Rerooting Relationships: How the Semester in Dialogue Plants Seeds for Meaningful Engagement

September 06, 2022
Semester in Dialogue alums Sarah Law (left) & Jocelle Refol (right) used dialogue to grow a unique program.

It’s undeniable. Students of the Semester in Dialogue (SID) go on to do great things with the skills and reflections they gain from the program. 

Both past recipients of the Den Haan Award for their demonstration of leadership and excellence in the use of dialogue, SID alumni Jocelle Refol and Sarah Law banded together over summer 2022 to execute their very own civic engagement initiative called “Rerooting Relationships.” We recently met up with the two to talk about their experience. 

Jocelle Refol has a BSc (Honours) in Health Sciences and is a facilitator, community organizer, and advocate who’s passionate about health equity and community engagement at SFU. For her undergraduate thesis, she focused on exploring the health experiences of Filipinx people on Coast Salish territories - a research area that has often been overlooked. 

Currently, Jocelle is the Event Coordinator for Sliced Mango Collective, an organization that centers Filipinx identities and cultures, particularly for Filipinx youth. As part of their affiliated Slice of Support Campaign, Jocelle helped lead a community effort to protect cultural assets in the Renfrew-Collingwood neighbourhood. Jocelle, who is a graduand of Spring 2019’s Semester in Dialogue: Complexity in Health and Wellness, had this to say about the SID.

"Like I've said many times, dialogue changed my life! Being a SID alum opened me up to connections, ideas and possibilities I had not considered before. Most notably, [it] helped me become more comfortable and confident with myself, especially my voice as a racialized woman. Because of this, I've made it essential to bring dialogue into everything I do; [I now] make and hold space for conversation, in order to pave a path forward to a better future."

Sarah Law holds a BA (Honours) in Sociology and is pursuing her MA in Sociology. She a facilitator, a community organizer and an advocate of climate and racial justice. She’s passionate about power literacy, systems change, community engagement and the implementation of radical imaginations. In her final year as an undergraduate, Sarah wrote and defended her thesis “Resistance and Resilience in the Era of Ecological Grief.” She has since spoken about her research at OceanWise and on CBC radio

Currently, she is planning on holding a climate emotions conference and is a Teaching Assistant for a Sociology and Anthropology course on Cultures of Capitalism. And although Sarah was a part of a different SID cohort than Jocelle (Spring 2020’s Semester in Dialogue: Semester in Wicked Problems), her experience was not all that different. 

"SID had a big impact on getting [me to create] this program and also just in the work I do beyond it. SID help[ed] me shape how I move in conversations with people when it comes to difficult topics like racism, democracy, climate action, etcetera. Coming out of the pandemic, I think that youth are realizing that there are a lot of wicked problems in this world. They’re facing things like ecological grief, despair and a lot of anxiety when it comes to thinking about their futures, which can really immobilize them and cause them to think as though they have no personal capacity or power to take on these social problems. I’ve always admired SID because it goes beyond a degree and instead focuses on who you are and what you bring to the table. It helped shape my personal, academic, interpersonal and professional world."

Craving feelings similar to how they felt in SID, friends Jocelle and Sarah created Rerooting Relationships, a program designed to prioritize fruitful conversation and learning moments, opportunities to build connections, and journaling. 

Photos taken during the Rerooting Relationships program.

"In short, we created this program because we knew something was missing within the current landscape of youth programs out there. Although we have had incredible experiences with community engagement and activism in so-called Vancouver, we recall how most of these were output focused (meaning that the purpose of the program was to work towards creating something). Although these can be impactful, it also draws energy away from focusing on building relationships and general learning without pressure. Gaining inspiration from our time in SID, we created our own program, in hopes of bringing folks one step closer towards solidarity and community." - Jocelle & Sarah

With funds from the Centre, the SFU Student-Community Engagement Competition, and the Social Innovation Seed Fund by RADIUS SFU and Embark SustainabilityRerooting Relationships ran during the month of July 2022 and was unsurprisingly a success. Members of the cohort engaged in meaningful dialogue, expressed creativity through art projects and had the chance to meet stakeholders who shared their expertise on topics related to civic engagement and justice. Allyship, accountability and anti-oppression were major themes taught throughout the program, as both Sarah and Jocelle believed the learnings to be the core of activism work. Overall, each of the 15 participants left the program with various learnings. Sarah said: 

"It truly meant the world to be able to create a space that stayed authentic and true to the hopes that Jocelle and I had in the initial phases of program creation. Creating this program and witnessing creative, passionate and courageous youth bond over their shared dreams for the future was incredible. I am so grateful to have witnessed and been a part of shared learning grounded in vulnerability, care and love for the worlds we are fighting to keep. Thank you to our sponsors, community partners (many of whom are cherished friends), comrades and participants. It’s been a pleasure to be curious and have hope with you all."

Photos taken during the Rerooting Relationships program.

It’s clear that both Sarah and Jocelle have secured an impressive and ever growing amount of achievements under their belt. But unlike some leaders, they continually choose to pass on their knowledge, wisdom and compassion. The two come from different backgrounds, participate in different ongoing initiatives and were enrolled in different SID programs, but one similarity remains–dialogue helped shape the people they are today.

Maybe it can do the same for you.

Are you an SID alum doing interesting work? Have an innovative idea you’d like to share? We may be able to support you! Check out the SFU Student-Community Engagement Competition. The competition provides awards in the amount of $2,000 or $3,000 to SFU students who submit innovative ideas for working with community partners on projects that will have meaningful impact. 

Questions? Reach out to dialogue@sfu.ca.

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