Respectfully Collaborating with Indigenous Students on Events: Lessons Learned from a CTLT Classroom Climate Series Session 

Written by Ashley Welsh and Hannah Coderre, with support from Frances Butterfield and Jessica Schuab 

This blog highlights the main takeaways from the November 2022 Classroom Climate Series session and provides suggestions to support the teaching and learning community who are interested in collaborating and planning events with Indigenous students.  


With increased interest in the implementation of the Indigenous Strategic Plan and Indigenous Initiatives taking place across campus, Indigenous students are being overwhelmingly asked to share their experiences more widely, on top of their own studies and community commitments. On one hand, yes, it is important to make space for Indigenous students to share their experiences so we can create better classroom and campus experiences. On the other hand, however, it is in the process of planning that can make a difference in engaging with Indigenous students on events.  

This blog highlights the main takeaways from the November 2022 Classroom Climate Series session and provides suggestions to support the teaching and learning community who are interested in collaborating and planning events with Indigenous students. This session was held in collaboration with Indigenous students and served as an impetus for us to reflect upon how we create positive environments that enable and support Indigenous student participation and partnership.  

II Classroom Climate Session with Indigenous STEM Students and Skylight 

Classroom Climate Series is a monthly session hosted by the Indigenous Initiatives Team within the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT). The sessions support the teaching and learning community with the development of skills, resources, and capacity around Indigenous engagement and navigating socially contentious issues in the classroom.  

Frances Butterfield (BSc Combined Majors Student) and Ashley Welsh (Skylight, Science Centre for Learning & Teaching) were invited by the II team to facilitate a session about their recently co-developed resource, How Do I Get Started? Creating Safer Learning Environments for Indigenous Students in STEM. The resource responds to commonly asked questions relating to decolonization and Indigenization in STEM higher education and is written in a conversational tone that centres Indigenous student experiences and supporting resources. To highlight the diversity of student experiences within STEM in the workshop, we invited three Indigenous students, Jessica Schaub (PhD student in Oceanography), Wylee Fitz-Gerald (MSc student in Oceanography), and Oceania Kreutzer (BSc student in Applied Biology) from UBC Science and Land and Food Systems to co-facilitate. 

Within the session, the students shared personal experiences and information on some of the projects that they are leading to enrich community among Indigenous students at UBC and to further educate non-Indigenous faculty, staff, and students within their research and educational networks. They spoke to the need for faculty, staff, and other students:  

  • To be willing to learn more about Indigenous histories, culture, and experiences;  
  • To be humble and respectful as they navigate this work; 
  • To not tokenize or overburden Indigenous students’ experiences and knowledge; and  
  • To allow and make space for the students to engage in Indigenous-focused work, advocacy, and research.  

Throughout the session, and especially at its closing, the attendees sent a waterfall of appreciation and thanks to the students for their generous and authentic sharing of their experiences.   

How to Avoid Overburdening Indigenous Students  

As staff, we recognize that Indigenous student contributions to the planning and facilitation of  workshops is asking for additional labour on top of their studies and other commitments. We were mindful of how we could reduce this labour, while centering the needs of Indigenous students in the planning process. Along the way, we learned some lessons and wanted to share key takeaways that might be helpful for members of the teaching and learning community seeking to plan events with Indigenous students. The following suggestions are not exhaustive but intended as a starting place for further consideration. 

  • Think about inviting and including multiple Indigenous Student perspectives. Each student we worked with acknowledged they do not “speak for all” Indigenous students. This is also acknowledged in the Resource, How Do I Get Started? Creating Safer Learning Environments for Indigenous Students in STEM. 
  • Celebrating this work is significant. Consider the discussion and include space for having students share and celebrate the great work they are doing in their studies.  
  • Reaching out to Indigenous students with an ask for participating: Consider that not all Indigenous students want to share their experiences and respect when a student says “No” or that they do not have capacity. If you do not receive a response from the student, a reasonable follow-up can be helpful; however, it is also important to take the lead of the student. In reaching out to students for their participation, be upfront about what you are looking for, what funding or honorarium is available, and the time commitment involved.  
  • Deeply consider how students are being recognized for their participation. Do you have funding available for gifting and/or honorariums? In addition, if the student is working on a project with you, consider if/how you can allot paid work hours for their time preparing and/or participation in the event. Understand that students need to be paid for any additional work.  
  • Distribute responsibilities by having staff take on the labour of organizing the event, creating the basic slides/template, supporting the facilitation, and being flexible with timelines. 
  • Given that Indigenous student representation is low in some Faculties and within UBC, you must be mindful of not overburdening or be mindful when re-asking the same student. For example, making it feel okay for the student to say no, as you understand they are being called upon a lot. 
  • Protecting the safety of Indigenous Students. It is important to consider the audience that you are placing Indigenous students in front of and be upfront in your ask about who will be in the space. Event organizers must acknowledge students’ bravery, willingness, and vulnerability in sharing their experiences on a systemically harmful campus. For example, their instructors, supervisors, and peers could be in the space that has contributed to classroom harm. Consider creating community guidelines and asking students how they would like to participate and respond to questions. Consider having the participants share questions beforehand or offer alternative ways of answering questions so all the students can prepare or work together to answer them.   

Resources for Further Learning  

This blog post serves as a starting place for thinking about organizing or hosting events with Indigenous students. The learning is on-going. Below are some recommended resources for further learning: