May 18, 2022

Healing from Racism Journey's first year comes to a close

The 2021 HRJ program closed with a lunch event, featuring performer Habeebah Williams and a talk by Dynamic Diasporas curator & creative director, Doaa Magdy.

Originally published on the AVP Learning & Teaching Stories website.

Over the past year, 12 instructors took part in The Centre for Educational Excellence (CEE)’s Healing from Racism Journey (HRJ), a four-part program devoted to developing anti-racist teaching practices through self-reflection, changing individual actions and interpersonal interactions, and, as a community, through policy change. 

The program was designed by educational developers Bee Brigidi and Sarah Turner, and co-facilitated alongside Ashley Edwards, Indigenous Initiatives and Instruction Librarian at the SFU Library.   

HRJ works to dismantle the 15 characteristics of White Supremacy Culture (WSC), articulated in the Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, ChangeWork, 2001. Of particular interest is characteristic 14: Objectivity. It states “emotions should never play a role in the decision-making.” HRJ was primarily designed in response to this WSC characteristic as it speaks directly to the dismissal of lived-experiences, particularly of IBPOC/BIPOC students as knowledge holders, which, in consequence, removes their sense of belonging at the university. 

“We saw the need to support faculty with practical tools to decentering whiteness from their teaching and learning practices in design, instruction, curriculum and beyond,” noted Turner.   

Interests and motivations 

The 2021 cohort was composed of participants from diverse backgrounds and departments—from Criminology to Health Sciences. Their interest in the program was equally as varied, and they were eager to share their experiences. 

For Lyana Patrick, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences, whose areas of interest include Indigenous community health and well-being, taking this course was an opportunity to view her own story through a different lens. “For me, the most powerful thing was this opportunity to learn for myself the different ways in which racism has shaped my own experiences.”  

The longitudinal approach was a draw for Nicole Berry, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences, which, as a result, created for her a community of practice. 

“What's been exceedingly valuable about this program for me has been the fact that I have been able to establish a community of practice, and that that those relationships have been continually built so that I have a resource for when I need [one].” 

The format 

Throughout the year, participants were assigned a number of readings and audio and visual material to absorb, and were then required to complete activities and participate in discussions.  

“It’s a progression from individual learning to in-class discussion to application,” described Berry. 

Participants were asked to share and reflect on their own experiences, and the safe, non-judgmental environment that Brigidi, Turner and Edwards created was essential for this. 

“It was really illuminating. I actually came to some realizations that I did not have before. And there was a lot of prompting and reflecting. It was just a really safe space to do that work,” remarked Patrick. “I think that they did a really great job of setting of the stage of leading us through different activities and exercises.” 

Support and flexibility were key. 

“Our facilitators are incredibly flexible, so they meet our needs instead of telling us like, 'we’re going to teach you about this today' or, 'we’re going to have this conversation today,' because they’re very attuned to trying to support us in our journeys,” noted Berry. 

“If we couldn't get [assignments] done in [the specified] time frame, [there was] no judgment whatsoever about that,” noted Patrick. 

The takeaways 

For Patrick, HRJ confirmed that she was on the right track in the way that she teaches her courses. “It's helped to reinforce a lot of the things I've tried to do or say. For example, I give opportunities because I know that [hard deadlines] can cause a lot of anxiety.” 

She also noted that it brought to her attention the diversity of the Canadian experience.  

“There's not one experience of being a settler or being an immigrant […] It’s not this binary […] this sort of settler–indigenous divide. It's much more complex than that, and so it's helped me to engage with the complexity.” 

Mark Lechner, University Lecturer in the Faculty of Health Sciences, observed that discussions about racism often get ignored in the sciences, and that HRJ helped encourage him to continue including them in his courses.  

“It has reaffirmed my desire to more consistently bring up issues of racism into the courses that I teach.”  

Berry stated that HRJ broke down and shone a light on the pervasiveness of colonialism, which allowed her to recognize it in her everyday life. “It's really given us an opportunity to […] look from up to down, [on] how these institutions are constructed and how we participate in them.” 

A new iteration  

CEE is excited to announce that HRJ will continue with a new cohort in Summer 2022. Those interested in participating can submit in their expressions of interest here. To learn more about the program, please visit the HRJ website.