Members of the Brock community came together last month to explore what it means to decolonize the University’s campus and consider future steps that may contribute to that change.
On Oct. 28, more than 80 Brock students, staff and faculty gathered for an event, Decolonizing our Campus, hosted by the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences (FAHS) Anti-Racism Task Force, known as the ART initiative.
The first-of-its-kind event for the ART initiative was part of a larger Faculty goal of transforming toward more inclusive, equitable and just intellectual spaces. This also reflects the University-wide strategic priority of fostering a culture of inclusivity, accessibility, reconciliation and decolonization.
Led by a group of students, staff and faculty who identify as Black, Indigenous or as a Person of Colour, and their allies, the event invited key internal stakeholders to present and facilitate small discussion circles.
A panel discussion, facilitated by Registrar’s Office Director of Enrolment Services Sandy Howe, was comprised of Centre for Women’s and Gender Studies/Department of Sociology Lecturer Lyn Trudeau; Department of Educational Studies Assistant Professor Stanley (Bobby) Henry; FAHS Contract Web Content Manager Mitch Baird; Registrar’s Office – Brock Central Student Information and Service Team Lead Colton Clause; and Brock’s Reconciliation Ambearrister Entiohahathe’te.
Collectively, the panelists deconstructed their experiences of colonization within institutions and discussed what it means to decolonize Brock’s policies, teaching and research from individual and community perspectives and within truth and reconciliation frameworks.
“It’s important to recognize that for almost 100 years, if an Indigenous person wanted to go to university, they had to give up their status and treaty rights by involuntarily becoming enfranchised under the Indian Act,” says Baird, whose grandmother was enfranchised in the early 1920s. “This means Indigenous people who came to university were not allowed to be Indigenous; they had to give up everything.”
Setting the tone for exploring recommendations within small discussion circles, an Indigenous Student Research Showcase featured a participatory action research project entitled, “Decolonization, Transformative Learning Experiences, and Brock University: Challenging Assumptions that ‘this is the way it has to be.’”
The research team, including five Indigenous and non-Indigenous Brock students, worked collaboratively between fall 2020 and fall 2021 — initially as part of a directed reading course that later transitioned into a research project. The team included fifth-year Neuroscience student Ryanne Logan, fourth-year Medical Sciences student Kiara Kalenuik, second-year Child Health student Tory Shklanka and graduate students Kian Rego (BSc ’22) and Kahlan Woodhouse (BPH ’22).
“Focusing on the importance of positionality and reflexivity, our methodological approach challenges Western ways of knowing and is based in a ‘nothing about us without us’ approach to research,” says Logan. “Our approach was unique in that we were both the researchers and drew on our own experiences of what we were researching.”
Each student was given the opportunity to code and analyze data using a method that resonated with their own worldview, including First Nations, Inuit or Western frameworks.
“What was significant was even though we coded using different approaches, a lot of the themes we each came back with were the same,” says Logan. “One of the biggest takeaways from this research is there are different ways to learn. For me personally, I gained knowledge while at the same time, learned more about my own Indigeneity and what that looks like as an Indigenous woman in academia.”
While much of the research project work took place online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the collaboration and regular meetings also served as an emotional and social support system.
“A lot of us during this period, we did struggle day-to-day,” says Kalenuik. “As a team, we agreed early to always meet with our cameras turned on and the first thing we did was truly and honestly check in with other.”
Brock leadership who provided remarks throughout the Decolonizing our Campus event included Brock’s Provost and Vice-President, Academic Lynn Wells (then Interim President), Brock’s Vice-Provost, Indigenous Engagement Robyn Bourgeois, FAHS Dean Peter Tiidus, FAHS Associate Dean Teaching and Undergraduate Studies Kirsty Spence and Sport Management Associate Professor Shannon Kerwin.
Emily Bagshaw, of Brock Human Rights and Equity, served as affinity space keeper for those who needed one-to-one support.
“I want to applaud the FAHS for holding this event and thinking seriously about decolonization and how it can be implemented within the Faculty,” says Bourgeois. “I hope to see more Faculties undertake their own learning and exploration of how to actualize decolonization.”
The FAHS ART initiative will host its second event Jan. 20 and will focus on themes addressing anti-Black racism in institutions and academic practices.