On March 26 2017 we invited members of the community and their families (across all generations) into our second community consultation which featured a facilitated discussion centred around how displacement and migration affect family dynamics, sense of community, social development and daily lives.
We were engaging in these conversations as part of the process of ideating our university as one that is inclusive for all forms of family and identity. The consultation was facilitated by our own Outreach Coordinator Annick MF, and came together around themes of migration, displacement, status/citizenship, gentrification, diasporic realities, barriers around education and social development as well the necessity for meaningful links and relationships between communities and the academy from elementary into high schools, CEGEPS, the university and other professional institutions. Annick’s presentation included sound clips of parents and students describing the kinds of barriers that have come up in accessing education based on their citizenship, language identity and social location. Some of the clips are taken from interviews conducted by Annick for the Matriarch podcast while others are recordings from inter-realities, our first community consultation.
After listening to the sound clips all together, we presented our participants with themes that would centre our discussions, including: advocacy, art & activism, culture & language preservation, education, employment, family understandings & expectations, food access, health & wellness, housing & community, religion/spirituality, status & instability.
We then had the group split up into smaller groups to workshop these question prompts: What does this theme mean for you? What moments in the video prompts spoke to you? Do these themes affect your daily life? If so how? Do you address these themes in your daily life? If so how? Do these themes affect people you care for? Affect your community? How would you like to address this theme? What are the needs, concerns, questions this theme brings up for you?
Our day culminated in a round-table discussion in which each participant was given a moment to share something they had experienced or a feeling, impression or thought from the workshop.
Participants were thoughtful, collaborative and generous with their experiences and shared their expertise navigating an educational system that marginalizes and excludes their identities and knowledges. We heard stories, strategies and solutions, and collaboratively, the group generated five key institutional injustices that must be addressed:
- Students working to transform the university and advance inclusion are faced with resistance from professors and administrators. And students critiquing colonial teaching styles, syllabi and subjects feel hostility in their classrooms from other students and faculty. Students are lacking an inclusive community in which they can thrive and feel supported and which also honours their diverse identities, experiences, and realities.
- And relatedly, the centering of western and Eurocentric knowledges and canons excludes non-western, Global South and Indigenous knowledges. And students who do not fit into these ‘academic’ knowledge systems face distinct challenges producing knowledge without an institutional framework that teaches them how to communicate or engage with their own realities, communities and knowledges.
- Immigration and displacement hyphenate the identities of students and members of our community. Students with hyphenated identities have the added challenge of speaking across their different identities and languages to be legible in institutional learning spaces. And this hyphenation moves through generations, challenging our communities to navigate raising interracial families and children who can self-advocate in the face of institutional injustice with little support. The effects of exclusion from institutions of higher learning are intergenerational and are felt as early as students’ first years in the educational system.
- Students responsible for the labour of carework and students who must balance their studies with their commitments and obligations to family and community care face particular barriers that have been made invisible in the university. Current institutional resources in place to care for members of the university are mechanical and do not adequately address the diverse needs of our students and we lack an institutional framework with which to recognize the emotional labour, carework and social reproduction that students are engaged in. The university is also lacking crucial community relationships that could root institutional work in wider social movements and make the university a more accessible space for many excluded members of the community.
- In the context of Montreal’s declaration as a ‘sanctuary city’ for refugees and undocumented immigrants, our educational system lacks a clear and holistic framework for supporting and educating the members of our community who are without status. And while students might be invited to sit in without registration, undocumented students do not receive viable recognition for their intellectual labour. At a national level, universities cannot provide funding for members of our local community who are not recognized by the state, private and donor funding therefore plays a role in deciding who is supported (funded) and ultimately who is included. From students’ earliest years in our education system, our schools mirror the power imbalances and hierarchies of our social world; immigrant and refugee students and their families are often excluded from the community, criminalized and profiled, struggle with language and identity preservation, are perceived as different or ‘other’, face poverty and lack access to adequate housing and food. And all of these phenomena are perpetuated (rather than interrupted) in the classroom.
And after working out these five key institutional injustices we asked our participants to share their visions for moving towards equity and inclusion in our educational spaces. But before we could discuss moving forward, the group spoke about how difficult it is to reach solutions without the platform and space to share their experiences of injustice that often go unheard and unacknowledged. These five transformative directions were developed collaborative by the group and have come to inform and ground our institutional work moving forward:
- We must first make space and time for engaging in meaningful conversation around the experiences of our community’s marginalized and excluded. This will demand collaboration and consultation, it will require recognizing the expertise of our community and specifically the historically excluded in transforming our educational spaces towards inclusion.
- And because institutional barriers at the university level are intergenerational, we must simultaneously match our efforts to foster inclusion here with initiatives in elementary schools, highschools, CEGEPS and daycares. We must produce programming and opportunities for young people in our communities to participate in the transformation of our educational system. In particular, part of this work will demand decolonial efforts to interrupt the way students are (or are not) taught histories of colonialism and displacement (on Turtle Island but also throughout the world) from the earliest point of educational formation.
- We must acknowledge that our institutional relationships are fractured, that students and communities who have historically been excluded from the academy experience this exclusion at the hands of faculty, administrators, staff and students who participate in the perpetuation of discrimination, colonialism, racism, sexism, homo/transphobia, and ableism. It is then the responsibility of our entire community and especially the privileged of our universities to work towards inclusion and to listen and respond. This institutional transformation demands a university-wide approach and professional development at every level of university operations (staff, administration and faculty) to empower our community to be familiar with and able to support every identity, experience and reality.
- Relatedly, this institutional transformation demands a complete reinvention of the university towards a holistic framework of care in which students and members of the academy are supported and are able to care for themselves and their communities and also have this labour be acknowledged. Under this system we recognize that the activity of care can actualize thinking and theory, and that accessible education demands that students are able to use the university to integrate their activism, community work and education.
- And finally, institutional transformation demands a physical presence and a physical home. An emerging equity and inclusion framework will require a body or a space that is directly connected to the community and community organizations locally, nationally, globally and across both academic and national borders. This institutional body or space will act as a liaison between students and administration to advocate for and recognize students’ political, emotional and activist labour and community contributions. It will develop support and service networks in the university and focus especially on strengthening services that are meant to support the academy’s marginalized and . This institutional body or space will develop programming and training for all members of the university to foster inclusion through pedagogies and curricula, hiring and recruitment.
We acknowledge and thank our participants for joining us in consultation and for their generous and essential contributions to this work. We also want to thank you for the work you do in your own classrooms, lives and communities. And if these experiences or visions for our collective futures resonate with you, or if you have stories, strategies or solutions you’d like to share, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you.