently, Toni  is the Assistant Dean of Students at Canada’s newest law school, the  Lincoln Alexander School of Law at Ryerson University. The Lincoln Alexander School of Law is built on four pillars – a commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion; increasing access to justice; stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship; and providing sound academics with innovation pedagogy.  In Toni’s role as Assistant Dean of Students, she is responsible for Admissions, Careers and Student Experience and is leading the law school’s charge to create lawyers that work for the public interest and are committed to increasing access to justice. 

Toni’s focus on equity, diversity and inclusion is tangibly evident in the school's admission offer and acceptance data. Law schools in Canada and the United States are notorious for being elite and exclusive institutions with few racialized students relative to the talent pool available. Compared to other law schools in Canada, Ryerson’s Faculty of Law has among the highest number of racialized students, Black students and Indigenous students per capita in the first-year class and also boasts a high number of students that identify as woman, LGBTQ2SI+, people with disabilities and mature students, among others. 

Toni has also set up a scholarship at Ryerson for Black and Indigenous students to have greater access to studying law and has currently raised close to $100,000 for it. In her leadership position, she has hired and manages a team of 20 people, 80% of which are racialized, Black or Indigenous.

In addition to her work in the law school, Toni also teaches a course about global issues that focuses on inequality, poverty and climate change at Ryerson University.

Prior to Toni’s current position, she served as the Director of Human Rights at Ryerson University and she has also worked in human rights at the University of Toronto. In 2019, she was awarded Ryerson University's President's Blue and Gold Award, which is the highest honour for employees, for her work in human rights.  

As a consultant, Toni  works with major multinational corporations, government branches and non-profit organizations to improve hiring and retention practices of equity deserving groups, with a focus on increasing the representation of racialized people. In addition, she is an executive coach and works one-on-one with senior leaders ranging from vice-presidents to directors to deans to increase inclusive leadership in all sectors. She has worked with over 1500 organizations and businesses in the last 20 years. She is also the President of the Canadian Association for the Prevention of Discrimination and Harassment in Higher Education. 
 
Toni is deeply committed to working for access to justice and in human rights. In 2018, she was nominated by a national organization for the MAX Gala (Muslim Award for Excellence) as a Friend of the Community. This nomination was made by the Muslim-Canadian community to recognize the work of non-Muslims who are devoted to being allies and advancing the rights and representation of Muslim people in Canada. Although she did not win, the nomination, coming from the Muslim-Canadian community, meant more to her than the award.

In 2015, Toni ran for federal office in Canada in the area in which she grew up. She ran on a platform that fought for universal day care, affordable pharmacare, raising minimum wages and supporting public education and the universal health system. She lost (badly!) but it remains the hardest and most important thing she has done in Canada. She never even thought about running for office before then Dean Anne Marie Slaughter brought Toni into her office in the fall of 2005 and told her she had to run for Prime Minister in Canada or for a position in the United States. Toni thought it was outlandish at the time but now knows that was the first seed planted. 
 
Toni became interested in public service through grassroots volunteering. She grew up working in shelters and emergency relief. She has worked with the United Way, Habitat for Humanity and started a volunteer arm while at Princeton to engage graduate students to work in community service in neighbouring Trenton while at Princeton. In addition to founding two NGOs, Toni has served in the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the World Food Programme in Geneva (Switzerland), Senegal (West Africa) and Columbia (South America). Today, she focusses her energies outside of work on local projects; as a trained psychotherapist, Toni volunteers at a programme that offers low-cost therapy for community members. 

At Princeton, Toni led two major service trips. The first engaged members of her first year class to travel to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to work in emergency relief with local community organizations. The second engaged members of her class  to go to Pakistan after the earthquake in 2005 to work in Kashmir, the area hardest hit. For both of these initiatives, and other work, she was awarded Princeton's International Service Award in 2006.
 
In addition to these major service trips, during her second year at Princeton, Toni initiated and led a trip where 25 undergraduate students campaigned for the various US primary election campaigns in 2008. Students worked in New Hampshire for a month on various campaigns and she worked for Barack Obama’s campaign. After completing this initiative, Toni continued her work for Barack Obama through several state-level primaries for the remainder of 2008 while finishing her degrees at Princeton.
   
Toni has been an avid supporter of SAOC and of racialized students on our campus. She has only missed two SAOC reunions since 2005 - one because she was working for the UN in Senegal and another because she was running for office in Canada. She has been active in speaking and helping with the organization of SAOC, mentoring current students and alums and working with Princeton to create sessions, conferences and panels that speak to issues of injustice, racism and other forms of systemic and institutional violence.

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