Building Pathways through a Culturally Responsive Model

By Tanya Weiler, Program Director of Aboriginal Pathways Program and Regions at University of South Australia College.

‘You will go softly with the way you instruct, keeping in mind that the word for thinking and knowing in that [Aboriginal] language is also the word for loving’ – Yunkaporta, 2009

At the beginning of February 2020, 45 eager and nervous students across South Australia commenced the Aboriginal Pathway (AP) Program, a pre-undergraduate enabling program at UniSA College (of the University of South Australia). Completing 9 subjects over 18 months, the UniSA College enabling program develops students’ skills and the confidence to transition into any degree of their choosing, using students’ competitive GPA for entry. The AP program is an academically rigorous 18-month program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to engage with university study without leaving their community-based support structures. Piloted in 2015 with an initial 28 students in three locations, the program is now delivered face to face in Adelaide and all four regional UniSA College locations: some students travel >1000 kilometers to attend. South Australia is large (half the size of Alaska, but bigger than Texas!) and sparsely populated (1.7 million people, with 1.34 million in its capital, Adelaide). UniSA College programs are delivered in four regional centres (the furthest 775 km from Adelaide).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represent 3.3% of all Australians, but only 1.6% of university students (Universities Australia, 2017). Since the implementation of the AP program at UniSA, participation of Aboriginal students within the university has markedly increased, and the first completers are set to finish their Undergraduate studies this year.

Before creating the AP, consultation with Aboriginal Elders and groups at each delivery site established trust in the program as a partnership with the University, the community, and the students. The program design drew on Indigenous Enabling Education research (Fredericks 2016, Behrendt 2012) which recognizes a barrier in the competing course demands of a traditional semester model. We focused on mitigating this factor, giving students flexibility to study whilst balancing family and cultural responsibilities. Students study a maximum of two simultaneous courses in the first year (completing 6 in total), followed by 3 concurrent courses in the second year to mirror an undergraduate load. Intensive teaching blocks enable students who travel large distances to attend face to face, and the increased class-time supports strong scaffolding of skills. Given a cohort with many young parents, classes fit within school terms/hours.

Course design in the program is grounded in culturally-responsive teaching based on theories of intrinsic motivation (Wlodkowski & Ginsberg, 1995). In designing learning activities for Aboriginal students, understanding of the ‘8 Ways of Learning’ pedagogical framework (Yunkaporta & Kirby, 2011) which emphasizes storytelling and non-linear processes has been fundamental. Extensive discussion and ‘yarning’ (a dialogue circle) is a focus in tutorials and online, fostering trust and open interaction between educators and students. Students’ reflections on the community benefits of new knowledge is a key aspect of the curriculum. To reduce Internet connectivity issues common in remote Australia, all course materials are available in print format as well as online. This allows students to engage with learning materials despite unstable technology, whilst also providing teaching resources for students to use or share with family and communities.

2018 Aboriginal Pathways Program completers

There is always more to learn and ways to further embed Aboriginal perspectives, understanding and knowledges into such a program. We are consistently informed by research on best practice in Indigenous access education (Fredericks et al. 2015; Aseron 2013) and Culturally Responsive pedagogy, but most importantly building relationships and listening to Aboriginal Elders, communities and educators is fundamental and ongoing. Through these relationships and time spent with Aboriginal communities, we have developed detailed understanding of synergies between Aboriginal and Western pedagogies to best support students as they transition into their university experience.

‘If we find the overlap between our best ways of learning and the mainstream’s best ways of learning then we will have an equal balance.’ – Yunkaporta, 2009

How are you using culturally-responsive practices to support students, particularly in the challenging times we find ourselves in presently? Please ‘leave a comment’ so we can learn from you.

REFERENCES

Behrendt, L 2012, Review of higher education access and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: Final report, Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.

Fredericks, B., Kinnear, S., Daniels, C., Croft, Warcon, P. and Mann, J 2015, Path+Ways: Towards best practice bridging and Indigenous participation through regional dual-sector universities. Report submitted to the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Curtin University: Perth.

Universities Australia 2013, Indigenous Strategy, Universities Australia, viewed 22 March 2018, <https://www.universitiesaustralia.edu.au/ArticleDocuments/212/Indigenous%20Strategy%20Web.pdf.aspx&gt;.

Wlodkowski, RJ & Ginsberg, MB 1995, ‘A framework for culturally responsive teaching’, Educational Leadership, vol. 53 no.1 pp. 17-21.

Yunkaporta, T. (2009). Ways of learning in Aboriginal languages. PhD thesis, James Cook University. https://researchonline.jcu.edu.au/10974/4/04Bookchapter.pdf

Yunkaporta, T & Kirby, M 2011, ‘Yarning up Indigenous pedagogies: A dialogue about eight Aboriginal ways of learning’, in R Bell, G Milgate & N Purdie (eds.) in Two Way Teaching and Learning: Toward culturally reflective and relevant education, ACER Press, Camberwell Victoria

Widening Participation to University – Aussie style

By: Samantha Avitaia – Manager, University of Wollongong Bega Campus

In the Bega Valley on the south-east coast of Australia, less than 15% of people have a University qualification as opposed to 42% in major Australian cities (ABS Census data 2016).

Since 2011, the Outreach and Pathways Unit at the University of Wollongong (UOW) in Australia has worked in partnership with the Department of Education (DoE) NSW, the Catholic Education Office (CEO) in Wollongong, Canberra and Goulburn and local school partners to ensure that individuals from our local community, regardless of their background, have the opportunity to access higher education. Our work is enriched through these partnerships and through engagement with individuals in schools and communities, enabling us to effectively implement age appropriate activities to build their awareness of higher education and develop children’s skills and knowledge to help them gain entry.

The UOW regional campus in Bega NSW is a very small rural university campus with under 200 students enrolled and a student body made up largely of non-“traditional” students including low socio-economic background, Indigenous, mature-age and students who are also family carers.

Despite, or perhaps rather because of these challenges, our little campus manages to run school outreach programs with over 1600 students per year in our rural areas to encourage participation in Higher Education. Ranging from Primary School Year 6 students to those in their final Years of High School, all of our programs are mentor led by current rural university students, sharing their challenges, fears and joys about Higher Education to those who attended the same schools.

We also host free purpose-built bridging programs alongside vocational education providers to encourage mature-age students to continue their vocational education onto university.

Our programs include:

Year 6 In2Uni

Consisting of a teacher-delivered module and an on-campus day at their local UOW campus, the Kids In2Uni Program aims to help students begin building a positive and lasting connection with university. Students and parents participate in taster sessions, run by UOW faculties, career discovery activities, and toured the campus with current university mentors. This program introduces Year 6 students to the idea of higher education beyond school and starts conversations about their future career paths and options.
Year 6 students engaged with In2Uni activities.
Year 6 Kids In2Uni

Year 8 Future Me

Delivered in schools by In2Uni Mentors, the three-hour workshops consist of students being introduced to the language of higher education, and recognising the links between their own interests, curriculum and study options after high school that could lead to potential careers.The workshops culminate in students developing short and long-term goals for their academic study, and they were provided with a suite of additional resources to utilise throughout their high school progression.

Year 8 students in the Future Me program pose for a group photo.
Year 8 Future Me

Year 10 Future Finder

Through a range of higher education taster sessions (including university and vocational options), and participation in goal setting activities, students gained a taste of what it is like to engage in post-school study and explore potential future careers. Consisting of a teacher-delivered module and an on-campus event day for Year 10 students, the Future Finder Program is designed to help better inform students during their senior high school subject decision process.
Year 10 students engage in vocation/career exploration activities
Year 10 Future Finder

Year 11 HSC (Higher School Certificate) Bootcamps

This program was designed to give students an insight into the HSC and help to prepare them for their senior studies. The program was delivered by current university students who have recently completed and been successful in their HSC, and who have previously attended a local high school. The program focuses on tips for approaching the HSC, soft study skills and what students could expect over the coming 18 months. The topics covered in the workshop included exam preparation, goal setting, decision making, note taking, and how to build a positive learner identity.

Year 11 Higher School Certificate (HSC) Bootcamp participants.
Year 11 HSC Bootcamp participants

Indigenous Careers Program

This is a collaborative program run by Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff and students from university, TAFE (Technical and Further Education) Vocational Education and AIME (the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience). Aimed at providing personalised career and education pathway advice and support to local Indigenous students, information and support includes; Career exploration, TAFE and University entry options and scholarship information, apprenticeship and traineeship advice. Indigenous presenters from local industries are also invited to share their career stories and progression. The program is interwoven with personal stories and artwork.

Students taking part in the Indigenous Careers Program.
Students taking part in the Indigenous Careers Program.

Year 12 University Preparation Program

Run over two school terms, the University Preparation Program (UPP) provides Year 12 students with the opportunity to improve their HSC study skills through tailored study sessions with trained In2Uni mentors. Students who participated in the UPP attend on-campus study centres each week for 90 minutes. During these sessions, students receive transition advice, support in applying for Early Admissions at UOW, and discuss post-high school options. Designed for students who are unclear about their higher education pathway, the UPP aims to give students a taste of what university life is like, and support their aspirations as they consider their career pathways.
Year 12 UPP students pose for a group photo.
Year 12 UPP students pose for a group photo.

Pathways to Higher Education

The Pathways to Higher Education Program aims to increase the awareness of pathways options and attainment of individuals to access higher education. Designed to improve the participation of low SES, mature-aged, and Indigenous people in higher education, particularly targeting non-school leavers, the Pathways to Higher Education Program provides an opportunity for individuals to increase their employment outcomes by offering them tangible information, opportunities and pathways to access higher education.This is achieved through: Building awareness and opportunities to access pathways to higher education through Vocational qualifications; Providing access to sponsorship; and Offering a Bridging Program to assist students’ transition to higher education.

Pathways to Higher Education students relax on campus.
Pathways to Higher Education students relax on campus.

Gaming to Uni

I first met Tricia Seifert at the 2018 ISFIRE – International Symposium for Innovation in Rural Education in Montana and was immediately taken by the Success Prints Crash Course board game as a fabulous tool for demystifying university for school and first-year university students alike. Despite our geographical and cultural differences, we are doing very similar work on opposite sides of the globe.

We have formed a connection along with University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa and are now testing the game in our rural locations, contextualizing the play and scenarios in partnership with our students. I am very excited to be working on this project and look forward to seeing what the Australian version of Success Prints Crash Course becomes and how it complements our widening participation efforts.

Samantha Avitaia is the Manager, University of Wollongong Bega Campus.

Enabling Excellence through Equity: Lessons Learned

By: Tricia Seifert

The image conveys moving from one water-based space to another. On the left is a picture of a rushing waterfall; on the right, waves washing up on the beach.

At the closure of the “Enabling Excellence through Equity” conference, the presenter shared the famous Winnie the Pooh quote from A.A. Milne in the right-hand photo above; “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come find you. You have to go to them sometimes.” I left the waterfalls, forests, and mountains of Montana to look up at the red bellied black snake hillside of the Woolyungah (the five islands), nestling my toes in the sand on the beach in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. This wasn’t vacation — I was at a conference — but when people push your thinking and share ideas that ignite your imagination, it is a creative, generative holiday.

I spend the last week discussing how higher education can:

  • Widen participation from equity groups (Indigenous students; students from a Non-English speaking background; students with a disability; students from low SES backgrounds; regional and remote students)
  • Partner with schools, families, and communities to foster a higher education-going culture
  • Encourage and support students to see themselves as ‘uni material’ and develop necessary skills through robust enabling programs
  • Assist students as they transition to higher education and then as they enter the workforce

These were the central streams of the conference presented by the Equity Practitioners in Higher Education Australasia (@TherealEPHEA) and National Association of Enabling Educators of Australia. I am so thankful for the opportunity to leave my forest and learn from others in theirs. I wish to share some of what I take-away from the experience.

Take-Away #1: Widening participation in higher education is no longer a social justice imperative but an economic one.

Jobs of the future will require higher-order, complex, and critical thinking skills. There is a raft of evidence to this fact. I often cite the Center for Education and the Workforce report detailing the need for education beyond a school credential / high school diploma. But I was fascinated to learn of the 2019 study conducted by Deloitte Access Economics that found:

“social inclusion plays a critical role in lifting Australia’s living standards through increased productivity in the workplace, improved employment and health outcomes, reducing the cost of social services and by spreading the benefits of economic growth across society.”

Although I find it highly unfortunate that widening educational opportunity to groups historically under-served by higher education requires an economic justification to motivate policymakers to take action, I was excited to learn of the government provided Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program funding and support of the National Center for Student Equity in Higher Education (@NCSEHE). At a time when the government has re-instituted caps on the overall number of places for university study, HEPPP funding is not a panacea. That said, I applaud the overt support of efforts to bring higher education into schools and bridge what is often two silos.

Take-Away #2: Language is power; how we convey an idea has reverberating repercussions.  

This is the time in the conference where I had to do the most cross-cultural decoding of meaning. The conference organizer welcomed delegates by telling her personal story of higher education and shared she started her higher education journey through an ‘enabling program’. I was fortunate to have my friend and colleague, Sam Avitaia from the University of Wollongong-Bega, as my cultural translator and I asked her at morning tea what is enabling education.

As I grappled to understand this new concept, I kept looking for the American equivalent. In some ways, it may be akin to what we call ‘remedial education,’ which in its most generous term is referred to as ‘developmental education’. But here’s the distinction, remedial/developmental education is predicated on what students lack. There is something deficient about the students’ preparation and the university is called upon to fill in the deficiency.

After attending several enabling sessions at the conference, I came to understand that ‘enabling education’ comes from a different starting place. Rather than situating the student as deficient and in need of remediation, the student is seen as completely whole, with promise, potential, and capacity. The enabling education program is designed to assist students in calling upon their strengths in realizing their goals.

Dr. Leanne Holt, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy) at Macquarie University, also drove home the point of language. She shared how she was “not keen on support” and called on the delegates to re-frame their work as ‘student success.’ Again, ‘support’ as a noun suggests what students lack; what the university must shore up. ‘Success’ recognizes students’ capacities and strengths and places universities in the role of developing, fostering, enhancing, ‘supporting’ student capacity toward success.

Take-Away #3: Make the implicit, explicit. Decode the hidden curriculum

Sally Kift (@KiftSally) kicked off the conference with the opening keynote. It was a policy and practice Tour de Force. Amidst my furious writing of policy documents to download, she returned over and over to the fact that First Year Experience 3.0 must be whole-of-institution, shared responsibility for “transition pedagogy” (Kift, Nelson & Clarke, 2010).

Too often, students are left to arrive at university with their secret decoder ring to make sense of higher education’s ‘hidden curriculum’. However, for those who are First in Family (or first generation) to attend higher education, they have no such ring. These students must figure out #HowToUni (my favorite hashtag of the whole conference) on their own. Not only is this expectation of first-year students unfair, it is quite simply, wholly inequitable.

Drawing and extending from Dr. Kift’s presentation, I offer the following. If we are to realize the promise of widening participation, institutions must:

  1. Manage the transition by unpacking the hidden roles and inviting students to conceive of their own vision of success
  2. Acknowledge the diversity of its entering/commencing students and recognize these students come with different forms of capital that must be engaged as students master their new ‘student role’
  3. Design curricula with intention. Imagine curricula that was coherent, scaffolded, relevant, and organized in such a way that students received timely feedback on their performance. If higher education academic and professional staff purport to have this expertise, then students rightfully should expect them to employ it effectively.
  4. Create curricula that call on students to be teachers and learners with peers, academic and professional staff, industry, and with their families & communities. Learning is a social enterprise. We teach when we are engaged with another. We learn, similarly, in community.

As I reflect on an amazing conference, I am grateful for the opportunity to have shared and learned with equity and enabling practitioners and researchers from across Australasia. I come back to the Maori phrase written three times in my journal:

he tangata       he tangata       he tangata – it is people.

‘It is people’ (he tangata) is the answer to “what is the most important thing?” It is people who have spurred me to cultivate a rich sense of curiosity and inquiry. It is people, their possibilities and promise, that move me to teach.

Tricia Seifert is Head of the Department of Education at Montana State University and Associate Professor in the Adult & Higher Education program. She also curates the Supporting Student Success blog. If you wish to guest write for the blog, please leave a comment below, tweet @TriciaSeifert, or email tricia.seifert@montana.edu.

Supporting Indigenous STEM Students

By: Noah Arney & Michelle Pidgeon

The disparity of post-secondary education (PSE) completion between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians (40% vs. 55.3%) continues to persist (Statistics Canada, 2016). Unfortunately, the disparity is wider when we compare undergraduate degree completion between Indigenous (8.6%) and non-Indigenous Canadians (23.25%). The gap of post-secondary completion (certificate, diploma, degree, and above) specific to the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields is even wider. Indigenous people are half as likely to have STEM based PSE (4.1% vs. 10%), and for those with STEM Bachelors degree and above, the gap moves to being a fifth as likely (1.1% vs. 5.7%).

In 2012 Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta created the Aboriginal Science & Technology Education Program (ASTEP) to support the growth of Indigenous STEM students in the Faculty of Science and Technology. This program operated from 2012-2019 and represented one of three Indigenous specific STEM programs offered specifically at the university level in Canada.  To understand the impact and influence of this program an external review was conducted in 2017 following Indigenous research processes (Kovach, 2009; Pidgeon & Hardy Cox, 2002). This process included an analysis of institutional data, comparisons with similar programs, and interviews and sharing circles with students, staff, and faculty who were closely associated with ASTEP.

From the participants in the review, ASTEP was valued for its relationship building, wholistic student support, faculty support, and creating a sense of belonging for Indigenous students in the Faculty and more broadly at MRU. This was done through intentional programming and practices by the ASTEP coordinator, faculty, and staff from the Iniskim Centre at MRU all of who had a shared aim of supporting ASTEP students and broader Indigenous communities through programming for Indigenous youth.

Relational Student Services

Relationship building with students was the basis of most of the successes. This was accomplished by frequent interaction in person, electronically, and over the phone. These interactions were spread across the various events and supports offered by ASTEP. Relationship building across academic faculties and other units was accomplished by frequent interaction both formally and informally, both connected with ASTEP directly and as part of the broader University community.

Indigenous students specifically valued the academic advising, tutoring in Indigenous-centered spaces, Indigenous speaker series, Lunch and Learns, Dean’s lunches, and Elder support.  Faculty valued the professional development provided to them, assisting with curriculum development with Indigenous peoples, and organizing meetings with Elders and other knowledge keepers. Students and faculty involved in ASTEP valued the community and sense of support that was created through these various aspects of the program. The collaborations involved in ASTEP provided a welcoming and safe environment, and established relationships of trust and mutual respect.

Intergenerational mentoring with faculty, staff, and students was created through ASTEP that was another core theme emerging from the evaluation that as a program strength. Bringing role models to the institution through the Indigenous Science Speakers Series and other events and programming helped Indigenous students put themselves forward as role models for incoming university students and high school students. Through meeting Indigenous scientists and professionals, ASTEP students could go beyond imagining themselves as Indigenous STEM professionals but becoming such professionals through the meeting role models who were established in such careers. Their responsibility to give back and help the next generation continued for some ASTEP alumni who after they graduated continued to work with the Iniskim Centre and Faculty of Science to mentor the new students.

Successes Found

There was clearly value and impact of the program. From the review of institutional data, the Indigenous STEM student population doubled in five years, and now accounts for 4.2% of students in the Faculty of Science & Technology, up from 1.7% in 2011. Institutional data showed the average GPA remained in line with non-Indigenous students throughout the program while the retention rate of Indigenous students was higher than for non-Indigenous students at 87.4%. This was 10% higher than for non-Indigenous students. Pre-ASTEP retention was unable to be determined due to low student numbers. The ASTEP data challenges stereotypes about Indigenous students not being as committed or academically capable as non-Indigenous students. It also provides support for Indigenous specific programming that is aimed at supporting Indigenous student success and persistence in STEM related programming.

Challenges Faced

Two of the biggest challenges with a program like ASTEP are student time/engagement and sustainable funding. ASTEP worked on the first by having a full-time program administrator who was able to work one on one with students and adjust his schedule to better serve the student population. The coordinator acted as a liaison between the STEM faculty and the Indigenous student services, along with direct supports for Indigenous STEM students. While the program was initially funded externally through corporate funding, and when this source was not renewed, the ASTEP program was closed due to lack of institutional and/or external support. As an interim measure, many different groups on campus have taken up elements of ASTEP to ensure the students are supported until institutional funding can be secured.

Integrating Into Your Practice

Other post-secondary institutions could utilize a similar Wholistic Support Model to support the Indigenous STEM students at their schools. The Indigenous Wholistic Framework (Pidgeon, 2014) utilized by Dr. Michelle Pidgeon in her review of the program is a good model example for Indigenous post-secondary student support. The key feature of Pidgeon’s (2014) model is the “interconnectedness of the intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical realms” (p. 10) which are themselves connected with the relational connection of the individual to their community and beyond.  

Indigenous Wholistic Framework (Pidgeon, 2014)
Figure 1. Indigenous Wholistic Framework (Pidgeon, 2014)

The following activities, as described in Figure 2, provide some examples of how to support Indigenous STEM students.

Wholistic Supports for Indigenous Stem Students
Figure 2. Wholistic Supports for Indigenous STEM students

As you can see in Figure 2, there are many opportunities for post-secondary institutions to increase their support for Indigenous STEM students. Many institutions support Indigenous students through advising and tutoring. But the intellectual domain is more than that. Students must be given examples of other Indigenous people who have succeeded at what they are accomplishing, and faculty and staff must learn about the perspectives and backgrounds of Indigenous students. The core though is integrating support for the whole person rather than simply supporting a student’s intellectual success. It is this focus on the whole person that led to the successes of ASTEP, and it can also lead to success in other post-secondary institutions.

The Whole Student

The support of students physically may be seen in two different ways. First the support of students’ physical needs such as ensuring that students don’t need to choose between accessing supports and eating. Second is the use of land-based events and activities which would vary by the region the post-secondary institution is in.

Supporting the emotional and spiritual growth of a student is something that can be done both in conjunction with a wellness centre on campus or could be done in Indigenous student supports. Many institutions have Elders in residence or visiting Elders. Connecting students between programs and between years to create peer supports can be very beneficial. Most important though is the concept of building relations between students and between students and staff and faculty. This creates a feeling of safety and a sense of belonging that helps support students as they progress through post-secondary. Supporting this feeling of belonging is ensuring students have access to cultural supports and ceremonies as they require. Separating the spiritual domain from the rest of the person is not something that is supported by Indigenous educational philosophy. Intellectually, Indigenous students can be supported through peer-tutoring, having faculty members who have been trained around culturally relevant pedagogy and curriculum, and having direct connections of what they are learning to their future career aspirations (e.g., co-op, mentorship with professionals).

Increasing the number of Indigenous students in STEM fields is a worthy goal for any post-secondary institution. Providing support specifically for Indigenous STEM students was shown to be beneficial at MRU. From this program, there are many sharable lessons to support Indigenous students in STEM fields and we hope other institutions take up this work and develop supports, programs, and services for their Indigenous students.

Noah Arney is Work Experience Coordinator – Bachelor of Computer Information Systems, Career Services at Mount Royal University. Dr. Michelle Pidgeon is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University and Director, Centre for the Study of Educational Leadership & Policy (CSELP) and SAGE (Supporting Aboriginal Graduate Enhancement).

References

Kovach, M. (2009). Indigenous methodologies: Characteristics, conversations, and contexts. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press.

Pidgeon, M (2014). Moving Beyond Good Intentions: Indigenizing higher education in British Columbia universities through institutional responsibility and accountability. Journal of American Indian Education, 53(2), 7-28.

Pidgeon, M., & Hardy Cox, D. (2002). Researching with Aboriginal peoples: practices and principles. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 26(2), 96-106.

Statistics Canada (2016). Census of Population, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-400-X2016263. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

Our Journey is Our Story

You know a conference has left an impact when you find yourself itching to write while on the early morning flight home. On my 16-hour travel, I continue to think about and process the experience at the first joint conference of CACUSS and ARUCC.

I blogged on Day 1 of my professional learning journey, sharing how much I valued and was humbled by the opportunity to connect with the ancestral, unceded land of the Mi’kmaq people as I walked a part of the Confederation Trail. The walk centered my mind and provided me with a clear intention for the conference.

Stated simply, I was blown away by the depth of learning, vulnerability, and authenticity that was shared at this week’s CACUSS-ARUCC conference in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. On a more personal note, going into the conference with a very clear intention, I am humbled by the peaks and valleys that I know I will encounter on my personal learning journey to examine my settler/colonial assumptions and biases.

Sitting in Circle

My conference journey began literally on the road. I drove 1000 km from my home to Thompson Rivers University where I learned with the wonderful Faculty of Student Development team. In circle, I shared my name and where I’m from. We were a large group and it took almost an hour to go around the circle one time. I felt myself getting a little antsy and my western/colonial mind wondered if this was a good use of time. I had to quiet my mind and commit to being in the present moment in which Paul Michel, Executive Director of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, shared the importance of beginning in a good way. By acknowledging our ancestry first, we communicate our connection to the land and our relations. As we went around the circle, we not only learned about each other but new connections were discovered.

I found that two others in the circle have family whose last name is Gunn. They are from the Clan Gunn of Scotland. I thought my grandmother’s family was from the Gunn’s in Wales. Maybe they migrated from Scotland? Spending time in circle in this way, I’m motivated to learn more about the land in which I come and my relations. Irrespective, I feel a new closeness to these colleagues.

Lesson 1

Paul shared that our stories stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. It is what connects us to our ancestors’ journey. All journey is story and our story is our journey.

Skiing, Struggling, Steeling Resolve

From TRU to Charlottetown via Calgary, my conference journey began with story and continued with story front and center at the CACUSS-ARUCC conference.

Candy Palmater took the stage and enthralled the audience with her story. There were moments that were hilarious and others that were heartbreaking. I would hunch that parts of her story resonated differently with each person in the audience. This is the power of story; it invites people to connect with whatever chapter compels a response.

I am a skier and I was mesmerized by Candy recounting when her brother taught her to ski. I know firsthand it is no fun to fall when skiing. It hurts and it’s hard to get up with long planks strapped to your feet. But falling is part of skiing and having to get up is inevitable. If you fear falling, then you ski with fear. If you learn first how to get up, you can ski without fear.

Lesson 2

These were two key lessons that I gained while on my conference journey but I have to confess that I struggled throughout. The US policy of separating children from their parents who were seeking asylum at the border weighed so heavy on my heart. Throughout the conference, I was angry. I was communicating with my Congressional delegation daily through social media. I am still angry and still tweeting, Facebook posting, and calling.

I acutely felt my privilege to be at a conference in which the opening statement acknowledged that the conference attendees were occupying and visiting the ancestral and unceded land of the Mi’kmaq people. The Europeans who came to this land committed horrible atrocities and a taking of the land.

It was not lost on me that at in the same minutes that Pat Pardo, CACUSS President uttered those words, border agents of my home country were forcibly taking small children from their families. Not unlike the forcible taking of Indigenous children from their families and placing them in boarding schools in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and Haskell, Kansas to “kill the Indian, save the man.”

The notion of truth and reconciliation, as painfully imperfect as it is in Canada, feels unattainable in the United States in which the truth is denied, distorted, and dismissed. With truth questioned at every turn, I wonder if we may ever engage a process of reconciliation.

There are moments that I feel helpless and hopeless. But thankfully, most moments are fueled by a passion and persistence to RESIST! I gain strength from my Indigenous colleagues who have resisted and survived in the face of broken treaties and cultural genocide. One of my colleagues shared that he is the first in his family not to go to residential school. His generation and the two previous, if allowed to participate in post-secondary education at all, became lawyers and teachers and social workers. His daughter, the fourth generation, wants to be a rock star.

I do not share this glibly. I share this story because it gives me hope. I am deeply grateful for my CACUSS family who have shared their stories with me. This story and the many others told this past week steel my resolve to examine the colonial assumptions and biases that pervade our post-secondary program. To expose these assumptions and biases in plain light. To name them for the colonial privilege and power that they provide to some and the oppression they impose on others.

I don’t have the map for decolonizing the programs over which I have influence at my institution. But I am on the journey and looking for some good company. Let me know if I you will be on the trail.

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 1.43.22 PM

I invite you to “leave a comment” about your learning journey. There’s great value in having friends to share with along the way.

— Tricia Seifert is associate professor of Adult & Higher Education and department head of Education at Montana State University. She is also the principal investigator of the Supporting Student Success research project.

Times They are A-Changin’ – Part II

By Tricia Seifert (@TriciaSeifert)

In the last week, two countries in North America have celebrated birthdays. On July 1, Canada celebrated 150 years of Confederation, which many have reclaimed as 150+ years in recognition of the centuries of indigenous people inhabiting that land. The United States celebrated 241 years of the signing of the #DeclarationOfIndependence, which was read aloud and tweeted by @NPR on the 4th of July.

Education has long been heralded as key to a thriving democracy. The historical trauma that residential boarding schools inflicted on indigenous people in both Canada and the US, however, has sullied the promise of education. Yet, “facing the truth,” as Suzanne Stewart (@SuzanneLStewart) and Charles Pascal suggest in their editorial in the Toronto Star, is indeed worthy of celebration.

Many institutions including my own, Montana State University, purport to “to improve the human prospect through excellence in education, research, creativity and civic responsibility.” With celebrations this past week north and south of the 49th parallel, I have been thinking a great deal about how educators engage students to enact their civic responsibility such that education’s promise can be fully realized in these two countries and beyond their borders in the next 150 years.

I believe part of civic responsibility is engaging in the political and public policy process. Today I share a small action I took to bring public policy discussions, particularly as they pertain to education policy, to the forefront in the MSU Department of Education.

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Engaging in the Policy Conversation

Every week I send an email communication, the Monday Minutes, to students, staff, and faculty in the Department of Education. With the start of a new year, a new President taking office in the US, and new legislative session beginning in our state capital, it seemed timely to begin including information about various public policy proposals at the local, state, and federal level in addition to the usual announcements, opportunities, and event information.

Recognizing that this was an addition to the previous semester’s weekly communication, I prefaced the section titled, Policy Update – Opportunities for Civic Engagement with the following statement,

Part of being an educator and professional is to be aware of and engage with public policy relevant to your work and daily practice. This section of the Monday Minutes is designed to share public policy and legislation that pertains to our work as educators.

In each week’s communication, I aimed to include information about policies at the national/federal, state, and local level. I wanted people to recognize that public policy discussions, pertinent to their professional practice, happen all around them and at every level of governance. Over the course of the second semester, I shared information about a:

  • Local bond issue to fund a second high school in our community
  • State legislation that would provide less operating funds to the Montana University System, resulting in a tuition increase for students
  • President Trump’s federal budget proposal

In each case, I provided links to learn more about the issue and how to contact directly one’s elected and appointed public officials (US Congress, state legislators, school district personnel).

In the heat of these political times, many may wonder how to engage students, staff, and faculty in a way that is non-partisan. The text below is taken verbatim from how I introduced the federal budget proposal.

From a National perspective:

If you have not reviewed President Trump’s budget proposal, I encourage you to do so here. The proposal has SIGNIFICANT implications for public schooling and higher education accessibility. Please voice your support or opposition to our federal legislators. It¹s easy to do, simply click on this link: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

I was clear to frame the civic action in response to the policy proposal in terms of one’s “support or opposition.” This is crucial; I am more than aware of the public discourse that purports faculty members seek to indoctrinate students. The US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, drew much attention in February stating,

“The fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think.”

My intention with this small action with the Monday Minutes Policy Update – Opportunities for Civic Engagement is not to influence students, staff, or faculty members’ policy perspectives but to invite them to engage in public policy discussions as a matter of professional and civic obligation. To me, education that encourages and invites the community to engage in matters of public policy debate, development, and implementation is central to a healthy democracy.

Although I need to assess to what extent Department of Education students, staff, and faculty acted on this information, a number of people stopped by my office this semester to thank me for making this information easily accessible. Sometimes all you need is an accessible link to inform yourself in order to take action and make your voice heard.

Two Small Wins

So what’s my take-away from the two small actions discussed in the last blog posts?

I think what hits home is that providing an opportunity for people to interact with new ideas (whether those ideas are advanced by people in a discussion or a policy document) is simply what educators do. It’s not flashy; it’s part and parcel of what education is — interacting with new ideas. I didn’t do anything big in either of my actions but people came out of the experience with more information. They encountered new things to think about, questions to ponder, and possibilities for action. As David Kolb stated years ago, “learning is a process.” The small actions I took gave a chance for folks to further engage in that process.

I’m curious what others have done to discuss religious, spiritual and worldview diversity with students. I’m also interested in how you have invited students, staff, and faculty to engage in the public policy conversation.

What have been your successes? What challenges have you experienced? Please take a moment to “leave a reply” and be part of this critical conversation as we navigate these changing times.

Times They are A-Changin’

By Tricia Seifert (@TriciaSeifert)

It has been five months since I posted about the changing political times and their influence on post-secondary education in the United States. In the interim, several courts have ruled against President Trump’s ban on travel for people from six predominantly Muslim nations. But just yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States allowed for the travel ban to be enforced provided that the travelers from these six nations do not have a “bona fide” relationship to the US. The Court’s ruling has been interpreted as permitting those from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen to attend a university or deliver a speech as having “a credible claim” of a relationship with a person or entity in the US. Students and scholars from these countries may travel to the US. But in an ever-changing political climate of what constitutes “bona fide”, these students and scholars may feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or most importantly, unsafe to do so. International students and scholars who are not from the banned countries may also question travel to the US and decide against it.

When the executive order was signed, I was worried that students from one of the six countries who had gone home might not be able to return to their studies. I was concerned that parents who are graduate students from one of the six countries presenting at a conference might not be able to come home to their children. I live fairly close to the Canadian border and could not help but think about the possible grad student from Iran who went to present an academic paper at a conference in Calgary being prevented to cross back into the US. I was thinking especially of their children and the extent to which the student teachers from Montana State University are prepared to support these international kids in their classrooms.

Five months ago, President Trump’s attempt to ban people from predominantly Muslim countries moved me to think about how to bring discussions of diversity and public policy to the forefront in my work with students, staff, and faculty. Today, the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold parts of the travel ban, particularly as it pertains to limiting refugees from war-torn countries, has me thinking about how educators support students to understand different religious, spiritual, and worldview perspectives.

Taking Action

Like so many, I felt and feel a bit paralyzed by what I can do. With everything that calls for my daily attention, what actions can I take? What is within my sphere of influence?

[I want to note that I wrote this blog post on Saturday, June 24. The US government’s enforcement of the executive order travel bans has changed tremendously in the last 24 hours and I have updated to reflect the day-by-day changes that Americans and others from around the world are experiencing with respect to US policy. What I share is what I have done in the five months since the initial executive orders were announced. The US Supreme Court’s actions in the last day have only strengthened my resolve.]

Examining Religious, Spiritual, & Worldview Diversity

Because the travel bans are focused on countries with predominantly Muslim populations, I feel it is important to begin by acknowledging the religious diversity of today’s college campus. I knew I needed to take advantage of the good work that already being done in this arena and not re-invent the wheel.

In February, I tapped into the NASPA live webinar series that focused on supporting Sikh and Hindu students. This was a useful starting point as the series was timely and because it is not uncommon for Sikh and Hindu students to be mistaken for Muslim students. It is noteworthy how few students know the difference between these religious faith traditions, despite the nearly two billion people around the world who practice these traditions.

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I was grateful for the insight provided by Dr. Simran Jeet Singh (@SikhProf), Assistant Professor of Religion at Trinity University and senior religion fellow with the Sikh Coalition, a civil rights advocacy group for the Sikh community and Cody Nielsen (@campminmatters) who interviewed Dr. Singh.

Over the course of an hour, Montana State University Department of Education students, staff, and faculty learned about the basic values of the Sikh religion and the outwardly physical characteristics displayed by Sikhs. You probably have seen the long, uncut hair often wore tucked up in a turban. But beyond the outward signs, I was struck by the similarity of Sikh values to Christianity and other world religions.

Dr. Singh spoke about Sikhs service to God, which manifests in serving the world, selflessly inspired by love. He also spoke about remembrance and the pillars of engaging in one’s community, the concept of oneness of God, and the ideal of love. Thinking about the Christian lessons from my childhood, I noted how in the Sikh faith suffering results from failing to recognize the oneness and divinity in each being. To me, this spoke to my Sunday school lesson of loving one another.

I was motivated to provide this opportunity to learn about other religions because so few students, staff, and faculty (outside those in the Religious Studies department) know about the values and principles that guide faith traditions outside their own. Faith, religion, and worldview is a key dimension of our students’ identities; it often shapes students’ behavior and how they interact with others. Think about how people from different faith traditions extend greetings, whether it is appropriate to make eye contact, and how and how often they pray. And yet, it is not uncommon for people to have no knowledge of the principles and values of the religion, faith tradition, or worldview that guide these behaviors and interactions.

Stated simply, if our college and universities are to prepare teachers and leaders to support all students, they need to understand their students’ religious, spiritual, and worldviews.

Yesterday, I shared my interest in creating a Worldviews Passport program with our student government president and Office of Activities & Engagement staff. The program would introduce students to the principles and values of a host of faith communities and invite passport holders to reflect on how understanding that worldview will enable them to interact inclusively in work and community settings. As we talked, the student affairs staff got excited about partnering with student clubs and working together to connect with the community.

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Changing Times and Greater Resolve

I was excited with possibility. Then I came back to my computer and learned about the Supreme Court decision.

The need for people to understand different religious, spiritual, and worldview perspectives has never been greater. These actions taken by the US government have only strengthened my resolve that the safety, security, and future of nations lies with educators who invite students into the great wonder that is learning about ideas that differ from your own.

Only once we understand the other can we be understood.

Next week I will share the second small action I took as a result of President Trump’s executive order banning travel from six predominantly Muslim countries. My mantra is “small actions yield small wins.”

I want to hear from you. We are part of a worldwide community of educators. In light of the changing political times, how are you supporting students? As always, I invite you to be part of the conversation by leaving a comment.