News and events

  • Collective action among Indigenous peoples in Latin America the focus of new book

    Pascal Lupien was about to wrap up a three-year, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded project on Indigenous activists’ use of digital media in Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia when a wave of large-scale protests broke out in 2019.

    The Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, along with a team of local and Indigenous research assistants, seized the opportunity to see how the uprisings, which rivalled in scale historic decolonization protests in the 1990s and early 2000s, might fit in with findings on how Indigenous groups were using new technologies, existing technologies and the structures and foundations of their civil society to assert land rights and political autonomy.

    The last-minute extension of the research program helped inform Lupien’s latest book, Indigenous Civil Society in Latin America: Collective Action in the Digital Age, published by the University of North Carolina Press this week.

    book cover for Indigenous Civil Society in Latin America: Collective Action in the Digital Age features a stylized illustration of people gathering in front of a large smartphone

    Indigenous Civil Society in Latin America: Collective Action in the Digital Age was published by the University of North Carolina Press.

    “In the 1990s and early 2000s, Indigenous civil society in these countries really managed to have a significant impact on policy and legislation, even some constitutional reform,” says Lupien. “In the years after that, there was a lot still going on, but instead of visible, disruptive types of protest movements, the organizations and leaders were involved in the policy process and putting pressure on the government by building on the experience and the concessions gained in the previous period.”

    Lupien, who looked at participatory democracy in some of the same communities for his 2018 book, Citizens’ Power in Latin America: Theory and Practice, became curious about how the digital age was coming into play through the 2010s.

    “Because so much of the attention to Indigenous social movements in Latin America focused on that late 20th-century and very early 21st-century period, we didn’t know a whole lot about the impact of digital technologies and particularly social media,” he says. “But a lot of the literature tells us that protest and collective action is increasingly moving online.”

    However, the notion that social media could be an ideal site for resistance did not necessarily line up with what Lupien and his team observed in the communities they were engaged with.

    As the broad general optimism around the potential of social media for marginalized groups began to fade, the researchers were already finding that governments and corporations could limit the effectiveness of what some had believed might be a field-levelling technology.

    “We found that social media is not particularly helpful for Indigenous organizations, and that it can and is often used against them,” Lupien says. “Most of the Indigenous organizations don’t have the resources to hire the kinds of specialists that extractive industry companies or the government can, or spend a lot of money to circulate misinformation all day.”

    In fact, as Lupien outlines in the book, the reliance of Indigenous civil societies on the complex and robust mechanisms already in place in their communities — rather than on an ever-shifting landscape of digital technologies — is likely beneficial.

    “Indigenous civil society has so many complex, structured and very deliberate elements — social movement organizations that engage in protests, co-ops that sell products in order to raise revenue to fund engagement in politics, service-providing organizations offering services that the state fails to provide and other Indigenous participatory democracy governance mechanisms,” says Lupien. “In the book, I argue that the fact that Indigenous civil society doesn’t really have to rely on social media or new technologies is actually a strength. They can and do use it, but their success in advancing their goals doesn’t rely on it.”

    To learn more about Lupien’s new book, visit the University of North Carolina Press website.

    Categories: News

  • PoliSci student returns from United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

    Muskaan Waraich returned from the 67th annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67), which took place in New York City from March 6 to 17.

    The second-year student, who is studying a double-major in Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies, travelled as part of a delegation for Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW), a non-profit organization for which she volunteers, with financial support from the Faculty of Social Sciences.

    But Waraich says her journey to the United Nations (UN) headquarters last week actually began last September when she attended Camp 2030, a global gathering of youth leaders hosted by UNITE 2030 to innovate around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

    “Through Camp 2030, I had the chance to learn about the United Nations International Organization, including the CSW and how it could be helpful in developing my current projects working toward the SDG 2030 Agenda,” she says.

    Waraich began researching organizations that might be sending delegations and made a strong connection with VOW back in the fall.

    “Their goals aligned with mine because they’re Canada’s oldest national feminist peace group,” she says. “They’re nonpartisan and nonprofit, working towards women’s equal opportunity and having women’s voices heard on a local, national and international level on issues concerning peace.”

    Waraich’s experience at CSW67 began with a session held by a panel of Canadians including Senator Marilou McPhedran to help prepare young participants to best engage in the conference by offering advice and tips.

    Then followed several days of conference sessions on topics related to the theme of “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.”

    Waraich, who works as a Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Peer Mentor in Human Rights and Equity at Brock, was particularly interested in many of the connections between technology, education and GBV.

    But her commitment to the SDGs came into full view during the event, as well.  

    “I’m very passionate about gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, and it is important to understand barriers such as lack of access to education, poverty, gender-based violence, climate change and discrimination — these are all factors working against gender equality,” she says. “Through the whole CSW, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is the importance of how each SDG intersects with another and all must work together in order to achieve gender equality for all women and girls.”

    Dean Ingrid Makus in the Faculty of Social Sciences was thrilled to hear that Waraich would attend CSW67.

    “We in the Faculty were delighted to learn that Muskaan had taken the initiative and found an opportunity to attend such a significant event with global impact,” says Makus. “We are now excited to have her bring this experience and learning back to our community here at Brock.”

    Waraich says that her experience has left her with strong hopes that others will seek out opportunities to get involved in working toward change, be it in their own communities, mobilizing on behalf of marginalized groups or taking part in global efforts.

    “I don’t think I’m special — anyone can get involved, and everyone needs to be involved with the Sustainable Development Goals, because they aren’t just one individual effort,” she says. “We can all take steps, develop projects, receive grants and find opportunities for youth. This is our world, our planet, and many scary things are happening around the world but this conference reminded me that there is still change possible.”

    Categories: News

  • Students in Machinery of Government course, taught by Assistant Professor Joanne Heritz, share transportation research with MTO

    Brock University students spent the fall researching transportation challenges in Ontario before sharing their findings with government officials.

    Two representatives from Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation (MTO) recently attended presentations by students in the fourth-year Machinery of Government course.

    Students in the class, taught by Assistant Professor Joanne Heritz in the Department of Political Science, completed a multi-faceted experiential education project by researching topics of relevance to the MTO and ultimately presenting their findings orally and in writing.

    Four groups covered issues around electric vehicle policy, speed and road safety, light rail transportation and transit equity, including the need for equity training of workers making public transit decisions.

    “These are key challenges in the area of transportation, so it was nice that students were able to do these projects so enthusiastically,” says Heritz. “They took a genuine interest in the topics they were researching, learned about transportation around the world and how policy lessons can be applied, and then acted in an advisory capacity by sharing their research.”

    The project kicked off in early September when the local MTO office hosted the students for a tour and presentations by four ministry representatives about various aspects of their work.

    Shortly after, the class was visited by Rebecca Van Massenhoven (BA ’22), who took part in the same course and presented to the MTO last year.

    “I gained a lot of experience that translated into making my resumé competitive, which was something that I never expected coming into the class or working through the project,” says Van Massenhoven.

    With support from Brock’s Centre for Pedagogical Innovation, Van Massenhoven learned to describe her experience in job application materials and quickly landed a summer internship as a student researcher for the Ontario Cabinet Office. Her supervisor later confirmed that her experience completing research for the MTO was one of the reasons she secured the role.

    “The position gave me the opportunity to do some more research for the government, and I felt secure in taking that on because I was able to translate a lot of the skills from class into my internship,” says Van Massenhoven, who is now completing a master’s degree at Brock in Political Science.

    She also says the course helped her understand how the research skills she developed in her degree are integral to making changes in the world, which has influenced her current graduate research project.

    “The course made me aware of what research does and can do,” she says. “There are opportunities to do research that has impact, beginning as an undergraduate and continuing into my graduate studies.”

    Noah Barron, a fourth-year Political Science major, was part of the group who tackled the issue of transit equity in their research this semester.

    “In particular, we looked at cases abroad that emphasized important policy mechanisms that bridged the gap between marginalized groups and equitable transit access,” he says.

    Barron adds that presenting to MTO officials added a layer of “intensity” to the project and drew out the best efforts of all of his group members.

    “Professor Heritz’s willingness to incorporate real-life experience with our theoretical learning has been extremely important for our professional growth,” he says.

    Heritz, who supported the students as they rehearsed their presentations and asked them practice questions to ensure they felt prepared, says it is exciting to see students rise to the challenge of making professional research presentations.

    “It’s a transformative moment when the students take their education and what they learn and the tools they’ve acquired and use them to present their research outside the Brock community,” she says.

    Project and Change Management Agent Taras Sakač and Young Business Professional Somnath Srinath, also currently a graduate co-op student in Goodman School of Business at Brock, attended the student presentations on behalf of the MTO.

    Sakač describes working with Heritz to help students learn about the “broad scope of MTO’s mandate” — as well as hearing their final presentations, which he says “highlighted many pertinent transportation-related topics, including equity, safety, emerging technologies and public transportation” — as rewarding.

    “In my opinion, collectively, the presentations confirm the need for the province to continue strengthening existing partnerships with the federal and municipal levels of government and external stakeholders so that we can more effectively address the diverse needs of our communities,” says Sakač.

    Special thanks are due to Sakač and the MTO team who made this engagement possible:

    • Lance Crossley, Project and Change Management Agent, Strategy, Improvement and Innovation Branch
    • Michelle McGrath, Manager, Contract Management Office
    • Michael Glinka, Team Lead, Environmental Policy Office
    • Sandra Bailey, Head, Concession Services Section
    • Somnath Srinath, Young Business Professional, Strategy Improvement and Innovation Branch
    • Lucie Drabinova, Manager, Planning and Transformation
    Categories: News

  • Blayne Haggart discusses changes at Twitter and the future of social media

    This article written by Blayne Haggart, Associate Professor of Political Science at Brock University, was originally published in The Conversation.

    Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter has been a fast-moving disaster. It has also created a tangible problem for journalists, politicians, activists and academic scholars: Where do we talk to each other if or when Twitter finally collapses or becomes unusable?

    It’s a useful question. Contemplating life without Twitter pushes us to look beyond Twitter’s odious underbelly to consider what we liked about it. In doing so, it can help us understand better what social media is, for better and worse, and to consider what we want it to be.

    Twitter communities

    What I will miss about Twitter is its large scale and reach. It has become the default way for so many groups to communicate with each other and, because it’s basically just one big message board, across groups.

    Social media companies regularly argue that this scale is why there is so much hate speech and disinformation on their networks. As harmful as this speech may be, Twitter’s reach has nonetheless been a boon for, say, emerging researchers wanting to easily reach the largest number of their peers.

    Smaller online communities are fantastic for any number of reasons. They allow members to share their interests and knowledge. Their smaller size makes them easier to moderate effectively. However, their smallness can also inhibit the serendipity of running into ideas that you wouldn’t otherwise see.

    Furthermore, smaller online communities still depend on the benevolence of whoever happens to be in charge of the server. Twitter’s open design somewhat mitigates against the formation of strict hierarchies among groups on the platform, although as we’re learning, commercial social media still leaves us subject to the owner’s whims.

    The end of Twitter

    Thinking about where to go after Twitter also highlights that social media networks are not substitutes for each other. Well, they are for advertisers, who will go wherever the audience is. But people use different social media for different purposes.

    As an academic, TikTok has nothing to offer me in terms of creating and sharing knowledge with my peers. The Twitter-like Mastodon may allow for easier communication among colleagues, but it lacks Twitter’s out-of-community reach.

    That there is no equivalent substitute for Twitter highlights that there is a strong public interest in fostering public social media, to provide communities with stable communication infrastructure.

    Relatedly, this debacle also confirms that advertising does not provide a sustainable business model for socially responsible social media. Twitter has only turned a profit in two of its 16 yearsAdvertisers are currently abandoning Twitter in the face of Musk’s content-moderation follies which, combined with Musk’s incompetence, could drive the company into bankruptcy.

    Most important, however, its ad-based business model is based on the viral spread of content designed to engage our attention at any cost, be it bullying, harassment or hate speech. As journalism professor Yumi Wilson notes, “Twitter was a scary place even before Elon.”

    Life after Twitter

    All this suggests that we need to think seriously about how to move beyond ad-funded social media. Mastodon on its own offers a decentralized, community-based paradigm. However, depending on the long-term commitment of volunteers and small operators is itself a recipe for instability.

    Much more interesting is the proposal that Mastodon-based services could be used by an arm’s length public agency like the CBC to publicly fund stable, well-run social media.


    Finally, we need to talk about search engines. Twitter is valuable in part because it allows individuals to broadcast easily to a large audience. Without large-scale social media, we’re back to the problem of how to discover other people’s work and how to get your work in front of an audience.

    Search engines have flown under the radar in our discussions about how platforms should be governed. If we want to reduce online platform power and make the best information easily locatable, we need to reconsider whether our current search engines are good enough.

    There is cause for concern: Google’s gold-standard search engine has been “getting worse,” in large part because the company has been clogging its results with advertising that makes it more difficult for users to find relevant information. Given that the big online platforms continue to rely heavily on advertising revenues, this is a problem that will worsen.

    Let’s not glorify Twitter. It is, in many ways and for many people, a malevolent force. Even pre-Musk, it was a breeding ground for harassment, particularly of women and individuals from marginalized groups. It can enable often life-ruining bullying and disproportionate public shaming of otherwise private individuals, particularly through the quote-tweet function.

    Twitter has had a negative effect on the quality of our social discourse, serving as a conduit for mis- and disinformation, designed to encourage outrage rather than substantive conversation.

    As bad as it was — and is — you don’t know what you got till it’s gone. Twitter pre-Musk was no paradise, but Musk’s rampage allows us to see both the good and bad in social media as it currently exists. And, as a result, to consider what we want (and need) social media to be.
    The Conversation

    Categories: News

  • Assistant Professor Joanne Heritz shared preliminary results of the research project she headed studying affordable housing for women in Niagara

    The lack of affordable, safe housing in Niagara hits women and gender-diverse people particularly hard, says a recent Brock University-Niagara YWCA policy brief.

    But it is more than just a shortage of inexpensive shelter that sees women and gender-diverse people being disproportionality locked out of the affordable housing system, says the brief, “Improving Safe and Affordable Housing for Women in Niagara, Before and After COVID-19.”

    “There needs to be systemic change in providing programs and supports, so women and gender-diverse people are in a position to access housing, which goes beyond adding more housing units,” says lead author Joanne Heritz, Brock Assistant Professor of Political Science and Niagara Community Observatory (NCO) Research Associate.

    The research team will present the brief at the YWCA Niagara Region’s Annual General Meeting, to be held online in the Microsoft Teams platform at Wednesday, Nov. 23 at 6 p.m.

    To produce the brief, researchers with Brock’s Niagara Community Observatory partnered with the YWCA Niagara Region to form a Housing Advisory Council consisting of women and gender-diverse people who experienced homelessness, members of organizations who represent people with lived expertise of homelessness, and YWCA officials.

    Through focus groups, researchers interviewed residents at the YWCA shelter and women in transitional housing to share their experiences.

    From these interviews and other information gathered, the research team identifies five key areas in which women and gender-diverse people face barriers to access and keep housing that meets their needs:

    • Affordability: Rent increasing an estimated 25 per cent from 2021 to 2022 now places minimum-wage earners “in core housing needs;” for instance, a single working parent spends more than half of their minimum wage income on housing.
    • Support systems: More than half of participants reported long waiting lists for community housing and some reported a lack of disability units. Also, income supports such as ODSP and OW tend to penalize people who earn extra income, live with an employed family member or get a minimum-wage job.
    • Trauma: Survivors of partner abuse face low income or inadequate social assistance, dependence on the abusive spouse for financial support, poor credit scores and precarious employment that leads to mental health and self-worth issues. Also, housing in locations with active substance use can be traumatizing for women recovering from addictions.
    • Discrimination: Women who are Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, immigrants or were previously in homeless shelters found it especially difficult to get decent housing. “One woman told us about a landlord that wanted to put a bunk bed in a hallway for some newcomers thinking that that’s how they live where they came from,” says Heritz.
    • Safety: Because of high rental costs, the only affordable option is housing in neighbourhoods with high rates of substance use, theft, yelling and violence. Some participants reported feeling unsafe because they must share living spaces with strangers, including bathrooms and kitchens, for affordability.

    “The current plan to build over one million homes in Ontario in the next decade does not address the fact that most of the women and gender-diverse people who face intersectional barriers described in this policy brief will not be able to afford to rent or buy these new homes without policies, funding and other resources to enable access,” says the brief.

    The brief puts forth recommendations to the federal, provincial and Niagara Region governments, including:

    • Ensure gender-based equity in funding for the National Housing Strategy, with all federal programs prioritizing “those in greatest need, including women and gender-diverse people with disabilities, and Indigenous and Black women.”
    • Raise social assistance rates, disability benefits and minimum wage. Ontario social assistance (OW and ODSP) rates “should follow the federal government’s COVID-19 CERB example of $2,000 per person per month, which comes closer to what is needed to access safe and affordable housing in Niagara today.”
    • Municipalities “must include a gender lens in their Official Plans. This would assist in planning neighbourhoods that are accessible, walkable (to grocery stores, banks), and include child-care centres.”

    Research team member and YWCA Executive Director Elisabeth Zimmermann says her organization has “always supported women who are in need of housing,” particularly as Niagara is going through a housing crisis.

    “This joint research provides important information that verifies the importance of having an understanding of the housing needs of women and gender-diverse people and needs to be considered in any solutions that are developed,” says Zimmermann. “We are grateful for the report.”

    The brief paints a bleak picture of the housing situation for vulnerable residents in Niagara and beyond, including:

    • 14 per cent of the people surveyed in previous Niagara Region research reported experiencing discrimination in housing. Individuals surveyed reported discrimination based on gender (41 per cent), ethnicity (24 per cent), race (18 per cent), disability (23 per cent), sexual orientation (15 per cent) or Indigenous identity (four per cent).
    • The Niagara Region’s centralized housing waitlist grew by 11.5 per cent between 2020 and 2021, increasing to 9,171 households from 8,228.

    In Canada, in 2016, 37.4 per cent of young homeless women experienced a sexual assault, compared to 8.2 per cent of young homeless men; 41.3 per cent of trans and gender non-binary homeless youth had experienced sexual assault, and 35.6 per cent of 2SLGBTQ+ homeless youth had experienced a sexual assault, compared to 14.8 per cent of straight homeless youth.

    Categories: News

  • PM’s resignation is another hit to Britain’s reputation, says Brock expert Paul Hamilton

    The unprecedented resignation of British Prime Minister Liz Truss after only 45 days on the job does little to right the ship of a nation that has been staggering from crisis to crisis, says a Brock University researcher.

    “This means more and more uncertainty in a time marked by the war in Ukraine and the ailing U.K. economy,” says Associate Professor of Political Science Paul Hamilton. “Markets seemed to respond favourably to Truss’ resignation, but uncertainty around her replacement could add more chaos to the sinking pound and high inflation rate.”

    Though Truss will now go down as the nation’s shortest-tenured leader, Hamilton says the conditions for her demise and the damage to the U.K.’s status around the globe cannot be pinned on her alone.

    “Britain’s reputation for stable, reliable governance and global leadership had taken a hit before Truss’ resignation,” he says. “The departure from the European Union and the messy way in which it happened cost the U.K. reputationally. Theresa May’s resignation from the top job in 2017, followed by Boris Johnson’s scandalous departure and now Truss’ have likely damaged the U.K.’s status in world affairs for the near future.”

    With the governing Conservative party set to name its fifth Prime Minister in 12 years, Hamilton says potential leadership candidates should exercise caution.

    “The leadership may well be a poisoned chalice that ambitious politicians will shrink from,” he says. “The next leader will have about two years to steer the ship of state into calmer waters, and they will likely have to pursue a less ideological and more centrist economic policy.”

    While the new leader will likely last more than Truss’ 45 days, Hamilton says a two-year mandate might be a lot to ask.

    “There could be serious electoral trouble for the Conservatives should Truss’ successor lose the confidence of Parliament,” he says. “The party is divided and so its majority is fragile.”

    Categories: News

  • Worlds of anime, Greek tragedy collide in Political Science course

    At first glance, most people would be hard-pressed to find the link between ancient political theory and anime.

    But Associate Professor of Political Science Stefan Dolgert successfully used the connection, which is more prominent than it appears, to engage students in his Ancient Political Theory course this winter.

    After polling his students, Dolgert used the popular anime series, Attack on Titan, to frame the course and provide modern context.

    “People are writing great tragedies all the time and producing serious, political art,” says Dolgert, who has previously taught ancient politics using the hit series The Wire, hip hop albums and kung fu. “What I try and do is have a dialogue between an ancient or classical text and something that’s happening in the present.”

    Robyn Cumiskey, a fourth-year Political Science student with a minor in Sociology, had never watched anime before the course.

    “Learning about tragedy through anime was definitely not something I ever thought I would engage with during my undergrad, but it has shown me how relevant ancient texts and the storylines and tropes they depicted remain today,” she says. “A show that requires viewers to question their understanding of humanity, morality and tragedy provokes important questions about how current global society functions, the inequalities and violence it perpetuates and the tragic nature of such.”

    The course paired six Greek tragedies with episodes from Attack on Titan, along with secondary literature on the elements of tragedy and the context of anime. To bring the animation side of things to life, Dolgert reached out to two industry experts.

    Animator Denise Rashidi worked on the most recent season of Attack on Titan. She says that when she learned about the premise of the class, she thought it was “a fantastic idea.”

    “I love the fact that such great and relevant anime storylines are integrated into their class,” says Rashidi, who joined the class virtually from Germany.

    “I was surprised to hear how many detailed technical questions they asked, whether it was about the animation process itself, little details they noticed within some of the anime they watched or in regards to my own work process,” she says. “Overall, it was super fun and enjoyable for me to answer their questions, as they seemed genuinely interested and passionate about anime. I had the impression that some of them went out of it feeling more motivated about their own career paths, which is great.”

    Darin Bristow, Supervising Producer at Pipeline Studios in Hamilton, was also surprised at the sophistication and knowledge behind the students’ questions.

    “Most of the conversation came down to what happens behind the curtain as you’re creating or adapting a production,” he says. “Because of the level of insight the students had into how animation gets produced, I spent a lot of time answering nitty-gritty questions about how shows get financed and the brand components that go into launching a series, which was great.”

    Bristow adds that he enjoyed the conversation and hopes it will continue in the future. “I felt like in many ways we were just getting started and we ran out of time, even though we went for an hour and a half,” he says.

    Cumiskey found the guest speakers both informative and encouraging.

    “They each provided insight into the intensive labour that goes into the entertainment we consume, which again demonstrated to me the importance of such media for supporting civic engagement and consciousness,” she says. “These speakers were essentially performing the same work as ancient Greek tragedians, producing work that allows individuals to engage with and question their understanding of humanity.”

    Students also explored the connections between ancient texts and anime on dedicated TikTok and Twitter accounts.

    “Because the airing of this final season of Attack on Titan was a big cultural event for a large fan base, I thought it would be great to be able to actually interact in real time as a class with the cultural conversation around that,” says Dolgert.

    Some content generated by the class, including Cumiskey’s thoughtful tweet thread about the tragic character of Levi Ackerman, was shared and liked far beyond the class audience.

    “It’s important that these cultural artifacts that are the apex of the humanities help us have conversations about the human experience,” says Dolgert. “Similarly, work like Attack on Titan prompts viewers to have thoughtful conversations about their lives and experiences and also about big existential and political questions around things like the relationship between vengeance and justice, which is, with Russia’s attack on Ukraine, certainly very topical.”

    Categories: News

  • Political science students, profs connect at virtual coffeehouse

    Brock Political Science students are connecting with their professors in a brand new way this semester.

    The inaugural POLI 101 Coffeehouse series creates opportunites for students to chat informally with a professor in a specific area of political science about interests, pathways, pitfalls and advice.

    The series is the joint effort of fourth-year Political Science major and Student Ambassador Rebecca Van Massenhoven and third-year student representative Christian Santesso, who teamed up to organize the five-event series.

    Screenshot of multiple participants in a Microsoft Teams session.

    Students gathered at a POLI 101 Coffeehouse session on March 3 to chat with Associate Professor Livianna Tossutti in the Department of Political Science.

    “We wanted something interactive and welcoming that could break down the barrier between professor and student and show how a political science degree can be used to its best advantage,” says Santesso. “Professors could take a step back and instead of teaching, talk about their own personal experiences, what made them fall in love with their specific field and what different opportunities political science has brought them.”

    Van Massenhoven adds that upper-year students had expressed concerns about losing out on one-on-one time with professors during the pandemic, while newer students were feeling anxious about approaching professors in person during the transition back to campus.

    She and Santesso saw the virtual sessions as a way to create networks and help bridge two divides: between professor and student, and between virtual and in-person learning.

    The organizers spread the word about the sessions via the Department’s Instagram account, emails to students and a dedicated Microsoft Teams channel. As an added incentive, students who attend three or more sessions earn a LinkedIn badge that can be displayed on their profiles.

    Second-year Political Science representative Makenzie Tavares designed the badge.Fourth-year Political Science major and Student Ambassador Rebecca Van Massenhoven helped to organized the inaugural POLI 101 Coffeehouse series.

    “The badge represents the five areas of political science discussed in the POLI 101 sessions: policy and administration, theory, international relations, comparative, and Canadian studies,” Tavares says.

    Student response to the sessions has been overwhelmingly positive, with attendees turning up from all levels of study and even outside of the department.

    “Feedback shows that students are excited to take full advantage of this opportunity,” says Santesso. “They are no longer nervous to seek advice from their professors, which builds important connections they can use in the future, all while expanding their knowledge of the fields of political science.”

    Van Massenhoven says that professors have also expressed a great deal of support and enthusiasm for the endeavour.

    “The professors say they’re happy to meet individually with students or answer emailed questions to continue these conversations,” says Van Massenhoven. “That support coming from both sides, both from the professors and from the students, really shows that these sessions are very much what students are looking for, and they’re how professors are looking to support their students as well.”

    Associate Professor Livianna Tossutti recently took part in the POLI 101 Coffeehouse. She says she wishes that she would have had a similar opportunity to connect with her professors as an undergraduate.

    “I had a blast because I got to know the students on a more personal level, learning about their career interests, what they’re thinking about and what their worries are,” says Tossutti. “I enjoyed being able to connect with them on a deeper level and having a casual opportunity to let down our guard and relate as human beings, with some lightness and humour.”

    “Christian and I are thankful for the amount of commitment that both the professors and students have shown in attending these sessions,” says Van Massenhoven. “Burnout is a little bit higher right now for everyone, so we’re thankful that people are taking the time to come and sit with us. Their response overall has been something that we really appreciate.”Tossutti also says hearing directly from students in this way about their plans and the skills and knowledge they need to attain their objectives helps her reflect on how she might support those goals in her courses.

    Dean Ingrid Makus of the Faculty of Social Sciences calls it “thrilling to see the success of this innovative project driven by students.”

    “It’s an impressive realization of our vision for the student ambassador program, which was supported by the Dean’s Discretionary Fund to both professionalize and engage students,” she says.

    The next session takes place on Thursday, March 31 from 3 to 4 p.m., when Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science Tim Heinmiller will talk about the field of policy. Register online to attend.


    Categories: Events, News

  • Global migration students connect with newcomers to Canada

    A community collaboration recently allowed Brock students to connect their classroom learning to the lived experiences of newcomers to Canada.

    At a hybrid meeting held late last term, students in Livianna Tossutti’s class on Global Migration: Canada in a Comparative Perspective had the chance to hear from newcomers studying English as a Second Language (ESL) at the Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre. The event provided an opportunity for ESL students to share insight into their motivations for emigrating and their experiences arriving in Canada and the Niagara region.

    The ESL students represented 19 countries of origin and spoke more than a dozen languages. By sharing their stories, they helped Brock students understand the human side of issues they had explored in class, including the push and pull forces that drive international migration, the experiences of temporary and permanent migrants, and Canada’s multicultural approach to integrating newcomers. The level 5/6 ESL students also had the opportunity to practise speaking English and meet new members of the local community.

    “Immigration is a complex policy domain that is the subject of myths and misunderstandings that are propagated by the media and others who don’t quite understand the area or understand immigrants and their motivations,” says Tossutti, an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science. “I think the opportunity for students to ask questions directly to newcomers and to hear the newcomers talk about their experiences helps combat some of the preconceptions that people may have had about immigrants and immigration before they entered the course.”

    Tossutti has taught the class four times and worked closely with staff at Folk Arts to create this experience each time, whether in person or virtually. She says the benefits to students are immediately clear after each session.

    “Readings on migration can be heavily laden with statistical data or dense legal language that only tell one part of the story,” says Tossutti. “Getting the first-hand narratives from people who have been through the experience is an integral part of the learning experience for my students. Some of the theories and concepts discussed in the course begin to make sense after this session.”

    Ramneet Sahota, a fourth-year Political Science major from Brampton, says the meeting helped shape her understanding of the course material, particularly around integration.

    “Throughout the course, we have learned about integration and what steps host countries can take to ensure there is meaningful integration for newcomers in society,” she says. “Having this experience and directly speaking to newcomers made me understand the real-life implications of the integration process and how important meaningful integration and community resources can be.”

    Sahota says she was struck by the openness of the ESL students and by their outlook on the future.

    “My biggest takeaway from this experience was the optimism shown by the students and how willing they were to engage in conversation with our class,” she says. “It was really inspiring to see them engage with our class while they were still in the process of learning English, as this did not prevent them from answering all our questions and offering meaningful insight on their experiences.”

    Taher Matus (BA ’21), Folk Arts Mentorship Co-ordinator and Communications Chair, says it was great to see ESL students sharing their stories.

    “Having studied sociology myself, it was really a cool event to put together the terminology with faces and real-life experiences, using all the theories the students learn to try to understand different stories,” says the Brock alumnus. “I think it helped Brock students really see the barriers that all newcomers face, and maybe, moving forward, they can use their knowledge to help newcomers in society wherever they see them.”

    LINC/ESL instructor and Brock Applied Linguistics graduate Lisa Smith (MA ’17) has been working with ESL students in different capacities for nearly a decade.

    “It was a very positive experience,” she says of the meeting. “It gave my ESL students an opportunity to use their language skills and boost their confidence. I also felt that they were very engaged, and even those who are sometimes more reluctant to speak were inspired to share their stories.”

    Smith, who previously taught high school, prepared her students by sharing narratives from other newcomers and helping each student define personal boundaries and comfort levels. Brock students also submitted their questions in advance so the ESL students had time to consider their responses.

    Josefina Pérez (IELT ’98), Community Connections Program Co-ordinator at Folk Arts, says the event characterized what she calls the “two-way street of integration.”

    “It’s not only about newcomers arriving and coming here to settle, it’s also about the community welcoming them,” she says. “I think we managed to create a space where the two sides could interact in a safe way and there was genuine interest on both parts.”

    Pérez also says working with Tossutti and building Folk Arts’ relationship with her over the years has helped foster a sense of shared purpose.

    “It was not our first time working with Livianna, so that foundation of trust was already established,” she says. “I always remember Livianna’s research in welcoming communities — that’s what she teaches and researches, and it’s critical to have such allies in the community.”

    Pérez, who learned English at Brock when she first came to Niagara, says the conversation had some truly memorable moments.

    “There was the opportunity for our students to ask the Brock students about how they saw newcomers and what were they prepared to do in welcoming new Canadians, and that was very moving,” she says. “We hope we can co-ordinate more activities like this one.”

    Sahota’s strong impressions from the encounter led her to take up an internship at the Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre that started in January to prepare her for a future career in immigration law.

    “I decided it was important for me to work in the community before I enter the legal field, and working in a centre that provides resources for newcomers seemed like the perfect match for me,” she says. “Also, being a first-generation Canadian, I have seen the gap that exists between newcomers and those who are already integrated into Canadian society. Having this experience, I wanted to work in a placement that will allow me to somehow bridge this gap, even if it is on a small scale.”

    Indeed, helping students engage with the local community is a key part of Tossutti’s overall teaching philosophy.

    “These encounters are a window to the global diversity of backgrounds and lived experiences in Niagara,” she says. “After graduation, our students will assume leadership positions in Niagara and beyond, so I am hoping they will apply their enhanced understanding of diversity to their chosen professions.”

    Categories: News

  • Assistant Professor Joanne Heritz’s research shows lags and promise in municipal-Indigenous relations

    A new research paper suggests relations between municipalities and urban Indigenous populations can provide a means of enacting changes recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) if appropriate steps are taken.

    In “Municipal-Indigenous Relations in Ontario: Initiatives in Brantford, Hamilton, and Niagara,” which will soon appear in the Journal of Canadian Studies, Brock University Assistant Professor of Political Science Joanne Heritz analyzes the current level of engagement with and representation of urban Indigenous populations in the single-tier municipalities of Hamilton and Brantford, and the upper tier of the two-tiered municipality of Niagara Region.

    The study looks at three key areas: government interface, Indigenous culture as a municipal asset and economic and social development. Contrasting these three categories, Heritz shows that while municipalities can be policy innovators with formal mechanisms for Indigenous inclusion, some — including Niagara — need more focus and action.

    “Some municipalities are taking the initiative in building relations with urban Indigenous Peoples by creating Indigenous Advisory Committees and responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action,” says Heritz, noting that Hamilton has implemented an urban Indigenous strategy and has had an Aboriginal Advisory Committee in place for almost 20 years. “But others have yet to develop urban Indigenous policies.”

    The paper’s findings are in keeping with two previous studies Heritz has completed in this area, looking first at select urban centres across Canada and then at numerous municipalities in Saskatchewan. Because the provinces have no mandates related to urban Indigenous populations, each municipality has approached Indigenous relations in its own way.

    “Over half of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples live in urban centres and their numbers are growing, yet they are proportionately underrepresented in policy processes at the local level of government — even in municipalities that have significantly higher Indigenous populations,” says Heritz. “There are also comparatively few programs and services available for urban Indigenous Peoples.”

    Heritz also finds that the overall size of the municipality, rather than their proportionate population of Indigenous peoples, is often the biggest factor in the level of engagement shown.

    “Large municipalities like Hamilton, with proportionately lower Indigenous populations, have been most innovative in initiating Indigenous justice and health services,” Heritz says. “Compared to Hamilton, Niagara Region is lagging in building formal relations with Indigenous Peoples such as Indigenous advisory committees.”

    Heritz hopes her research will help municipalities understand the need to take up specific Calls to Action from the TRC. She gives the example of intercultural competency, or Indigenous awareness training, and notes that some municipalities provide education for management staff but not frontline workers, citing issues like shift considerations and budgetary concerns. But she adds that her interviews for the study took place prior to the pandemic and the broad uptake of digital platforms and asynchronous training options, which might be leveraged to overcome such challenges.

    She thinks the municipalities that have moved forward with formal policy processes to engage Indigenous communities can demonstrate for other municipal governments how to create meaningful and effective mechanisms by which Indigenous voices can be heard.

    “There are responsibilities for municipalities specifically included in the TRC’s Calls to Action,” says Heritz. “Displaying an Indigenous flag, making an Indigenous land acknowledgement or removing a statue are just the beginning of the responsibilities Canadians need to take to build relations with Indigenous Peoples in local government.”

    Heritz’s next phase of research will cover the provincial capitals of Atlantic Canada, where Indigenous-identity populations are increasing significantly and the process of “coming to terms with municipal-Indigenous relations-building” is just beginning, she says.

    Categories: News