Alberta professor Darren Lund remembered as ‘human rights champion’ by friends, colleagues

Friends and colleagues are remembering an Alberta professor who helped develop the province’s first gay-straight alliance and advocated for human rights throughout his career.

Darren Lund, a professor at the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education, died Nov. 10. He was 60 years old.

Longtime educator Michael Gretton described his friend and colleague of more than 30 years as a “human rights champion” to CBC News.

“[Lund] had tremendous influence in our city, in our province, in our country with regards to education and human rights and anti-racism and gender inclusion,” Gretton, who had recently nominated Lund for the Order of Canada, said.

“I think he really moved the needle. He’s been a champion in all of these areas.”

Provincial NDP Leader Rachel Notley tweeted about his passing. “Alberta is a better place for him,” she wrote in part.

A champion and a catalyst

Lund was homegrown in Calgary, Gretton said. He went to Forest Lawn High School, and his father was a police officer.

When they met, Lund was a teacher at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School in Red Deer, where he had formed an award-winning student activist program, Students and Teachers Opposing Prejudice.

“He really cared deeply about his students, and so he invited them to really be involved with him in basically creating safe space in school,” Gretton said.

“And really promoted a culture of inclusion and understanding and respect of our differences.”

Darren Lund, left, and Michael Gretton, right. (Submitted by Michael Gretton)

In the early 2000s, Lund was approached by his students to start Alberta’s first-ever gay-straight alliance that would “take off like wildfire” in more recent years, Gretton said.

It embodied the way he remembers his friend: as a champion for human rights and a catalyst for change.

“There’s a real ripple effect in what he did,” Gretton said.

Out of principle

Lund joined the U of C in 2002, where his research focused, in part, on social justice education and activism, and professional education for equity.

He served on committees that promoted anti-racism, equity and diversity, and others aiming to prevent sexual harassment and violence.

In 2021, he would land a coveted seat on the Calgary Police Service’s first-ever anti-racism action committee.

“He spoke up with courage when it wasn’t popular to talk about these things. So, you know, I think Darren did all of this out of principle,” Gretton said.

And Lund’s friend and U of C colleague Michael Embaie, who is also the president of the African Community Association of Calgary, said that in regards to anti-racism, Lund was an activist.

“I think the causes that he was fighting for, and the causes that I have been fighting for many years, are more or less the same,” Embaie said.

A formidable ally

As a white man, Lund was not personally impacted by racism, Embaie said. But he believed in, and acted upon, his princples.

“I think losing him was part of losing a little bit of the fight, you know, at least for me, especially in anti-racism. He was a formidable ally,” Embaie said.

During his career, Lund published many articles and books about social justice. In October, he was awarded the Werkland Equity, Diversity and Inclusion award.

The shoes he leaves behind will be difficult to fill, Embaie said.

“I have some friends like him, but nothing more than him,” he said. “These people don’t come easily.”

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