Doing This Work With Care: What I Learned in Class Today Renewed Project Panel Discussion

On March 8, CTLT’s Indigenous Initiatives department welcomed the UBC community to a virtual screening and panel discussion of the Faculty Perspectives film created by the What I Learned in Class Today: Educational Experiences and Institutional Responses Renewed Project.

Student, staff, and faculty representatives on Indigenous engagement joined the event’s moderator, Dr. Dory Nason, Associate Professor of Teaching within the Institute of Critical Indigenous Studies and the Social Justice Institute, in dialogue about deepening the University’s commitment to Indigenous wellbeing within and beyond the classroom. 

Panelists shared their insight on questions around problematic classroom encounters; the role of non-Indigenous people and those new to Indigenous engagement in furthering UBC’s uptake of the 2020 Indigenous Strategic Plan (ISP); and the importance of relationality in guiding initiatives of change. From these responses arose a central theme of doing this work with care, of weaving ethics of reciprocity, responsibility, and heart-centered work from the classroom up to the highest reaches of administration. 

Deepening Your Understanding Starts Here

The first question was around recommendations for UBC community members seeking to deepen their understanding of Indigenous realities and begin implementing calls to action from the 2020 ISP. Adina Williams, the Community Liaison at the Indigenous Research Support Initiative (IRSI) and a past team member of the WILICT Renewed Project shared that individuals must first “be present on the land:” participate in local events, learn the history of Indigenous-settler relations at UBC, and begin thinking about how policy applies to the Indigenous hosts upon whose land you’re on. 

Dr. Tricia Logan, the Head of Research and Engagement at the Residential School History & Dialogue Centre, also emphasized the importance of reading key documents such as the 2020 ISP, the Calls for Justice from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ Inquiry, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Call to Actions. She encourages everyone to “acknowledge that you carry your own expertise in your own experiences,” and by locating these experiences within policy, individuals can begin to take action. 

Classroom Climate and Structural Support

The second question explored the potential of mandatory courses, resources for faculty seeking to integrate Indigenous content into their courses, and existing support systems for Indigenous students in the classroom. Patricia Barkaskas, Associate Professor of Teaching and Academic Director at the Indigenous Community Legal Clinic at the Peter A. Allard School of Law, suggested that support for Indigenous students, faculty, and staff on campus “needs to come from an administrative level.” Indigenous faculty must have a solid financial foundation to implement their course objectives, and departments have a responsibility to share resources with all faculty in supporting Indigenous students. 

Dr. Paige Raibmon, a professor in the History Department, reminded non-Indigenous faculty that engaging with Indigenous topics in the classroom is not as simple “as inserting new content into an existing structure.” Instructors are encouraged to weave Indigenous perspectives and ways of knowing into the entirety of the course and to consider the tone of their classroom environment, especially as it pertains to Indigenous students.

Knowledge Gaps and Unsafe Classrooms

The next three questions addressed unsafe classroom conversations, the effects of knowledge gaps on Indigenous topics, and changes to the campus climate since the original 2007 WILICT project debuted. Both Professor Barkaskas and Dr. Raibmon emphasized the instructor’s responsibility in cultivating an anti-oppressive learning environment which requires instructors to respond immediately to problematic comments. Professor Barkaskas quoted Dr. Nason’s interview from the Faculty Perspectives film about guidelines for respectful classroom engagement: “you can disagree but you can’t cause harm.” Dr. Raibmon explained that problematic questions from non-Indigenous students “often … come from a place of unknowing rather than hostility, yet they can still be deeply racist.”

Laura Beaudry, the Indigenous Councillor on the student union, the AMS, and a second-year Law Student at Peter A. Allard School of Law, connected these harmful comments stating that a lack of curriculum regarding Indigenous people’s history, diversity and current experiences leads to knowledge gaps that are especially highlighted in the university setting. All students need to be given the tools to speak out against racism because it is often “Indigenous students [who] have to bear the burden of educating others and protecting themselves.” Education is key in resisting the tokenization and disproportionate burden of educational labour placed upon Indigenous students in the classroom.

What does it mean to do this work with care?

The concluding questions were about the importance of administrative initiatives and what it means to do this work with care. University-wide documents like the ISP encourage us to recognize, as Dr. Raibmon explains, that “changing the culture of the University as a whole… enriches everybody in relationship with each other.” Dr. Tricia Logan and Adina Williams reminded listeners of the years of advocacy from Indigenous students, staff, faculty and community members whose calls for change are grounded in a community-oriented and relational mentality. This approach resulted in the creation of the 2009 Aboriginal Strategic Plan, the precursor for the recent 2020 ISP. 

Williams explained that it is critical to include local Indigenous community perspectives within course curricula as well as throughout administrative policies. As Dr. Logan shared, though “academia is full of unkindnesses in administrative and interpersonal ways,” relationship building and collaboration are integral to dismantling systemic barriers. Though this “work is uncomfortable,” as Williams noted, “it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be happening.” This sentiment aligns with a common theme that arose throughout the event regarding the affective element of Indigenous engagement which, as Professor Barkaskas suggested, requires us to “be willing to be vulnerable and make mistakes.” Panelists concluded the event with a call for more heart-centered work that values relationality, slowing down, and a willingness to both listen and to learn.

Resources for Further Learning:

What I Learned In Class Today Project Resources: