Interview with EDI + Belonging Task Force Member Dr. Muhammad Owais Aziz

Change Agent Profile: Dr. Muhammad Owais Aziz

Dr. Muhammad Owais Aziz (he/him) is Professor of Health Sciences at St. Lawrence College, Cornwall.

Tell us about your background and interest in equity, inclusion, and belonging.

I have the experience of living in multiple countries and I have friends and family spread around the globe, I truly believe that all humans are the same, and no one should have superiority over others. I always take a stand and advocate for my patients and students. Now I feel compelled to bring a positive change on the campus as I believe that the environment we create in the campus will impact society as a whole. I see this as an opportunity to become voice of my students and colleagues in bringing a positive change at SLC.

I love to share that I am a Muslim, and we will be celebrating our month of Ramadhan starting from mid of April to mid of May according to the lunar calendar. During this month, healthy Muslims around the globe will fast from Dawn to Dusk. Ramadhan helps in developing empathy towards the less blessed people. So, according to UNHCR during Ramadhan around 200 Billion to 1 Trillion dollars of donations from the Muslim community circulate globally. Additionally, Muslims worship late in night and have to wake up early for starting the fast, which can really deprive them of sleep. So, we may observe a decline in attendance and performance of Muslim students, and they may miss 5-10 minutes of class to attend the prayers.

Why did you join the EDI + Belonging Task Force?

A few years back, I moved to Cornwall, Ontario and we have decided to raise our children in this town. One of the reasons for choosing Cornwall is that the city of Cornwall is a unique land where within a diameter of 50 km people belonging to multiple civilizations are residing. So, I want to build bridges between them and choose my leadership motto as "breaking the silos and building the bridges". This is the motto which led me to join the task force.

What are some key initiatives that you want your colleagues to be aware of?

I am a part of the research analysis working group and we have been analyzing the various data sets from our initiatives in January and February such as the Census and the Courageous Conversation focus groups. There are many teams which are working on different chunks of data, and it has been an eye-opening experience to see and learn about the different experiences of members of the SLC community. Please continue to follow the EDI website for more updates.

What is the role of the SLC community when it comes to fostering Belonging at SLC?

To foster Belonging at SLC, I believe that everyone has to play their role. Honestly, I am observing the positive change in the culture of SLC. People are making intentional decisions to discuss difficult topics. Students are coming together, people are listening to each other, people are less fearful to disclose their identities. Additionally, the engagement and adaptation of college leadership is phenomenal, which makes me believe that the recommendations will speed up this positive change.

Ultimately, this is well aligned with the College’s strategic goals and indicators of success. When our campus community feels like they belong, their engagement will increase. Simultaneously, it will ensure the success of all students and will give an opportunity to underrepresented groups to feel “more seen” without fear of being stereotyped. It is our shared responsibility to reduce the overt and systemic barriers in our community.

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge how the Cornwall campus leadership team has made me feel a strong sense of belonging, especially in recognizing my religious commitments. I was fearful to share these aspects of my identity, but the response was very positive and understanding. I want to share my experience so that everyone should feel comfortable and open in disclosing their religious accommodation needs with their supervisor or professors! Ramadhan Mubarak!

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