A lifelong learner, Jennifer S. Simpson is mindful of one lesson that has never failed her: you need both intellect and emotion to lead change. Starting July 1 as Ryerson’s provost and vice-president, academic, Simpson joins a community that mirrors her passion for equity, diversity and inclusion, and urges students to follow their hearts to make a difference.
You’ve said that your whole career has led you to Ryerson. What do you mean?
There’s a really strong overlap with who I am, what I care about, my expertise and Ryerson’s priorities and values. I entered higher education because I’m interested in creating more equity, so there’s a shared passion, capacity and vision with the university.
What difference does a university education make?
University gave me a way to hold on to my heart. I found people who care about the same issues as me, who were asking the same questions, so it helps you figure out how to connect the future you want to the world.
In what ways can universities make justice and democracy real to students?
I like to ask students what the “good life” means to them. They often say having a secure job or a nice house, but when we unpack that, they realize they want meaningful work and relationships that matter. That’s what justice and democracy are: a world where everyone matters … and we’re relying on their meaningful contributions to achieve that.
Did you have a professor or teacher who stands out?
An undergrad professor showed me the role power plays in how people live, and I left his class with a totally different viewpoint. I also had wonderful champions in grad school who helped me see that my ideas matter; that what I have to offer is precious. That was such a gift.
What one piece of advice would you pass on to a new Ryerson graduate?
Hold on to what you care about and turn it into meaningful work. You have something to offer that’s unique, so find support and don’t give up. Also, learn to be okay with who you are and what you bring to the table. Trust your passions, your questions and your quirks!
What’s the best advice you received as a student?
While in grad school, I witnessed a racist incident with a friend and deeply regretted not speaking up. I talked to my doctoral supervisor, Toinette Eugene, about it and she responded, “racism is not a theory.” Change requires us to show up for what we care about; we can’t just think about things. As a leader who’s interested in equity, I carry that advice with me.
What’s one thing you’d like the Ryerson community to know about you?
I was a student with big dreams and I still dream big today. I want to make a difference in the world, so you can count on me to bring my head and my heart to this role.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Favourite movie? I'm very excited about the anthology film series Small Axe by Steve McQueen.
Fiction or nonfiction? Fiction for fun.
New pandemic hobby? I’ve been cutting my own hair for a year!