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Access Connections Day: A Q&A with Professor Ann Lopez

March 24, 2021

By Perry King

SEE U of T is one of over 100 access programs the university has designed to lessen barriers for students from under-represented groups. It is designed to bring students from two TDSB schools to the university for a semester-long course and experiential learning activities (photos by Geoffrey Vendeville)

Today, the University of Toronto is putting access programming front and centre with its annual Access Connections Day conference.

The second annual event, titled “Creating Connections, Improving Access,” features interactive panel discussions with students, staff, alumni and community members, and the opportunity to connect with colleagues working in access across the University of Toronto’s three campuses. Guests include Professor Cheryl Regehr, U of T’s Vice-President & Provost, OISE community members and Dr. Monday Gala, a principal at the Toronto District School Board.

OISE News spoke with Dr. Ann Lopez, an Associate Professor, Teaching Stream in OISE’s department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education, about this critical conference and the importance of access programming.

As U of T’s Provostial Advisor for Access Programs, Lopez is a member of the tri-campus team that coordinated this event.

Why hold a day of speakers to discuss access programming and creating access at all?

The idea of Access Connections Day is to create a space where people involved in access programming can share ideas, reflect, celebrate and build community. This includes people across the University of Toronto, community partners, school boards and other organizations who are supporting students.


How might OISE benefit from an access program?

Access is grounded in the notion that the University of Toronto is committed to creating possibilities for students who are currently underrepresented at the university to see it as a place where they can belong and thrive. Access is also envisioned on a continuum, which means reaching back to elementary students if necessary to create a pathway towards graduate education.

As a graduate faculty, OISE can begin to look at who is missing in its various programs — for example, its teacher education programs —  and think about how access initiatives  might support the program in increasing diversity among teacher candidates and the teaching profession. OISE might have to reach back not only to undergraduate programs, but also secondary and elementary schools. As Provostial Advisor I look forward to supporting OISE in these efforts.


What is the key to improving access programming anywhere, let alone at U of T and OISE?

The key is looking at who is missing in spaces, and asking difficult questions like why and what are the systemic institutional barriers, and begin to think practically and intentionally about how to change that. Programs that have done very well have been very intentional in naming and identifying the issue and planning access initiatives to address. Access initiatives require resources and I am happy to share that the Provost has allocated $1 million dollars in institutional support for access initiatives at U of T.


How can we measure the success of access programming at the University?

This is an important question. I think it can be done in a variety of ways, including talking to students who went through access programs, as well as staff, faculty and community members.  Measuring the success of access programming is one of the institutional supports that will be offered through new access initiatives being discussed at U of T, and the data that is generated will be used to support existing programs, and the development of new ones. There are currently over 100 access and outreach programs at the University of Toronto.


What are you most looking forward to on Access Connections Day?

I am looking forward to connecting with folks from different faculties across all three campuses, community members, and hearing from past and current students. I am also looking forward to the various workshops and being exposed to new ideas for understanding how else we can better serve students who have been historically underrepresented at the U of T.

Ann Lopez thanks the members of the Access Day Planning Committee as well as Kimberley Tull, Project Manager for Access and Chair of the Access Connnections Day Conference, and Nancy Bakker, Project Assistant for Access Programs.


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