Spotlight on EDI: Waseda University

A woman with short hair and glasses smiles into the camera

On a recent visit to Waseda University, the U21 team learned of the groundbreaking EDI initiatives spearheaded by President Aiji Tanaka. We invited Kate Elwood, Dean of International Affairs and a professor in the School of Commerce, to write the following piece on the initiatives undertaken by Waseda to enhance equity, diversity and inclusiveness in their university community.

Prior to becoming President, Professor Tanaka began serving as the Director of the Global Education Center at Waseda in 2014. He repeatedly proposed adding a statement of non-discrimination in employment to announcements of job openings. Told that such a statement was unnecessary, he nevertheless persisted, finally gaining success the same year: Waseda University is committed to enhancing diversity and inclusion. In all matters related to faculty recruitment and promotion, the University prohibits any form of discrimination on the basis of sex, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, creed, and age.

Later in 2017, under Professor Tanaka’s guidance, Waseda University’s Promotion of Diversity Declaration was announced. Here is one section, which is often excerpted and further added to faculty recruitment announcements: Waseda University also aims to create an environment in which all members of the University are respected for their dignity and diverse values and lifestyles, and can fully develop their individuality and abilities, by providing various support services such as those for female researchers, childcare, nursing care, etc. Many Japanese universities still do not include such statements, certainly none so robust.

A group of Waseda Student holding multicoloured balloons and signs for LGBTQ+ ally week

In March 2015, during the term of President Kaoru Kamata, President Tanaka’s predecessor, a student group called Diversity Waseda proposed at the Waseda Vision 150 Student Competition the creation of the first LGBT Student Center in Japan. This proposal won the President’s Award. In April 2017, the Gender and Sexuality Center (GS Center) was established as a safe space/resource center under the Student Diversity Center. As President, Professor Tanaka has continued to promote the development of LGBTQ policies, including the reform of several personnel policies to make them applicable to the partners of faculty and staff in similar circumstances to that of marriage regardless of their gender. Any personnel policies that concern spouses of faculty or staff will similarly apply to partners.

Efforts such as this led Waseda to be awarded “gold recognition” in 2022 and 2023 from “work with Pride,” an NPO started in 2012 by Human Rights Watch, IBM Japan, and another NGO. Although 705 organizations received gold recognition in 2023, Waseda University shares this honor with only one other Japanese university. Just one more university has received “silver recognition”.

Since becoming President in 2018, President Tanaka has further greatly boosted participation in Waseda leadership among both women and non-Japanese. For example, Professor Gaye Rowley, an Australian, serves as the Director of the Waseda University Library, one of the largest libraries in Japan, with about 5.5 million volumes. Until Professor Rowley’s appointment in 2020, only Japanese men had served in this position since 1882.

In Japan, the academic year begins in April. At this year’s entrance ceremony, President Tanaka commented to the new students: At Waseda, anyone can find her/his own place to be comfortable. In other words, Waseda has a tradition of accepting the diversity of students. Members of the Waseda community accept anyone from anywhere and respect each other. 

A warm acknowledgement to Professor Kate Elwood for highlighting the critical role of Presidents in leading and supporting change in their institutions, and especially the national leadership in EDI demonstrated by Waseda.


Amber Bartlett