November 26, 2020

Reflections on Inclusion in the Classroom Week

Benita Bunjun, Chris Hiller and Victoria Freeman spoke about their experiences as community-based alliance builders during Inclusion in the Classroom Week.

From November 9 to 13, 2020, the Centre for Educational Excellence (CEE) hosted a number of online workshops and presentations as part of its Inclusion in the Classroom Week. The week was designed to “equip instructors to create inclusive spaces so that all students feel welcome in their classrooms,” according to I-Chant Chiang, director of CEE’s Curriculum and Instruction Division.

It was also a recognition of the highly diverse mix of students and instructors at SFU and a demonstration of the importance the university attaches to ensuring that diversity in learning environments is recognized, valued and supported.

Inclusion Week consisted of six sessions:

  • “Supporting Multilingual Students in the Remote Environment”
  • “Difficult Conversations in the Classroom”
  • “Alliance Building in the Academy and in the Community: The Role of Decolonizing and Indigenizing”
  • “Holding Space for BIPOC Instructors”
  • “Allies Affinity Group”
  • “Universal Design for Learning: Multiple Modes of Engagement and Assessment in the Remote Learning Environment”

The sessions drew strong interest. In particular, “Alliance Building in the Academy and in the Community” attracted well over 100 participants from as far away as South Africa.

We asked several participants to share the insights they gained.

An opportunity to compare notes and reflect critically

Beth Maschmann, an instructor in the English Language and Culture Program within Lifelong Learning, attended “Supporting Multilingual Students in the Remote Environment” as well as “Difficult Conversations in the Classroom.”

She was grateful for the chance to compare notes with colleagues who share a common mission: “Connecting with others in the university, and bringing back to my classes not just language, skills and strategies I can enact, but also [that I can] share with my students, taps into their own agency and creates consistency as they move through their studies.”

She also appreciated the opportunity to cast a critical eye on her work: “Both sessions referred to self-awareness, understanding our own frames of experience and the ability to critically reflect on what we bring into class. This is integral to the inclusivity and relationship building necessary to facilitate meaningful dialogue with and among our students.”

A place to find support

Mary-Catherine Kropinski, associate dean of equity, diversity and inclusion in the Faculty of Science and a professor in the Department of Mathematics, attended the “Difficult Conversations” workshop as well as the “Alliance Building” presentation, but said, “The experience that stood out the most for me was the Allies Affinity Group session.”

The group session was billed as a safe space for allies (self-identified non-BIPOC* instructors) in the process of anti-racism and reconciliation to share their journey and support each other.

“I had just completed an anti-racism workshop for white people and was looking for an opportunity to continue that work,” said Kropinski. A statement during the session to the effect that “coming to terms with our whiteness is rarely a source of comfort, but we can find strength and support in those who share our struggle,” struck a chord.

“The statement pretty much hits the nail on the head for me—both the discomfort I have felt starting my journey with actively engaging in anti-racism work, and the support I found from the other attendees of that session.”

A source of inspiration

A final set of reflections came from three UBC colleagues who jointly attended the “Alliance Building in the Academy and in the Community” session.

The session, facilitated by Dorothy Christian, associate director, Indigenous initiatives, in CEE, brought together Benita Bunjun (Saint Mary’s University), Victoria Freeman (York University/University of Toronto) and Chris Hiller (KAIROS), three “scholarly activists and community-based alliance builders,” for a discussion of “how their relationship building has influenced and centred an anti-colonial, decolonizing, and indigenizing of educational courses and programs that they coordinate and deliver.”

Janey Lew, a senior educational consultant for Indigenous initiatives in the UBC Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT), was grateful for the opportunity to hear about the work taking place at other institutions: “Learning from the experiences of others in the academy about how they have approached the growing edges and tensions of decolonization and Indigenization through alliance-building strategies is very relevant to our work. It also gives us a boost of morale to know that we are not alone, and that it is possible—and in fact inspirational—to learn cross-institutionally while respecting the specifics of alliance-building contexts.”

Erin Yun, also of the CTLT, appreciated the example offered by the speakers: “I really valued the vulnerability and humbleness each of the panellists shared during the session. They modelled what reciprocity, relationships, and what transformational learning looks like in practice—and that transformational learning involves being in discomfort, making mistakes and being vulnerable.”

She was struck by one point in particular: “There was a question that one of the panellists asked that still sticks with me today—'Is the university a place for transformational learning?’—and [that] is a question I feel [we] as educators need to be asking more often.”

Claudia Diaz of the CTLT echoed Yun’s thoughts: “A meaningful insight was from Victoria’s paper about the reminder that creating honest and respectful relationships with Indigenous people does not occur overnight. It requires one's willingness to be challenged at the point of deep discomfort. Another meaningful reminder was about our responsibility to treat with care words like decolonizing and Indigenizing by continuously engaging with its meaning and implication for our work.”


Teaching Practice, Remote Instruction, Indigenizing and Decolonizing, Student Experience