Category Archives: UR S.T.A.R.S.

“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


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.


We’ll see you tomorrow

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September 10th, 2015.

World Suicide Prevention Day.

I’m a person of many diverse interests but recent events in my life have made me take concern with self love, worthiness and mental illness. I’ve shared this on every platform possible and this is just one more. I feel that this day is so much more than raising awareness about suicide. It’s about the stigma surrounding mental illness. It’s about making people feel more comfortable by being empathetic to others and to ourselves. It’s about taking a step back and saying, “I can’t deal with this right now”. Like all social justice issues I didn’t really believe that there was a stigma surrounding it until I actually evaluated my own actions. I would say things like “oh, I’m just grumpy today” or “I’m just not feeling well” when really I should have been saying “it’s ok not to overload myself and to take a step back and decide not to do this thing today”. I started using the app pacifica to track and help me better understand my thoughts, worries and help me combat them. I’ve followed the non-profit To Write Love On Her Arms for many years and I’ve also found great comfort through their campaigns, blogs and the recently published book by the founder, Jamie Tworkowski, “If You Feel Too Much“. I gather a lot of confidence from some of their quotes (the english major in me, I guess). I think that lots of people struggle with thinking they’re not worthy of great things or that they don’t expect great things to happen for them or because of them but they are so wrong. “your name does not end in silence”. It ends in roaring cheers, applause, “you did a good job today” and on the worst days, it ends in “we’ll see you tomorrow”. A small call for you to try again and to be new each day. You are so much greater and more worthy than you think you are. Please believe it and I’ll see you tomorrow. 


My mental illness

As an educator, I’ve learned a lot about identity: others and my own as well. The best way to find allies is through speaking up so that’s what I intend to do in the hopes that I can be an allies for others suffering from mental illness and also that I will find allies if I speak often and loud enough.  I’m a strong advocate for social justice and making the world a little bit easier by deconstructing the ideas that society has put in my head about gender roles, sexuality, ability, skin colour etc. to help every single individual feel more comfortable but the most recent thing I myself have been struggling with is depression and mental illness. I recently was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. It took me years to go to a psychologist even after being asked numerous times. I always thought I was the strong one in the family and didn’t need help; that I could work through whatever I was going through on my own. Around July, I got to a point where I knew I couldn’t handle myself on my own and I started seeing my family Psychologist who then made my diagnosis. I was too terrified that I would go to the psychologist and have her tell me that I was fine. I was literally petrified that I would be okay (silly, right?). But I’m glad that I did and I’m so grateful for the people in my life. I now know that being strong isn’t handling things on your own but instead being strong enough to ask for help or to ask for a friend when you need it. I’ve got a wonderful group of friends who put time and effort into building me up and who I hope I do the same for. My family tries to help as much as they can despite my discomfort with them. I wish I knew what to say to them but our relationship isn’t nearly as open as those with my friends but it is getting better and that’s all I ask for. I’m tired of pretending. I’m tired of having to choose my words carefully when I’m “not feeling well”. Today I went into work and asked to leave halfway through my shift because I was so frustrated yesterday, cried on my way home and for an hour in my driveway and then slept for a total of 3 hours the whole night. I’m really not feeling well as you can imagine but not because I’m hungover or because my boyfriend called into our workplace as well (which I didn’t know about but I can see why a manager would be suspicious of that) but because I’m exhausted and sobby and mentally not present at work. So now I’m at home, about to take a nap that will hopefully be 3 hours or more, publicly identifying for the first time  as someone who suffers from mental illness (which is terrifying). Mental illness is just as real as a cut or a cold but no one talks about it the same way we do for physical illnesses. It’s less acceptable. Seen as lazy or shy or bitchy or grumpy( all excuses I’ve used instead of being honest about my depression -which I know now fuels stigma towards mental illness) But it doesn’t make it any less valid. It’s important to take care of yourself when you’re ill and this is no exception. Take time for yourself, build your friendships up, take care and talk about it. The only way to relieve the stigma of mental illness is to talk about it. Be courageous and kind with your story. 


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.