What Would It Mean to Decolonize the University?

Grant program: Disrupting Colonialism through Teaching: An Integrated Seminar Series and Grants Program

Grant recipient: Carolyn Lesjak, Department of English

Project team: Melissa McGregor, research assistant

Timeframe: August 2018 to August 2019

Funding: $6000

Course addressed: ENGL 810 – Theory and the University

Description: English 810 is one of the core theory courses in our graduate program and when I teach this course we read major developments in theory in tandem with current work on the university that addresses the history of the university and the particular transformations and challenges facing universities today. I aim to decolonize my teaching by adding a module on what it would mean to indigenize the university. This will involve new theoretical readings on settler Canadian relations, the role of the university as a colonial institution, and the particular actions taken by SFU as part of their response to the TRC calls for action.

By addressing Indigenous issues and ways of knowing in one of the first courses graduate students take in our department, I hope to help students begin to understand how these issues are central to the history and identity of settler Canadians, and to the institution of the university specifically, and education more broadly.

I expect that the inclusion of Indigenous content and new theoretical paradigms will further aid students in the critique of the university as an institution and possible alternative futures for the university that the seminar develops over the course of the term.

Questions addressed:

  • To what extent are graduate students able to identify Indigenous issues and understand how they are central to the colonial history and identity of settler Canadians?
  • To what extent and in what ways are graduate students able to critique the institution of the university and education more broadly in light of Indigenous issues and anti-colonial theoretical paradigms?
  • How does graduate students’ understanding of the nature of an anti-colonial university change over the course of the module?
  • What are students’ opinions about and suggestions for the module?

Knowledge sharing: Our department holds brown-bag lunches and is also moving towards reorganizing our department meetings to minimise the amount of time spent on reports in order to engage broader, more substantive issues related to pedagogy, and the role of our department in the university, so I can envision proposing a conversation about decolonizing our teaching and my experience of introducing Indigenous content/theory in my graduate seminar in one of these contexts.