Presenters and panelists take part in the ‘Enacting Pedagogies of Hope: The Urgency of Combatting Racism and Intersectional Oppression in Education’ symposium on March 16, 2024 at the College of Education.
Presenters and panelists take part in the ‘Enacting Pedagogies of Hope: The Urgency of Combatting Racism and Intersectional Oppression in Education’ symposium on March 16, 2024 at the College of Education. (Photo: Connor Jay).

USask College of Education marks UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Symposium theme Enacting Pedagogies of Hope explored the urgency of combating racism and intersectional oppression in education, held March 16 on the University of Saskatchewan (USask) campus.

Observed annually by the United Nations on March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination commemorates the day police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid pass laws in 1960. The day recognizes that injustices and prejudices fueled by racial discrimination take place every day.

Education Dean Dr. Julia Paulson (PhD) opened the symposium program with a keynote address exploring research directed by the Education, Justice and Memory Network (EdJam) and its preliminary findings. As lead of the EdJam network, Paulson was invited to present at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in January as part of a panel on Learning for Lasting Peace. 

EdJAM is a collaborative, international network of researchers, educators, and civil society organizations committed to creative ways to teach and learn about conflict, violence, colonialism, imperialism, and racism. The network supports 25 projects in 13 countries.

“We believe in education for its transformative potential and for its contributions to social and reparative justice. At the same time education is a space where crimes, harm and injustice have happened, and continue to happen,” said Paulson while outlining what academic research in this space calls the ‘Paradox of Education.’

“How do we work and repair within the confines of an institution that has caused such harm, yet that many of us, nonetheless, believe in?” added Paulson.

Her keynote explored how pedagogies—the combination of teaching methods, learning activities, learning assessments, and teaching and learning relationships—can be reparative and healing for communities harmed in past conflicts. The preliminary themes emerging from the work of EdJAM are that reparative pedagogies share common features, namely that they are dignifying, they are truth-telling while involving multiple experiences, they demonstrate responsibility, and they nurture creativity. 

“There is a lot of joy, care and energy in the network, and one of reasons is because there’s a re-claiming of what pedagogy is,” said Paulson. “Pedagogy is relational. Pedagogy is being together in community and building new things. That new thing that emerges from the pedagogical relationship can be a piece of art, a project, a connection, a next step, or action.”

Seventy USask staff, faculty, students, alumni, and members of the public gathered in Quance Theatre for the sessions, which included a breakout panel exploring current trends and issues in anti-racist K-12 education, and another discussing the personal journey of practicing anti-oppressive education as a Christian.

Many participants spoke of the challenging yet rewarding work of learning and growing as an educator dedicated to making space for anti-racist and anti-oppressive learning in institutional settings.

“Often there can be this daily tension, but coming here for this day, there’s a release. This is a place of hope, to hear individuals talking about their experiences and what this day means,” said Educational Foundations PhD candidate Mel Sysing, while discussing his research.

The early afternoon session highlighted the history of Indigenous teacher education programs in Saskatchewan and invited Sheila Pocha, program head of the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP) based out of USask in partnership with the Gabriel Dumont Institute, and Yvette Arcand, director of the Indian Teacher Education Program (ITEP) to discuss the student experience and the programs’ missions.

“We’re working hard to squash racism, but it is still happening on campus and in schools alike,” said Pocha, who is Métis from Saskatoon. “But we have to work hard to celebrate who we are. And I think people achieve when they can culturally understand who they are. I’m very proud of SUNTEP.”

Both programs have been in place for over four decades, with ITEP recently celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023. Fundamental to both is the reconnection to culture, language and Indigeneity, ultimately graduating teachers confident in who they are and able to thrive in the classroom and in professions beyond education.

“I think that so many of our students really appreciate that there is space for us [here on campus]. We are always constantly fighting to make sure that space is available and that our students can flourish in that environment,” said Arcand, whose home community is Beardy’s and Okemasis’ Cree Nation.

Dr. Alex Wilson (EdD), distinguished researcher, professor of educational foundations and acclaimed Indigenous land-based education scholar from Opaskwayak Cree Nation, presented an engaging closing keynote on queering Indigenous and anti-oppressive education. She specifically examined multi-cultural versus anti-oppressive ideologies and the ways these inform education and practice.  

“This symposium, and the courses in the College of Education that are anti-oppressive, support an ideology, theory and practice that is not institutionalized. [This approach] takes responsibility to ending oppression and challenges the status quo and white supremacy, straight supremacy and male supremacy,” said Wilson.

Wilson referenced work by Dr. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson that examines the effect that institutionalized multi-culturalism can have, such as entrenching binary gender roles, institutionalizing religion, disconnecting people from meaningful relationships to land and water, and privileging certain world views while dismissing others.

“I know this is heavy, but it’s not all bad news. There are ways that we are undoing this,” said Wilson. “One way is requiring a shift in ontology: from ‘self in relation’ to ‘self as relations.’ This is really a Cree world view—it is part of many Indigenous worldviews and guiding principles—the importance of relationality. This extends to the relationship with land, animals, with air and water.”

This leads to the concept of queering as Wilson and others define it: to challenge the status quo and heteropatriarchy; both in ourselves and in the institutions we take part in. She describes it as a deconstructive and reconstructive process.

“That’s the queering: looking at the possibilities that can exist and that are generative and transformative,” explained Wilson.

Offering many opportunities for reflection and learning, the symposium was organized by the ohpahotân anti-racism subcommittee in the College of Education and envisioned by Dr. Carmen Gillies, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Foundations. More information is available here.

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