SFU faculty - including FHS members Senior Lecturer Mark Lechner, Professor Nicole Berry, and Director of Undergraduate Programs and Senior Lecturer Nienke Van Houten - discuss their experiences with Healing From Racism Journey, a program that supports self-research, growth and the development of anti-racist teaching practices

Promoting equity in teaching and learning at SFU: The Healing from Racism Journey

May 30, 2024

Reprinted with permission from the Office of the AVPTL. Original post here.

By Jackie Amsden

SFU instructors are working to make the university a more equitable place to work, teach and learn thanks in part to their experiences in the Centre for Educational Excellence’s Healing from Racism Journey program (HRJ).

HRJ is a primarily synchronous online cohort program for instructors designed to support self-research, growth and the development of anti-racist teaching practices. It also includes optional in-person sessions.

“The HRJ initiative transcends faculty development programs. By recognizing racism as systemic within higher education, it goes beyond teaching to impact the institution's core operations and teaching culture. We empower faculty to explore critically how these systems have shaped them across their various roles at SFU, encompassing classrooms and research. Through this exploration, we facilitate the development of strategies for fostering equitable learning environments for all students and colleagues. This fosters a continuous, critically anti-racist community at SFU,” says Dr. Bee Brigidi, inclusive teaching educational consultant developer, who conceptualized and co-facilitates the program alongside Sarah Turner and Ashley Edwards.

Fostering equity within the classroom  

For health sciences lecturer Dr. Mark Lechner, the experience shaped not only his teaching but also his commitment to champion equity across the university.

“The experience in the program continues to shape me. For example, when setting up a course, I’m questioning: Why this lesson? Why this assessment? And how could I change it so that it's not duplicating racist systems? This might mean changing the case studies I use or providing a more critical historical lens on the scientific concepts we are exploring. The HRJ program also led me to join a decolonizing STEM community of practice where we seek ways that our teaching and learning does not perpetuate narrow and discriminatory viewpoints. And I’ve just now taken a role as a co-lead for the EDI Community of Practice faculty pod, so that I can continue the conversation with my colleagues beyond Health Sciences and across the whole university.”

Shaping teaching and decision-making    

According to public policy professor and director Dr. Genevieve LeBaron, her participation in HRJ has informed both her teaching and administrative processes.

“One of the things I was thinking about through the course was how to centre equity and Indigenization within our School. This has meant rethinking aspects of my teaching. For example, one thing that I really took away from that was how limiting it can be for students when both course materials and assessments are entirely text-based, so, in a course on research methods I integrated more multimedia into the syllabus. Additionally, as a head of department, it has meant considering how the structure and processes of our school can be more inclusive, transparent, and fair. In the wake of the course, I’ve helped to launch the Community for Anti-Racism and Equity (CARE) committee—co-chaired by Drs Natahnee Winder and Ali Bhagat—which is doing excellent work in our school. HRJ was a supportive space in which to consider optimising administrative and governance structures as I launched into my directorship. It also equipped me with a network of people across campus that could support and share notes around this work.”

Creating a shared understanding of tenure and promotion

For health sciences professor Dr. Nicole Berry, her experience in the program inspired her and her colleagues—Drs Alex Kent, Lyana Patrick and Mark Lechner—to lead faculty-wide discussions about tenure and promotion reform which have helped them recognize their shared values when it comes to faculty career progression.

"Our faculty council workshops helped highlight a new shared understanding of Tenure and Promotion Committee guidelines. Identifying a shared understanding in our faculty on this very difficult topic is an incredible accomplishment. What I appreciated about the program was that it pushed me to be reflexive in a structured way, and offered a space where I was working alongside my colleagues, which was very motivating.” 

Supporting equity in teaching portfolios

Health sciences lecturer and undergraduate programs director Dr. Nienke van Houten says her experience in the HRJ program encouraged her to help raise awareness about the inequity that instructors may face.

“I learned a lot in the program about structural factors that often go unseen, so one way I was able to help challenge that was by co-developing an invisible labor module with Bee Brigidi as part of an online course I was creating to help faculty prepare for biennial reviews. The purpose was to bring awareness to the fact that faculy from specific cultural or racial backgrounds are often doing more work to support students from similar backgrounds than their colleagues. There is a lot of invisible labour that happens and the purpose of the module was to help those faculty engaged in that labour to consciously integrate that work into their teaching portfolio, and to also to raise awareness amongst members of the TPC that this labour is happening.”

Healing from Racism Journey is typically offered in October and November. If you would like to be notified when the next cohort is available, please email cee_event@sfu.ca.