August 12, 2020 at 2:36 pm MDT #195383jmcf23Participant
Dadanast’ada (Hello to Each and Everyone of You),
Sizi Jo-Mary at’a. Sinajuna Crowchild-Fletcher at’a. Tsuut’ina Gooji ik’oholi guts’i istł’ini at’a. My name is Jo-Mary Crowchild-Fletcher, and my ancestors are Tsuut’ina, Siksika, Scottish, and French.
I am a first year student at AU, currently in the BSc program.
1. How does the candidates plan on tackling the systemic issues that AU has in place (its a colonial institution, so there will be systemic racism)?
2. Will there be extra training for the council members (new and current) on Indigenous people and the impacts of colonization?
None of the candidates acknowledged the traditional territories of the Indigenous people in their bios, and only one candidate is visually a BIPOC member.
3. One of the candidates mentioned something along the lines of response times from AU staff. How do they plan to go about that? Advocate for more staff to be hired, a new system to be put into place?
4. How do the candidates plan to advocate for lower tuition costs? This partially goes relates to my first questions as financial privilege is what often continues the assimilation of my people.
I look forward to hearing your answers. Good luck to the candidates.
August 12, 2020 at 4:42 pm MDT #195391Natalia IwanekParticipant
Hi Jo-Mary. These are really great questions. Thank you so much for bringing these topics up.
(You are also completely correct about the land acknowledgements; that it something that should always be included. I would like to acknowlege that I am currently writing from the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples.)
I think that the Indigenization of education and the decolonization of all institutions is such a priority in Canada, as well as worldwide. From my perspective, I think that the hesitation in speaking about these issues comes from not wanting to speak for/on behalf of others, which directly ties into what can be done to bring more BIPOC students to the table, while ensuring that the table is a safe and equitable place for all involved. Although many people feel uncomfortable speaking on this topic, it’s undeniably clear that structural conditions and systemic violence need to be addressed and these conversations needs to continue with BIPOC voices to the front. As a start, how can we create a system that more BIPOC students feel safe and welcome running for Council? How can we further decolonize academia?
For me personally, as a Canadian immigrant and settler, over the years, I’ve become increasingly conscious of the lack of education/knowledge, as well as misinformation many Canadians and new Canadians have about Indigenous communities. Although this is partly the fault of the educational system, as well as government policies, this is also our own failing for not seeking this knowledge ourselves. So much more work needs to be done and (un)learning should be continuous, including on Council. Some other ideas are increased training, workshops, and personal development.
I’ve written a great deal about systemic issues for our student paper, The Voice, from my personal lens of queerness, immigrant-identity, and illness and disability (as well as white and cis). I’ve also written about systemic racism and xenophobia. Although I feel that these are not my stories to tell at times, they are impossible to separate from overlapping issues facing communities of colour, such as medical racism, environmental racism, the disproportionate number of murders of BIPOC trans and 2-Spirit individuals, barriers to education, and poverty. We can all do better. I also recently wrote about the newly created Indigenous Representation Committee, which seems like an amazing way for Indigenous students to have their voices heard. So much more needs to be done, but this is a good start.
Response times from AU staff is also definitely an issue. I would definitely advocate for more staff and more tutors, or perhaps, those who are not so overwhelmed and overworked. It’s understandable that things became a little confusing when this pandemic first began, but ultimately, we are an online institution with an existing online framework. Student concerns are defiantly a priority.
Advocating for reduced tuition rates begins on the provincial and continues on the federal levels. I believe that reduced costs should be a priority, especially during this unprecedented pandemic with absolutely everyone affected, either financially, physically, or mentally. We should also look into those most affected including students in remote and rural communities, especially Indigenous communities, as well as other underrepresented students, such as those with disabilities. Increased scholarships and bursaries, especially for these students would be something that I would advocate for as well as a way to mitigate financial privilege.
I hope that answered some of your questions and welcome to AU 🙂
August 13, 2020 at 10:53 am MDT #195395AlmigdadEldomaParticipant
Hello to you Jo-Mary,
Thank you for telling us about your amazing background. Asking these types of questions is so important, so thank you again for bringing these topics to light. Let me start by saying I’m writing from Amiskwaciwâskahikan, also known as Edmonton.
Unfortunately, there are many students who don’t feel they can speak up due to many reasons. I’m focused on eliminating any fears some students may have when speaking for equal representation. It could be a fear of looking different, maybe they feel they’re asking for “too much”, or you feel like you’re the only one out there. I’m running to show we are not alone. Just by participating and showing that I exist, has already felt like an accomplishment against systemic misrepresentation for my fellow students.
But this hasn’t stopped the University or The AUSU from doing what it takes to spread awareness, and try to include more indigenous voices. The Indigenous Student Representation Committee focuses on indigenous learners and the many barriers facing them, and their community when it comes to pursuing a postsecondary education. If elected I will work closely with these members so we may pursue success together. Eliminating all hidden fees for indigenous students and financial struggling students. Either applying for post-secondary (transcript fees), and while completing courses(examination fees) this needs to stop. These fees discourage many financial struggling individuals for pursuing their passion. If elected this is one of my core missions.
I hope this answered some of your questions, and good luck on starting your studies.
August 13, 2020 at 12:41 pm MDT #195397
Your questions are so important, and you’re right, given that universities are modeled after their European predecessors it is inevitable that they will unjustly centre whiteness and European cultural norms, which needs to be fixed.
You make a good point that none of us acknowledged the traditional territories of the Indigenous people in our bios. The instructions provided to us said to leave out our names and location since there was a word limit and that those would be provided, but as I reflect on it now only the colonial names were listed as our locations. I am writing this from the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg people. Going forward, both ways of identifying the locations could be used, beginning with the Indigenous descriptions. I’ve contacted the executive director and chief returning officer to ask how we can get that changed on the website.
AU has an Indigenous Representation Committee which I think is an important part of reimagining what a university should look like. As a council member, I would like to be a part of advocating for and putting into place their recommendations. Getting to do background work on practical solutions is something I like to do and am good at.
I was the candidate that mentioned response times from AU staff (particularly tutors). One thing that I think could be put in place is an automatic email to the tutor, course coordinator, and student if a mark has not been submitted within the standard timeline. It would help make coordinators aware of repeating problems from specific tutors and be a natural opening between the course coordinator and the student to talk about what’s going on. I’ve found that when I’ve had issues with a tutor the course coordinator has usually been very helpful in helping resolve it, but students shouldn’t need to keep on top of their tutors like this. I think accountability to the course coordinator would be a really easy first step to put in place to address marking times. AU has set and advertised their own standards for timelines, we’re not asking for tutors to do any more work, only that they do their work on time.
Financially, AUSU council members advocate at the national and provincial level for student’s interests (including funding) as well as to AU (in terms of the tuition rates the university sets). As a council member, I would like to advocate to AU for reduced tuition on courses with free online materials, reduced reliance on outside proctoring services (since that increases costs to students overall), as well as stopping tuition increases.
I hope that addresses your questions, and if you have other specific concerns or ideas about what you’d like to see at AU I think all of us who are running would love to hear them.
All the best,
August 13, 2020 at 4:44 pm MDT #195400ChrisSlobodaParticipant
I am writing from Amiskwaciwâskahikan. These are incredibly important issues and unfortunately my experiences as a non-indigenous person have been limited in this area, but I strongly believe that minority groups should be well represented within AUSU and Athabasca Universities governance structures. Working with AU’s Indigenous Representation Committee, I would try to always hear and understand their guidance.
A big part would be education to increase awareness. Students, AUSU committee members, and staff should be well educated on Indigenous history and culture, as well as understanding the impacts that colonization has had since. You mentioned extra training for council members on Indigenous people, I would personally be interested in undergoing extra training or education on this matter to better understand these issues. I believe that increased awareness and understanding of the issues and barriers facing minority groups is key to ending systematic problems.
In terms of lower tuition cost, I think that AUSU should push for another tuition freeze to be implemented at the provincial level along with other university student unions. Unfortunately the increase for the coming year is already set, but another freeze could prevent tuition from increasing in the following years that have already been planned. I would push that AUSU work to increase the availability of scholarships for AU students to offset the negative impacts. The scholarships should also include more specific scholarships for minority groups such as Indigenous students to try to help minimize the extra barriers that they face in getting an education.
August 13, 2020 at 5:04 pm MDT #195401
I’ve been thinking more about what you said. I also think AUSU should be advocating for the content of more classes to include diverse sources of knowledge. For example, as a Bachelor of Science student, I recently completed Ethics in Science and Technology. Every author and source listed was approaching things from a white or European-descendent point of view.
So many issues relating to science or technology relate to the environment as well as the land we’re on. Looking at ethics and how decisions are made in cultures that have historically done a much better job than white societies of relating to the environment, (treating it and people well) would have made the course better. The lack of diversity in the source material reinforced the colonial idea that knowledge and wisdom is the domain of white people. Additionally, white people do not collectively have a good track record when it comes to treating the environment and people ethically (the entire point of the course).
Having Indigenous sources in the course material (as well as sources from other cultures, not just Western) is an important part of acknowledging that non-white people have important and relevant knowledge and authority. That’s something I would like to advocate for if elected.
Years ago I had a roommate who was blind, and there were so many things that I didn’t even think about being inaccessible for her until she pointed it out, because no matter how much I tried to imagine not being able to see I couldn’t imagine all of the ways that it spilled over into things being harder for her. But when she’d tell me that something in the apartment wasn’t set up like she needed I could help change it. That’s very much how I feel about systemic racism, I know it’s bad, I want to change it, I can’t always imagine what the things that need to change are, until someone like you stands up and says something.
And I’m sorry because it’s not fair that my ancestors did awful things and you’re doing the emotional work showing up and speaking, and I promise (whether I’m elected or not) to listen and to go away and think deeply about what is said, and then to try and put practical policies in place to reflect the needs, and feelings, and experiences of groups that don’t have the privilege I do.
August 14, 2020 at 11:02 am MDT #195402
The Cheif Returning Officer will be updating the candidates’ locations to reflect the traditional territories we are in, we’ve all received an email from her about this asking us to provide this information. We all have until the 17th to get that to her and the website should be updated soon after.
Thanks again for bringing this up,
August 15, 2020 at 12:03 pm MDT #195404AlmigdadEldomaParticipant
The suggestions that have been made to the Chief Returning Officer is absolutely is in the right direction. These types of changes make it more comfortable for all fellow students to get more active in AU. So I would like to thank everyone for participating. Reading my fellow candidate’s story, about how they helped their roommate was inspiring. The level of empathy for others is truly heartwarming, and nothing less than great compassion for others.
Where I must disagree is your view on race as a disability. I don’t want other students to see their differences in race or background as a handicap to the world. In the contrary, all our differences in backgrounds are superpowers. I see systemic racism as a blindfold put on us since birth, and forced to be kept on by colonial powers. Even the thought of seeing the world without one, was punishable by force. My fellow candidates, you don’t not need to apologize for your ancestor’s actions, you did nothing wrong. The past is filled with awful actions done by humanity. Recognizing now that they were awful actions not successes is what I believe we need more training on.
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