September has been a busy month as we begin a new academic year in the midst of a global pandemic. We’ve been preparing, bracing, and breathing in advance of the Fall semester and now it is upon us.
Are we ready? A recent Insider Ed article indicates that the professoriate has put in the work: in a US study, 80% of university instructors said they had participated in professional development for digital learning to prepare for this fall.
Preparation has been animated by diverse responses to these disruptions; some professors have reported frustration, fatigue, disorientation, hope, excitement (sometimes in the same day!).
How do we respond to these pressures with critical hope?
Hope requires that we become comfortable with the difficulty of knowing—in order to move forward, into the future, into the unknown. Hope is fuelled by values—of integrity, of ethical and moral responsibility, of citizenship and engagement. We go into teaching and scholarly work because we believe (even if we haven’t articulated it to ourselves fully) that development, improvement, transformation are all possible when we are engaged in nurturing an insatiable intellectual curiosity, in ourselves and in young people.
Teaching is an exercise in hope: you must live in a world where you cannot see the impact you might have in some distant future you might never access—and do it anyway.
Exercising the hope muscle keeps us on that optimistic course, even when we might see plenty of evidence that things don’t work or don’t work as quickly as we would like. Learners and learning are not metaphors for hope, but, rather, hope embodied, hope on the move, hope as an agent, a method of acting and a way of seeing. In other words, Ira Shor says “The hopeful challenging the actual in the name of the possible” (Shor 3).
Arundhati Roy’s article in The Financial Times (April 3, 2020) gives us the impetus to exercise our critical hope muscles as we imagine a new post-COVID world:
Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it
The world we are ready to fight for is one that is more inclusive, just, and equitable. You will note in the September report that we’ve highlighted recent Maple League programming related to equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging: this complex, messy and difficult work to dismantle systems of oppression and exclusion must propel us through Roy’s “pandemic portal.”
1. PROGRAMMING: The Maple League’s summer programming has been focused on anti-racism in academic spaces. We hosted four webinars with topics that included discussions on anti-Black racism, practicing anti-racism in academic and community spaces, and decolonization. These webinars reached over 250 stakeholders across the four universities.
2. STRATEGIC VISIONING: We engaged in EDI strategic visioning in August with the help and guidance of Tari Ajadi, Maple League Visiting Scholar, and a Ph.D. candidate at Dalhousie University working on Black activism and coalition-building across Canada.
3. BOOK CLUB: In the Fall term we are hosting an inter-institutional book club focusing on anti-racist pedagogy across the four campuses and beyond. The book selected is So you want to talk about Race?by Ijeoma Oluo. Over 40 participants are engaging in identity work and sense-making of racism in their own lives and communities.
4. CALLS TO ACTION: The MLTLC co-designed a BLM Statement and calls to action which will be rolled out over the Fall semester. We are also committed to amplifying Lara Hartman’s calls to action for decolonizing the consortium.
5. STUDENT PARTNERS & AMPLIFYING STUDENT VOICES: Hiring Student Fellows for anti-racist, decolonizing, and belonging initiatives. Lara Hartman (Acadia University) is a Maple League Indigenous Student Fellow; Tanisha Campbell (Bishop’s University) is Maple League Student Fellow for Knowledge Mobilization, working on increasing representation on HIPs for BIPOC; we are currently in the process of hiring a Maple League Student Fellow to support the MLTLC.
6. SHARED EVENTS: The global pandemic has in some ways given us an opportunity to connect in virtual spaces that would not be as easy to connect in person. Two such events will shift into digital platforms to engage our communities in important conversations about EDI: 1. October 4 Sisters in Spirit event hosted by Acadia and shared across the ML; 2. A Maple League Racial Justice Symposium hosted by Mount Allison (Ivan Okello and Adam Christie) in November 2020.
7. AFFINITY GROUPS: As we transition into our Fall programming with a dual focus on faculty/staff and students, we are hosting affinity group meetings (Tatum, 2019; Pour-Khorshid, 2018; Blitz & Kohl, 2012) for first-generation students, Indigenous students, and BIPOC students to meet and build community across our four institutions.
8. CONNECTIONS: We have connected the chairs of the EDI Task Forces on each of the four campuses to explore possible collaborations and share upcoming events like the October 4th Sisters in Spirit event (Acadia) and the Racial Justice Symposium (Mount Allison).
As always, I am inspired, heartened, and humbled by colleagues across the Maple League who are doing the difficult work of critical hope. Learning is embodied hope. It happens in time. It happens in places and spaces to people. “We never are what we are,” John D. Caputo writes, “something different is always possible” (Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics 35). As we go through this process, making space for the act of becoming, the act of transformation, will be key, so that we might – even in a shaky voice – say, “I am willing to be different in five minutes, or 13 weeks or four years from what I am now.” This is a tremendous act of courage.
— Dr. Jessica Riddell, Executive Director, Maple League of Universities