Category Archives: social justice

“S0, Why Are You Here?”

As I prepare for an exciting new semester, I also prepare for an exciting new leadership role with UR S.T.A.R.S. A group dedicated to anti-racist/oppressive education; a group of inspiring, influential, and incredible colleagues and faculty members from the University of Regina. As I began introducing myself to the Executive Director role I will share with Cassandra Hepworth, I was asked about my journey here: How did you end up here? Why did you end up here?

I believe Indigenous peoples of Canada should not have to mentally prepare how to act around Caucasians; I believe we should be able to share smiles, handshakes, and equal education and career opportunities. I believe all individuals should be able to apply to any educational opportunity-there should be no exceptions made to the individuals with autism. I believe the stigma surrounding mental health needs to be removed; no one deserves to be labeled “crazy” or “pathetic” because they are fighting an invisible illness. I believe new Canadians should be welcomed with open arms, and not expected to meet the arbitrary “Canadian” list of values defined by the same government who maintain “The Indian Act.

It is the work UR S.T.A.R.S. does for these oppressed groups in society that drew me to join and work, and now lead, alongside great colleagues to provide resources, professional development opportunities ,and open panel discussions to make these topics less awkward and to influence others to provide anti-racist/oppressive education.

My obvious passion for education, an inclusive learning environment and society provided a strong foundation to my path. As my awareness of our history and relationships with First Nations peoples increased, so did my interest in learning and working to share this important information- sharing these truths to work towards reconciliation. The wise words “once you see it, you can’t un-see it” stuck with me, and I believe this is information and learning that must be seen.

Furthermore, as a friend it is an important component of my relationships. I do this work as the work of a friend. I work towards reconciliation and and inclusive society with the constant thought of my friends who, with their ancestors, have fought for this for hundreds of years; my friend whose transgendered child was terrified to share who he really is; my friends and family who refuse to be labeled “crazy” so they silently deal with anxiety and depression.

There is a strong personal element behind every step I take; these personal relationships continue to push me through the roughest terrain on the journey. While I know my steps are small, and I will be wrong and make mistakes, “if it is worth doing badly, it’s worth doing.” If our message positively affects one person out of 1000, that is one more person taking our message to 1000 others.

There will no doubt be difficult days with resistance and frustrations; it is in these moments we must remember to continue to learn. I look forward to building and forming many new relationships, as well as sharing many opportunities to learn and grow with Cassandra, the UR S.T.A.R.S. team, and each and every one of you!

 

 


Tapped Out: When Social Media Isn’t Enough

Today, I logged into my Facebook to see more about the Black Lives Matter movement alongside the news of another fatal shooting. Someone had also shared Dr. Marc Spooner’s post that comments on John Gormley’s “Gormley: Tapping-Out on the culture activism”. I wholeheartedly agree with what Dr. Marc Spooner has to say and, as an educator in the same program from which he teaches, I can understand his frustration towards those who ‘check-out’ yet, I struggle with this and I think that we all do to some degree as is the nature of privilege and social justice – no one can do it all. But I think that sometimes ‘tapping out’ of posting articles and publicly criticizing the long and ever growing list of complaints isn’t a bad thing.

I am relatively new to the large and expanding field of social justice and while I don’t condone Gormley’s article or his writing without educating himself first, to a degree, I can understand the pull to ‘check out’. It seems that we hear these stories everyday and for the past few days we have. We check the news to see another missing or murdered indigenous woman, another mass shooting or video surfacing depicting an office of the law using excessive force (or firearm) against a person of colour. It’s become almost predictable and I, for one, have tapped out in a way.  It’s no longer shocking to see these stories. Gormley discusses how society has changed to favour the culture of activism especially through media. His opinion is that there have been 5 changes: society has come to favour the individual instead of community, increase in entitlement and grievances, a newfound “cult of attention and publicity” and a lack of care for behaviour deterrence such as the feeling of shame. Of course, this is Gormley’s opinion but it seems that for him, the culture of activism is based mostly around media and what others think. By Gormley’s definition of “whose well-publicized hurt feelings, grievances and complaints should become your problem” and “cacophony of attention-seeking grievance collectors”, it seems that all activism takes place in a very public way but this is not the case. Gormley seems to be describing how he is ‘tapped out’ of the same stories over and over and the repetition of similar stories blasting through our feeds. It seems that Gormley is solely focussed on media and slacktivism so by his definition, I too have tapped out.

I’ve stopped sharing the news articles and while I almost feel guilty for not sharing every terrorism attack (not just the ones that are more publicized because they are western, first world countries), at this point, if I shared every injustice that came across whatever platform I’m indulging in at the time, that would be all I have time for. Gormley makes reference to Johnny Oleksinski’s article “I’m a millennial and my generation sucks” and while he, himself, is putting millennial into a box that has been created by his experiences and the media, I disagree entirely. I am a millennial and I fully believe that due to the way that anyone can create media these days (especially millennials), the things that may have been swept under the rug in previous generations are not being tolerated. While I try not to ignore this self-made media there are too many things being posted everyday that matter for me to post. I’ll admit it’s easy to just repost after reading only the title of an article and assuming it’s contents and still feel that I’ve done my good deed for the day. It’s easy but it’s not okay. As with anyone interested in social justice, I have to choose what I spend my time and energy on. That’s not to say that I don’t care just because I don’t post about it. While Gormley’s article is extremely harmful, where he contradicts himself is in his conclusion stating, “It’s not that we don’t care. We do. Or that we don’t judge. We most certainly do. We just go about our lives in a public silence and indifference that is often confused with tolerance. In short, many of us have had enough of the culture of activism. We’ve simply tapped out”. As Gormley laments the coddled nature of our society today, he misunderstands that silence and indifference IS tolerance but there is a difference between media silence and doing the work and just not posting about it.

I can understand how someone so engaged in the media can dismiss these issues especially on a social platform and I know as a white person how extremely forceful the pull is to just let it happen around us. I can also understand how wrong this is. I agree with Gormley solely in the fact that I don’t appreciate slacktivism as much as I once did. I know that it can be effective in many cases (another blog post for another time), however, many of these issues also require personal conversations. Sometimes social media is the platform for that and other times reposting just isn’t enough. As a white person I need to be asking “what can I do to make this better?” This is not a place where my voice should be heard and in many senses this is where the reposting does help by fuelling the voices of those who need to be heard. Gormley says that we have had enough of the culture of activism, but we have only just begun. My facebook wall may not show that I partake in the ‘culture of activism’ but maybe it doesn’t have to. The culture of activism shouldn’t be just online. My job right now is to go to First Nations ceremonies and volunteer my time and energy so someone else doesn’t have to always do the grunt work. My job is to go listen to the stories of elders and allow them to speak. I should be educating myself before I will my opinion on the world through my social media instead of blindly reposting articles. As an educator, I should ensure that my students learn the value of critical thinking so that they can deconstruct opinion pieces such as Gormley’s. I may not be publicizing my activism through social media, but quietly, It’s still happening and maybe we do need to put in the work instead of being glorified for posting the right articles.

These two articles include ways to support social justice movements both on and off of the internet:

“17 ways you can work for social justice” by Nina Flores published by Yes! Magazine

“8 ways to meaningfully support social justice movements” by Savonne Anderson published by Mashable


Why we cannot stay silent: performing online to build networks of solidarity

Digital Sleuthing and Context Collapse

In my ECMP 355 class, we recently engaged in a digital sleuthing activity, where we were put into groups and challenged to find out and record as much information as we could about an individual in about 7 minutes. This activity launched discussion around the importance of having a strong, positive digital identity in today’s world. This article even suggests that digital profiles, including professional Twitter, YouTube, and blog accounts, will soon replace the paper resumé.

Naturally, after digital sleuthing Alan Levine, I felt compelled to Google myself and check out my digital identity these days. When I did, I was pleasantly surprised (and slightly uncomfortable) with the results. Everything that came up on Google’s first page was actually about me. It came up with my portfolio, my Twitter account, pictures of me, my profile on the Regina Cougars Athletics site, my Storify account, an article about Katia and I presenting at an education conference in London, my YouTube channel, and my Pinterest account.

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What freaked me out a little more was looking through the images associated with my name: 6 pictures of my face; a bowl of the delicious honey lemon chicken I pinned on Pinterest last week; pictures from #TreatyEdCamp; STARS Regina logos; and pictures of my friends, classmates, and profs.

Google knows me very well… (and therefore, anyone with Internet access potentially knows me that well). It creates an interesting and strange dynamic. I can no longer control who knows what about me (context collapse); I can only control what is out there for people to know about me.  

Performing Online (and IRL)

I like to refer to “what is out there for people to know about me” as how I perform online. To me, ‘performance’ means mean the way I choose to portray myself in certain online spaces (ie. the topics I deem important enough to tweet/write about, how I choose to respond or not respond to controversial articles, whether or not I share that picture of the super healthy salmon, quinoa, and broccoli dinner I had last night, etc).   

I like to use the word ‘perform’ for a couple of reasons:

  1. It felt a bit like acting when I first started sharing on social media. I was unsure of myself, I was overthinking my hashtag use, and I was constantly wondering what others would think about what I was sharing. However, I sneakily pretended I knew what I was doing over and over again until I actually felt like I knew what I was doing. 
  2. I’m taken to the Butler/Foucault idea of performativity – that everything is performance, that we are constantly enacting particular discourses, and that identity is fluid rather than fixed.
  3. I think performance is a constructive starting point (and sometimes the only possible starting point), as I describe in this blog post and Arthur Chu describes in this critique of #NotYourShield.

Performing as Anti-Oppressive Educator

I perform the role of anti-oppressive educator online in many ways:

I include #starsregina, #socialjustice, #treatyed in my Twitter bio, and I identify my location as Treaty 4 Land.

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I tweet about social justice issues.

I write (not often enough) about privilege, racism, sexism, and mental health.

Why engage with these difficult topics in online spaces?

  1. Because they are important. Plain and simple.

It can be terrifying to share about these topics, as Kendra describes in her beautiful post, The Untold Story; however, silence often means complicity in the dominant narrative.

Audre Lorde challenged others on their silence in an incredible speech she gave way back in 1977:

“What are the words you do not have yet? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?

She also warned against staying silent due to fear:

“For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.”

And finally, she emphasizes that speaking out bridges differences:

“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.”

You should probably just go read the whole thing. It’s amazing.

  1.  Because sharing and bridging differences in this way builds powerful networks.

We talk all the time about the importance of building a PLN and how these connections provide us with invaluable resources and relationships, but it’s even more than that. Our networks help sustain us when we feel we are falling short, when we lose ourselves in fear and drift back toward silence.

As Sherri Spelic eloquently describes in this post:

Pooled with other folks’ resources, the radical can grow, the imagination nurtured, a collective power set free. Precisely when I am feeling small, deflated or unheard, when I am asking myself that critical question: “Who am I to do this work?”, this is when I have to see that I do not and need not walk alone.”

So I will continue to perform in real life and online, aiming to maintain and strengthen my positive digital identity. When sharing, I aspire to overcome my fears, reject my silences, and respect my need for language, definition, and discussion around important, sometimes discomforting topics. In doing this, I hope to build a network that will support, encourage, and challenge me, but most of all, remind me that I’m not alone.

Has your PLN ever helped you through challenging times or times when you felt isolated? Has your network ever encouraged you to break your silence on an important issue?  Comment below – I’d love to read your thoughts on this!


Social Justice and Halloween

Social justice chat of appropriate Halloween costumes that are culturally responsible has become a bigger topic but something that I hadn’t considered, before reading a status on Facebook from the group To Write Love On Her Arms, was that blood and gore can be very difficult in this Halloween season as well. For many people it’s how they last saw their loved one or how they see themselves everyday. Blood isn’t nearly as funny when it’s personal, traumatizing or self inflicted. If today is hard for you, just know that you are not alone. Help is possible and healing is real. Be wary of other people’s stories. Have a safe, happy  and socially responsible Halloween!


My Tallest Mountain

As with many assigned readings, I was not very excited to read “The Problem of Common Sense” (Kumashiro. (2009). Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice pp. XXIX – XLI), but when I actually got into it I found the story and comparison to Nepal very interesting. Towards the end of the reading, I even wanted to go out and buy the book for myself because this is something that I struggle with in my daily and education life. I got into teaching to “help” people, just like the speaker in the Nepal story at the beginning. I found a niche in social justice education. After taking ECS110, I became very interested in the idea of unequal footing and how that has been downplayed in my education up until the point of university. I now value university for its critique of social systems that I didn’t think to even take a closer look at because I now realize that as a white middle-class woman, I was valued and not oppressed. I was protected by the system in many ways (we can unpack the oppression of women another time – for my purposes here I was a very sheltered child of the system).

Kumashiro unpacks the term “common sense” as often being traditional practices or ideals. This is done through comparing the U.S. School system to a school experience in Nepal through the narrative of a volunteer whose teaching methods do not confine to the U.S. common sense way of teaching and knowing. The students even encourage this teacher to teach as the Nepali teachers do: through lecture-practice-exams. It becomes clear to this teacher that the U.S. method is a huge influence on the rest of the world. The Nepali teaching method mimics that of the U.S. method of years previous and that this teacher was brought in to update the teaching style. It becomes apparent that the U.S. way is the “common sense” ideal of teaching and education and neglects to take into consideration many other cultures. The introduction to this book goes on to talk about how systems (like the education system) often are formed on the “common sense” opinion of certain (and often privileged) groups which leads these systems to be oppressive as they don’t take into consideration the ideas and traditions of minority or “othered” groups.

It’s extremely important to pay attention to the “common sense” traditions of any system because any system designed by humans or that seems natural to humans usually is formed on the opinion of the privileged.  These systems often leave minority groups with an unequal footing. Our institutions should be critiqued in my opinion and revised continually. As the article points out, this type of introspective and internal critique is an ongoing and never perfected process. Paying attention to this common sense helps others who are oppressed by these systems and institutions.

This is my tallest mountain in terms of education and the reason I have the strong urge to go out and buy this book. I feel as though I hit a wall on my own critique of these systems. I know that they are inherently flawed, biased and often oppressive but as a teacher I need to be able to show this. I need the facts that show the flaws in these systems and even better, I need the strategies to change my way of thinking and strategies to help make the systems better. I need help implementing these changes in my teaching. I understand that this is a critique and process that won’t end for me, but I’m so excited to help. I’m excited to be a social justice educator.


Speaking up about Identity

I loved high school. I thrived in the small,  Lutheran private school. The community was uplifting and challenged me spiritually and mentally. I had good friends, that I can’t call good friends anymore but I still care about, we just took different paths. My path has led me to new friends that flex better into my new mindset. High school allowed me to challenge and find my strengths. I took art, english and environmental studies as higher level classes and I thought that would be enough but when I entered university I took an education class called self and other which allowed me to look at how I identify and influence other identities.

And thus a feminist emerged.

The quick definition is someone who fights for the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. The part about the sexes is what everyone is hung up on but basically it’s someone who promotes equality and rights for all people who could be oppressed through any way that they identify. For myself, I identify publicly as female, cisgender, white, heterosexual and able. As for my personality, I identify as an environmentalist, a feminist, and a sexual and mental health advocate along with many other things. In my inner discourse to myself, I often wonder about how I identify and I’m scared to identify in other ways for fear of public reaction. Sometimes I even worry about how I know if I identify as a certain thing and how to be genuine to that identity. If I come out as a certain identity, can I change my mind? But then, of course, how I identify now is just as authentic as it was ten years ago because my reality as changed and so have I. I also don’t see identity as black or white. Identities are spectrums that intersect with each other to create unique people. The biggest example for myself is the spectrum between heterosexual and homosexual. They created the words:  bisexual for someone who is attracted to both sexes, pansexual for people who are attracted to any gender or sex and asexual for people who aren’t attracted to to any sex or gender, but I don’t think that anyone should make themselves try to fit into these definitions – they should only be used as an aid to help other people understand your thought process and how you feel. Sex and gender are also both spectrums for me. It’s neater and tidier to fit into societies boxes but it’s not genuine in my opinion.

I’m still scared to be true to some of my identities but university has given me confidence to, at least, question my identities as more than what society dictates I should be. I’ve surrounded myself with people who care about the same things and through this I’ve been able to learn more through them about myself, how I treat other people, how they treat me and how relationships work. I question every relationship I have and every word that I say to ensure that, with what I know to be true at this point in time, I am saying and being the most empowering and healthy person that I can be.

Being a social justice advocate is mentally taxing because it requires constant care. It’s also very relieving because I can allow myself to just work towards this. I will never create pure social justice by myself so I don’t have to worry about being the perfect social justice advocate. For a perfectionist, like myself, this is strangely peaceful; to know that I am doing the best I can with the knowledge that I have at the time is relaxing. In a year when I know better I can correct myself or if I feel that I have made a wrong choice then I can deconstruct my thoughts and wonder why I chose to be oppressive and not have to worry that I am the issue but instead recognise that society creates these standards and I’m learning to move against them.

It’s just as scary to stand up for what you believe in as it is to identify with something. Lately I’ve been worried that my voice is being brushed off by those around me. Being an advocate for things that don’t fit into the status quo means that the majority of the people you talk to will brush you off. Some of my friends couldn’t care less when I start getting passionate about the environment and other people’s eyes get hazy when I talk about rights and equality but having these conversations and speaking your truth is the only way to deconstruct the way that society is fashioned and upkept. “Say it loud and go from there” from the tenth season of Grey’s anatomy is how I choose to speak. Even if you think people don’t want to hear it sometimes you just have to say it for yourself. I was at a social justice panel held at the University of Regina and the one thing that I took away from that was if you say things loud enough, you will find allies who care about the same things you do.


This is not my ceiling, this is my floor

Another week, another STARS meeting as informal as it was! I’m always left thinking seriously about what I am doing in relation to social justice and how my life experiences are affecting my work in this area after every meeting.

A group of the executive committee members went to see Selma on Monday night, so we started off the meeting debriefing the movie and the moments that really stuck out to us. If there is one thing that this movie taught me, it’s that even though we like to think that we have come a long way in our fight for equal rights for all races in society, we still have a long way to go. Two minutes into this movie and I knew that my perspective on the civil rights movement would be forever changed. While the rest of the world was celebrating Martin Luther King, he was in the southern states getting assaulted by random strangers because there was obviously still work to be done. When most people hear the name Martin Luther King, they think of four words: “I Have A Dream”. What we don’t think of is the obstacles that lay ahead on the journey to equal rights after that speech was made and Martin won the Nobel Peace Prize. This movie really made me see the tremendous struggles that they faced even when the world seemed to think that everything was solved. The government was tracking Martin Luther King’s every move, only accepting him as an activist because he was not as violent as others who were fighting for the same thing.

One scene of the movie that was, rightfully, powerful to everybody within our group was the scene of the first march from Selma to Montgomery. The scene was shot absolutely perfect to show what people were feeling at that exact moment in time. Shots zoomed in on police batons wrapped in barbed wire. The camera was tilted upwards when the people marching were being beaten by police on foot and on horses. There was a slow motion shot of a police officer chasing down a marcher on his horse with a whip, which is a direct reference to treatment of slaves, and striking the man down so that the police on foot could beat him. This entire scene was breathtaking and heartbreaking at the same time. The whole film was an ode to everything that black people had to overcome in order to get the right to vote, but unlike other movies it was from their perspective and they were placed in leading roles.

What really sparked our conversation in the meeting, however, was the response to the march – especially how it was covered by the reporter that was narrating the story of what happened. It was brought up how the media covers social justice events today in comparison to how this reporter covered the events of the march and the differences were something that none of us were proud of. In the movie, the reporter is obviously and rightfully shaken up, almost at the point of tears, but when we look at media coverage of social justice events today, let’s use what happened in Ferguson as an example, there is no emotion and no empathy, just cold hard facts.  unless there is a close and personal tie. What has changed? Why do these news stories no longer affect the media and the people consuming it as much as before? Sure, the events of Ferguson were heartbreaking and the world talked about it for days after Michael Brown was killed, but what happens when it is no longer front page news? People forget about it until it’s in the news once more.

This led us to our new topic of conversation: we can sit and meet each week to talk about social justice issues and speak our minds about these topics, but are our bodies matching our mouths and our minds? Are we physically getting out there and being allies, or do we just talk about it and it never comes to fruition? We’ve decided that this is the next step for our group — for us to go out in the community and show that we are allies to those that face social injustice, not just talk about the issues that they face. At this moment, what does our work cost us? Hardly anything. If people don’t know us well enough for us to talk to them about STARS, they probably have no idea that we’re passionate about social justice. This hides us from the ridicule of those who don’t believe this fight is a worthy one, but it also prevents us from making the connections that we need to move forward as a group and really achieve our goals of getting the whole community involved in social justice.

As a closing thought there’s something that has been on my mind for quite a while, but it took until our STARS meeting tonight for me to speak up and really seek advice on this. Almost on a weekly basis, I have people around me tell me that they couldn’t possibly handle all that I do and remain sane. I’m a full time student, I’m on the executive committee for STARS and Relay for Life, I’ve been on other committees before, I am a strong volunteer around campus with many organizations, I work outside of school, and I still find time for friends and family. I’ve been told that this is remarkable, but I’ve never thought so. You see, I don’t see what I do as inspirational. I don’t see it as me making a huge difference in the world around me, but that is what I am constantly being told, especially with STARS. Once I spoke up about this, Michael Cappello, who is our main faculty supporter, put what I was feeling into words that I feel like a lot more people would connect to. He talked about our group, who meet every week and simply talk about social justice and plan PD events to include others around the community in the conversation. None of us see this as remarkable because we believe so strongly in it. It shouldn’t be remarkable that seven white teachers get together to talk about the issues in society that affect us, our students, our classrooms, and our communities, but we’re told time and time again that it is. The fact that something so small can be seen as remarkable really shows how far we have to go as a society. Our meetings shouldn’t be our ceiling. They shouldn’t be the highest that we think we can achieve. Sitting down to talk about these issues should be our floor. They should be our baseline. Because as far away as some of these issues seem, they do affect our daily lives and the lives of our students, and this translates to them affecting our classrooms. We must constantly work to break through the ceilings that are built by ourselves and others which are meant to limit what we can do. We should always strive to do more and to be better, because the minute we stop striving for more is the minute that we give up on the cause of truly understanding social justice, how it affects us and our students, and how we can create an environment within our classrooms that really values each person as an individual and not a combination of stereotypes.


This is not my ceiling, this is my floor

Another week, another STARS meeting as informal as it was! I’m always left thinking seriously about what I am doing in relation to social justice and how my life experiences are affecting my work in this area after every meeting.

A group of the executive committee members went to see Selma on Monday night, so we started off the meeting debriefing the movie and the moments that really stuck out to us. If there is one thing that this movie taught me, it’s that even though we like to think that we have come a long way in our fight for equal rights for all races in society, we still have a long way to go. Two minutes into this movie and I knew that my perspective on the civil rights movement would be forever changed. While the rest of the world was celebrating Martin Luther King, he was in the southern states getting assaulted by random strangers because there was obviously still work to be done. When most people hear the name Martin Luther King, they think of four words: “I Have A Dream”. What we don’t think of is the obstacles that lay ahead on the journey to equal rights after that speech was made and Martin won the Nobel Peace Prize. This movie really made me see the tremendous struggles that they faced even when the world seemed to think that everything was solved. The government was tracking Martin Luther King’s every move, only accepting him as an activist because he was not as violent as others who were fighting for the same thing.

One scene of the movie that was, rightfully, powerful to everybody within our group was the scene of the first march from Selma to Montgomery. The scene was shot absolutely perfect to show what people were feeling at that exact moment in time. Shots zoomed in on police batons wrapped in barbed wire. The camera was tilted upwards when the people marching were being beaten by police on foot and on horses. There was a slow motion shot of a police officer chasing down a marcher on his horse with a whip, which is a direct reference to treatment of slaves, and striking the man down so that the police on foot could beat him. This entire scene was breathtaking and heartbreaking at the same time. The whole film was an ode to everything that black people had to overcome in order to get the right to vote, but unlike other movies it was from their perspective and they were placed in leading roles.

What really sparked our conversation in the meeting, however, was the response to the march – especially how it was covered by the reporter that was narrating the story of what happened. It was brought up how the media covers social justice events today in comparison to how this reporter covered the events of the march and the differences were something that none of us were proud of. In the movie, the reporter is obviously and rightfully shaken up, almost at the point of tears, but when we look at media coverage of social justice events today, let’s use what happened in Ferguson as an example, there is no emotion and no empathy, just cold hard facts.  unless there is a close and personal tie. What has changed? Why do these news stories no longer affect the media and the people consuming it as much as before? Sure, the events of Ferguson were heartbreaking and the world talked about it for days after Michael Brown was killed, but what happens when it is no longer front page news? People forget about it until it’s in the news once more.

This led us to our new topic of conversation: we can sit and meet each week to talk about social justice issues and speak our minds about these topics, but are our bodies matching our mouths and our minds? Are we physically getting out there and being allies, or do we just talk about it and it never comes to fruition? We’ve decided that this is the next step for our group — for us to go out in the community and show that we are allies to those that face social injustice, not just talk about the issues that they face. At this moment, what does our work cost us? Hardly anything. If people don’t know us well enough for us to talk to them about STARS, they probably have no idea that we’re passionate about social justice. This hides us from the ridicule of those who don’t believe this fight is a worthy one, but it also prevents us from making the connections that we need to move forward as a group and really achieve our goals of getting the whole community involved in social justice.

As a closing thought there’s something that has been on my mind for quite a while, but it took until our STARS meeting tonight for me to speak up and really seek advice on this. Almost on a weekly basis, I have people around me tell me that they couldn’t possibly handle all that I do and remain sane. I’m a full time student, I’m on the executive committee for STARS and Relay for Life, I’ve been on other committees before, I am a strong volunteer around campus with many organizations, I work outside of school, and I still find time for friends and family. I’ve been told that this is remarkable, but I’ve never thought so. You see, I don’t see what I do as inspirational. I don’t see it as me making a huge difference in the world around me, but that is what I am constantly being told, especially with STARS. Once I spoke up about this, Michael Cappello, who is our main faculty supporter, put what I was feeling into words that I feel like a lot more people would connect to. He talked about our group, who meet every week and simply talk about social justice and plan PD events to include others around the community in the conversation. None of us see this as remarkable because we believe so strongly in it. It shouldn’t be remarkable that seven white teachers get together to talk about the issues in society that affect us, our students, our classrooms, and our communities, but we’re told time and time again that it is. The fact that something so small can be seen as remarkable really shows how far we have to go as a society. Our meetings shouldn’t be our ceiling. They shouldn’t be the highest that we think we can achieve. Sitting down to talk about these issues should be our floor. They should be our baseline. Because as far away as some of these issues seem, they do affect our daily lives and the lives of our students, and this translates to them affecting our classrooms. We must constantly work to break through the ceilings that are built by ourselves and others which are meant to limit what we can do. We should always strive to do more and to be better, because the minute we stop striving for more is the minute that we give up on the cause of truly understanding social justice, how it affects us and our students, and how we can create an environment within our classrooms that really values each person as an individual and not a combination of stereotypes.


… And it All Started with Some Shoes

Last night, I had the unbelievable opportunity to help facilitated the first STARS Regina event after our club was formed in the Fall 2014 semester. We decided that not everyone is as comfortable talking about social justice issues as we are, so we held a sharing circle to raise awareness of social justice within the community and help our peers develop the confidence to talk about these issues. Two amazing professors within the education faculty, Mike Cappello and Sean Lessard. The circle was mainly centered around teaching, but we had two guests who weren’t in the education faculty and their input and ideas were more than appreciated because they helped us take these issues outside of the classroom and into the broader community. By now you may be wondering about the title of this blog post, so I’ll explain that to you now.

IMG_2980  IMG_2981

Sean opened up the circle with a story about truly listening to one another in order to gain perspective on stories. While preparing for the event, he reached out to one of his mentors and heard a long-winded story about how he met the Dalai Lama and was fixated on what type of shoes this incredibly religious man wore, and the story ended with him finding out that the Dalai Lama wore converse. What was the meaning behind this story? Sean didn’t know, so he asked what this had to do with the sharing circle we held and his mentor clarified for him. It doesn’t matter where we come from, what we do, or even who we know – if we really want to have a conversation with someone, no matter how different their beliefs and values may be from ours, we can always find common ground. We can always find ways to open up conversations about our differences, but we must start with a similarity, even if it is something as trivial as the shoes on our feet.

After we had all introduced ourselves and explained how we got to the sharing circle, we broke off into small groups to brainstorm and answer some questions about social justice in the broader community. The first prompt seemed simple, but inspired some very deep thinking. What does anti-oppression look like in the community environment? I was amazed at some of the conversations that came out of this question. We started off with the obvious (to us): education for all, incorporating indigenous ways of knowing, and including minorities were just a few things that came to mind. Once we dug a little deeper and started sharing stories, however, we got a lot more answers that were interesting to me because they showed each person’s unique perspective. We talked about the word listening. What does it mean to listen to someone? I don’t mean waiting for them to be done speaking so that you can speak your opinion on the matter, but to truly listen to what they have to say, without judgments and biases getting in the way, and respecting their perspective whether you agree or disagree. Once this was brought up in our small group, the conversation shifted. What a difference one word can make to the conversation when it is so important! Before last night, when I thought about social justice I thought about the issues in society today, what we have to face, and the challenges that we have ahead of us to make the world a better place, but the word listening was the major takeaway from this experience for me, because it made me realize that by having these conversations, by really hashing out what social justice and anti-oppression mean with so many different perspectives, we are taking steps forward.

IMG_2984

This leads me to another takeaway from the night, which was one of my own stories from my pre-internship placement that I never thought of as a strong connection to social justice until I heard these different perspectives. One of my main hesitancies in bringing social justice into my future classroom is the age group that I want to teach. I am in the Pre-K to Grade 5 program at the university, so I feel like sometimes it’s not as easy to incorporate social justice because there’s a fear of taking it too far. I really thought about this fear that I had last night before I realized that I’ve seen social justice in the Kindergarten class that I’ve been teaching in, it was just given another name: empathy. Late in November, my co-op teacher told the students about an article that she had read online about a little girl that had cancer. She explained to the students that the little girl’s family thought this may be her last Christmas, not knowing what the students would do with this information but wanting to make them aware about what is going on in the world around them. Being as caring as they are, my Kindergartens decided to do something about it. They decided that each person would make this little girl a card and this turned into a school-wide event. You see, my co-op teacher has a way of really getting on to the students’ level and explained to them that what they are doing is making a difference. The students truly believe that “changing the world starts with you” and that it’s pretty easy to change the world one person at a time. The students became so passionate about this empathy project that they gathered the courage to go to each classroom in the school, from Pre-K to Grade 8, and ask the other students to make cards as well and all together the school ended up sending 323 cards to this little girl and it all started with the word empathy and a small news article.

IMG_2979

Once we had discussed in our small groups, we came back to the big sharing circle to unpack the conversations that we had in our small groups. One of the main takeaways that I had from this conversation was the difference between thinking and doing. I’ve met many people in my experience at the university that will talk about the importance of social justice, because it is an ideal that is widely appreciated in society, but when it comes to taking steps to educate themselves about social justice issues there is a strong hesitance. Whether they are afraid to take that step, take a risk, or put themselves out there, something is holding them back. I am a strong believer that our actions speak louder than our words. How do we make anti-oppressive work everyone’s work? We spoke of many different ideas that we could put in place to bring more people into the spaces that we create, whether by breaking down the hesitations of other student teachers or holding events in the community to reach more people, we realized that we were being privileged with the conversations that were occurring and we needed to expand the conversation to even more people to try to understand as many perspectives as possible.

One of the most powerful aspects of last night was that it opened up room for conversations to occur.After the event was over and some people went home, I stayed with two of my friends to unpack the night and really dig deep into some of the issues that were discussed. How do we engage more people in this work? Yes, we had fifteen people show up to this event and for our first event as a campus club that’s a pretty good turnout, but how do we open up these experiences to others in the university and beyond? One of the major topics that we talked about was the apathy that we see day to day in the university. There are many people that will support what we are trying to do and will donate money, buy baking, and encourage us to keep going, but why did we feel like we needed certificates to offer participants in order to bring people to the event? Why is it that there needs to be some sort of reward, whether it is a certificate, something to put on our resumes, or coffee and cookies, for people to step outside of their comfort zones and discuss social justice with others? These are the questions that I have been asking myself as a result of our first event, and I am sure that more will come up as I continue to unpack the experience with the other executive members.

All in all, I felt so grateful for everyone that made this event possible. So many people offered different perspectives and I can’t wait to see how we all move forward together!


… And it All Started with Some Shoes

Last night, I had the unbelievable opportunity to help facilitated the first STARS Regina event after our club was formed in the Fall 2014 semester. We decided that not everyone is as comfortable talking about social justice issues as we are, so we held a sharing circle to raise awareness of social justice within the community and help our peers develop the confidence to talk about these issues. Two amazing professors within the education faculty, Mike Cappello and Sean Lessard. The circle was mainly centered around teaching, but we had two guests who weren’t in the education faculty and their input and ideas were more than appreciated because they helped us take these issues outside of the classroom and into the broader community. By now you may be wondering about the title of this blog post, so I’ll explain that to you now.

IMG_2980  IMG_2981

Sean opened up the circle with a story about truly listening to one another in order to gain perspective on stories. While preparing for the event, he reached out to one of his mentors and heard a long-winded story about how he met the Dalai Lama and was fixated on what type of shoes this incredibly religious man wore, and the story ended with him finding out that the Dalai Lama wore converse. What was the meaning behind this story? Sean didn’t know, so he asked what this had to do with the sharing circle we held and his mentor clarified for him. It doesn’t matter where we come from, what we do, or even who we know – if we really want to have a conversation with someone, no matter how different their beliefs and values may be from ours, we can always find common ground. We can always find ways to open up conversations about our differences, but we must start with a similarity, even if it is something as trivial as the shoes on our feet.

After we had all introduced ourselves and explained how we got to the sharing circle, we broke off into small groups to brainstorm and answer some questions about social justice in the broader community. The first prompt seemed simple, but inspired some very deep thinking. What does anti-oppression look like in the community environment? I was amazed at some of the conversations that came out of this question. We started off with the obvious (to us): education for all, incorporating indigenous ways of knowing, and including minorities were just a few things that came to mind. Once we dug a little deeper and started sharing stories, however, we got a lot more answers that were interesting to me because they showed each person’s unique perspective. We talked about the word listening. What does it mean to listen to someone? I don’t mean waiting for them to be done speaking so that you can speak your opinion on the matter, but to truly listen to what they have to say, without judgments and biases getting in the way, and respecting their perspective whether you agree or disagree. Once this was brought up in our small group, the conversation shifted. What a difference one word can make to the conversation when it is so important! Before last night, when I thought about social justice I thought about the issues in society today, what we have to face, and the challenges that we have ahead of us to make the world a better place, but the word listening was the major takeaway from this experience for me, because it made me realize that by having these conversations, by really hashing out what social justice and anti-oppression mean with so many different perspectives, we are taking steps forward.

IMG_2984

This leads me to another takeaway from the night, which was one of my own stories from my pre-internship placement that I never thought of as a strong connection to social justice until I heard these different perspectives. One of my main hesitancies in bringing social justice into my future classroom is the age group that I want to teach. I am in the Pre-K to Grade 5 program at the university, so I feel like sometimes it’s not as easy to incorporate social justice because there’s a fear of taking it too far. I really thought about this fear that I had last night before I realized that I’ve seen social justice in the Kindergarten class that I’ve been teaching in, it was just given another name: empathy. Late in November, my co-op teacher told the students about an article that she had read online about a little girl that had cancer. She explained to the students that the little girl’s family thought this may be her last Christmas, not knowing what the students would do with this information but wanting to make them aware about what is going on in the world around them. Being as caring as they are, my Kindergartens decided to do something about it. They decided that each person would make this little girl a card and this turned into a school-wide event. You see, my co-op teacher has a way of really getting on to the students’ level and explained to them that what they are doing is making a difference. The students truly believe that “changing the world starts with you” and that it’s pretty easy to change the world one person at a time. The students became so passionate about this empathy project that they gathered the courage to go to each classroom in the school, from Pre-K to Grade 8, and ask the other students to make cards as well and all together the school ended up sending 323 cards to this little girl and it all started with the word empathy and a small news article.

IMG_2979

Once we had discussed in our small groups, we came back to the big sharing circle to unpack the conversations that we had in our small groups. One of the main takeaways that I had from this conversation was the difference between thinking and doing. I’ve met many people in my experience at the university that will talk about the importance of social justice, because it is an ideal that is widely appreciated in society, but when it comes to taking steps to educate themselves about social justice issues there is a strong hesitance. Whether they are afraid to take that step, take a risk, or put themselves out there, something is holding them back. I am a strong believer that our actions speak louder than our words. How do we make anti-oppressive work everyone’s work? We spoke of many different ideas that we could put in place to bring more people into the spaces that we create, whether by breaking down the hesitations of other student teachers or holding events in the community to reach more people, we realized that we were being privileged with the conversations that were occurring and we needed to expand the conversation to even more people to try to understand as many perspectives as possible.

One of the most powerful aspects of last night was that it opened up room for conversations to occur.After the event was over and some people went home, I stayed with two of my friends to unpack the night and really dig deep into some of the issues that were discussed. How do we engage more people in this work? Yes, we had fifteen people show up to this event and for our first event as a campus club that’s a pretty good turnout, but how do we open up these experiences to others in the university and beyond? One of the major topics that we talked about was the apathy that we see day to day in the university. There are many people that will support what we are trying to do and will donate money, buy baking, and encourage us to keep going, but why did we feel like we needed certificates to offer participants in order to bring people to the event? Why is it that there needs to be some sort of reward, whether it is a certificate, something to put on our resumes, or coffee and cookies, for people to step outside of their comfort zones and discuss social justice with others? These are the questions that I have been asking myself as a result of our first event, and I am sure that more will come up as I continue to unpack the experience with the other executive members.

All in all, I felt so grateful for everyone that made this event possible. So many people offered different perspectives and I can’t wait to see how we all move forward together!