McGill promotes vision for equitable learning

McGill students and faculty, along with Montreal residents, discussed the role of community in education and research at the 2018 Social Equity Undergraduate Research (SEUR) and Engaged Learning Symposium on Oct. 4. The symposium, which featured panel discussions alongside the second annual SEURA, examined how the principles of equity and diversity ought to feature in the academic world.

The first event of the symposium, which was hosted by McGill’s Social Equity and Diversity Education Office (SEDE), consisted of a learning panel and dialogue that took the form of a ‘storytelling harvest,’ featuring activities that engaged the crowd and opened discussions about the role of diversity. Audience members were assigned predetermined mindsets by organizers on arrival, directing participants to process the story differently. These mindsets included ‘skill building’ and ‘expectation and experience,’ to demonstrate how stories can be absorbed from different perspectives and the value in sharing them.

Anurag Dhir, co-organiser of the event and engaged learning and access coordinator for SEDE, highlighted the significance of McGill’s role in Montreal’s unique communities.

“Knowledge being learned in the community must come back to the classroom for it to constitute engagement,” Dhir said. “We must make sure these relationships are reciprocal.”

Community-based exchange forms the basis of SEDE’s vision to carve out a space in the university which fosters more diverse voices within research. SEDE hopes that doing so will inspire new, equitable ways of learning.

Community-driven initiatives like Suspicious Fish, NDG Food Depot, and Blac Biblio were showcased as a testimony to the importance of SEDE’s goal.

Founded in 2007, the Suspicious Fish Creative Literacy and Arts program is a non-profit organization that engages with school children in the Verdun area and focuses on developing literacy and artistic skills to improve career opportunities. The program is in a partnership with Literacy Quebec, the McGill School of Architecture, and the School of Urban Planning, which provide institutional support.

Beccah Frasier, youth program coordinator of the NDG Food Depot food security program, echoed similar sentiments concerning the importance of community-based exchange.

“Research on cross-sector partnerships has been very interesting and has allowed our programme to expand,” Frasier said.

Blac Biblio is an organization that provides educational resources on the subject of Canadian black history for elementary school teachers. Genevieve Vande Wiele Nobert, panelist and member of the organization, emphasized the element of self-development in community-based projects.

As a McGill student involved in the project last semester, she views community-based exchange as an environment in which her own academic interests can flourish.

“Approaching community-based research through a lens of self-development makes it much less invasive in communities,” Vande Wiele Nobert said. “Knowing that communities can teach me something encourages genuine exchange.”

The SEUR Awards ceremony values ideals similar to Vande Wiele Nobert’s. Speaking at the ceremony, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) President Tre Mansdoerfer praised the constructive nature of the research awards.

“The principles of equity must not only reside in the pages of textbooks,” Mansdoerfer said.

Sophia Thierry, U2 Psychology, received the award for her research on the impact of musical training on observable positive behaviours in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). For her, becoming involved in community-based research was the result of participating in a study last semester. Inspired to conduct her own research and an engaged style of learning, Thierry noted that the process was important to her own personal development.

“It is an important way […] to build upon your interests and pursue your own questions,” Thierry said.

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