EDI Champions and Allies Series: A Conversation with Dr. Tal Jarus

Meet a UBC faculty who is creating an impact

EDI champions and Allies Series: A Conversation with Dr. Tal Jarus

In this edition of the EDI champions and Allies, meet with Dr. Tal Jarus, Chair of the Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy Department’s Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee (JEDI)

Dr. Tal Jarus was born and raised in Israel where she established a career as an Occupational Therapist and Professorat Tel Aviv University. She immigrated to Canada in 2006. In the past 12 years, Dr. Jarus has focused on justice within the health professions, specially advocating for diversifying the health professions and mitigating barriers for students who identify as belonging to equity-denied groups when navigating the learning and working environment.

What motivates you to engage in JEDI work?

“When I came out of the closet, having first-hand experience of being marginalized impacted me significantly. It was shocking to realize that before coming out of the closet, a lot of these injustices were not clear to me. I wasn’t even aware of my privileges until some of my privileges were taken away. I did not know what it was to feel marginalized.”Dr. Jarus mentions that the lived experience with discrimination opened her eyes to the many ways in which systemic oppression harms people, “when I see that someone’s rights are being denied, I cannot ignore it; I must take action.So, with those realizations, I became very engaged in justice work. Interestingly, my social activism never infiltrated my professional work up until 15 years ago, while I was in a leadership role and realized the systemic inequities in higher education.”

What are the challenges to JEDI work?

Some of the most significant barriers to this work are systemic issues. “The way our educational and practice systems are structured benefit mostly white able-bodied males […] there is a ‘normal’ way of doing things, the ‘right’ way to study, the ‘right’ way of sharing knowledge” says Dr. Jarus. Attitudes, structures of power and biases within the system are major roadblocks for JEDI work. As long as we continue to have dominant Eurocentric perspectives in leadership, the status quo will remain, and the needed change will be minimal and/or slow. Inspired by the need to address these inequities, Dr. Jarus began to plan and implement initiatives with the goal of creating inclusive and accessible health professions educational programs. Her work in the past few years focused on three areas: 1) increasing accessibility in the health professions, 2) exploring how to decolonize the health professions, and 3) increasing the reach to equity-denied youth who are interested in health professions as a career. 

  1. Inclusive and accessible health professions educational programs

When Dr. Jarus started working at UBC as a department head, she noticed that although the number of disabled students has increased in the classroom, adequate accommodations were not established in order to provide accessible spaces for the students to thrive. Dr Jarus notes that “Occupational Therapy is the profession where you accommodate people and you advocate for inclusive society.” It was in that moment that she realized there was a gap between thediscourse and the reality. “It is not enough to focus on diversifying the health professions. We cannot put people there just to face bias and ableism because we would be setting them up to fail […] we need to walk the talk.”

Dr. Jarus shared how these realizations created some tension and emotional heaviness. “What are we doing?” was a prevalent question accompanied by feelings of frustration because as, at that time, the head of the Occupational Therapy department, it was imperative for her to lead change.  Since then, Dr. Jarus is leading local and national studies exploring the barriers to the participation of disabled students in the health professions, and developing innovative solutions and strategies to increase accessibility and sense of belonging. One innovative aspect of those projects is how the team disseminate their findings, using theatre.

Research Based Theater (RbT) – Alone in the Ring

“There was a study conducted in which we interviewed disabled students. As I was reading the interviews and quotes, it was heart breaking. I thought: I have to find an avenue to share these stories in a way that reaches both the heart and the brain. In order to create a change, if you do it from an entire theoretical perspective, it will not work.”

In 2018, Dr. Jarus partnered up with the Faculty of Education to implement a methodology that translates research to real life experiences through theater. It is a mode of inquiry and knowledge mobilization that seeks to raise awareness and inspire audiences to be agents of cultural transformation. Dr. Jarus says, “I was amazed and struck by howimpactful it was. We performed in front of thousands of people and the number of testimonials was impressive.”

Recently the team received the 2022 D2L Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning for their Ring: Innovation in Pedagogy, from the Society of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

To learn more, visit the Inclusive Campus – Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy website, RbT to promote social Change: Alone in the Ring

  1. Decolonizing and indigenizing the health professions educational programs

Dr. Jarus states “When I first moved to Canada, I was not aware of colonization in Canada- I left my country because I did not want to be part of the ongoing occupation, and I had no idea I moved to a colonized country.” She says that educating herself about the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada has taken her years because “you do not get information in an organized way. You get bits and pieces.”

Dr. Jarus observed that there are very few Indigenous students in the OT program and this prompted her to start working on a strategy to change this situation.

Indigenous Student Perspectives

At the first phase of this project, In 2019, Dr. Jarus spearheaded sharing circles with Indigenous students from the health and human service programs at UBC. Those circles fostered safe spaces for Indigenous students in the Health Professions to share their stories and experiences in our learning environments The results from those sharing circles were published in this article – “Barriers and Facilitators for Indigenous Students and Staff in Health and human services educational programs.”

In 2021, Dr. Jarus together with Indigenous and settler faculty and staff created spaces to hold sharing circles under the leadership of an Elder Advisory. These sharing circles fostered culturally safe spaces for Indigenous Peoples and settlers in the Health Professions to learn together and plan actions around decolonizing and Indigenizing the health and human service professions’ educational programs. Dr. Jarus says “Change needs to come from within the programand this includes non-Indigenous people of course.” The circles of learning and change were a cohort-based program with Indigenous and non-Indigenous faculty, students and staff. The objective is to foster meaningful dialogue and reflection on topics such as decolonization of the Health professions, language & history, inclusive recruitment processes, decolonization of curriculum, the most effective ways for community engagement, and the need to acknowledge and uphold other ways of knowing.

Dr. Jarus mentions that when meeting with the Elders to share with them the impact of the Circles of Learning and Change, an important instruction from the Elders was, “We want to hear the story, do not show us the graph. Tell us how people feel.” This resulted in an animated infographic video that was created together with the Elders to outlining the major learnings from these conversations, the barriers to the work, and the vision for the future in a visual way. 

Through our conversation with Dr. Jarus, it is clear that it is necessary to bring heart to this work and foster spaces for honest and vulnerable conversations where stories can be shared, heard and held in respect. It is the act of actively and deeply listening what will ultimately help us moving forward in the effort to transform our culture.

To find details and materials from this initiative visit, Latest Circles Event Resources

  • Communities of Practice

Dr. Jarus advised that the Circles of Learning and Change were enriching spaces that allowed people to learn a lot about themselves, but also revealed that we are just at a tipping point of the work that needs to be done. People felt that this was not enough and they want to see more of these conversations occurring on campus. Therefore, a Community of Practice (CoP) was initiated to allow the conversations. 

All members of the two Circles of Learning and Change cohorts joined the CoP, which was developed with the objective of giving continuity to opportunities for conversation and experience sharing. In the CoP, members exchange learnings about ongoing initiatives related to decolonizing and Indigenizing the HHS programs and provide feedback to each other. The group meets on a monthly basis and each program (e.g. nursing, pharmacy, social work, occupation therapy, etc.) is charged with facilitating one meeting. Elders always join these meetings as they are central to this work.

  1. Increasing the reach to equity-denied youth who are interested in health professions as a career– the 2022UBC Health Profession Summer Program

Dr. Jarus notes that in order to transform the healthcare system for all, it is imperative that “people in Health professions need to be representative of the population we serve. We need to have more individuals with the diverse backgrounds and lived experiences from equity-denied groups in the health professions. In order to accomplish this, we should be reaching out to potential learners while they are youths.”

To this end, 4 health programs at UBC (OSOT, PT, Dentistry and Pharmacy) held the first 2022 UBC Health Profession Summer Program – now called D’HoPE –Diversifying Health Profession Educationwhich hosted equity-denied youth from high schools and undergrad programs for one week. The students attended presentations on the different programs available in the health professions, admission processes, equity and the importance of diversity. In the fall the program continues via group and individual mentorship program.

Dr. Jarus stresses the importance of holding these sessions given that many equity-denied youth do not view these professions as options.

How can we move forward?

“I think we have to find a way to reach out to people. Getting people to hear the stories might be helpful but this is not where we end.” Dr. Jarus notes that it is crucial to have people reflect on their own privileges with a concomitant effort to hear the stories of other individuals. RbT or sharing circles can help open the hearts but we also need to keep people engaged. Creating and strengthening JEDI action networks is crucial.

It is also important to acknowledge that some people may not understand the necessity of this work; therefore, one must find an avenue to reach out to them in a way that is constructive and conducive to change. “You want to raise your concerns in a way that people can hear them.” Says Dr. Jarus. “We need strong leaders who recognize their privilege and are committed and firm in trickling down a culture of change.” Promoting justice and enacting change require ongoing commitment and readiness to experiences uncomfortable situations – “it is a marathon, not a sprint.”

What is your vision?

That the health professions education and practice go through a radical systemic change – to start with, that thehealth professions become rightly so diversified and accessible and that there will be a strong sense of belonging for people coming from equity-denied groups.” The hope is that the Health Professions will not only reflect the society we serve, but will be truly accountable for being engaged in social activism. The talk needs to be walked.