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By Karine Coen-Sanchez -PhD Candidate 

Following a successful series of workshops that focused on unpacking and dismantling systematic barriers, whilst placing the knowledge of BIPOC students on the frontline, we engaged in enriched discussions about race, historical trauma, and social differences, while centering the process of advocacy and deconstructing centuries of western education.  Five workshops were administered during the winter session, 20 students registered. There was a high level of student engagements during each workshops.  

There is an urgent need to learn about Canadian history and racial justice. In this space, we covered the rich work of Indigenous educators and racialized pioneers that guided the content and informed our pedagogical approach. The analysis of racial issues in Canada and elsewhere, allowed BIPOC students to strengthen their social positionality within their academic communities. Following the workshops – a voluntary satisfaction survey was provided for all students to complete. One respondent, mentioned: “I really enjoyed having multiple facilitators, especially the dynamic between Karine and Joseph during the first session.” Another student particularly enjoyed the unfiltered knowledge, and the ‘safe space’, subsequently they mentioned “I found that it was helpful to see how we don’t all agree on the topics discussed either, and that allows for more dialogue and to learn how to engage in discussions in my future classes as well.”  

One aspect that must be highlighted is the connection between the instructors and the students, for instance, one student stated: “I often feel like I am expected to speak up in class when students make overtly racist statements – not only as a racialized student but as a student in general. I am unprepared to engage in productive dialogues in classes where professors are not trained as facilitators for discussions that can evoke high conflict situations.” Hence, the urgency for such program. I am also working on developing a workshop that will be administered during the summer/spring session 2024 that will focus on “training the trainer” Part of what students’ found helpful in these workshops was the space to begin learning how to better respond to discussions in classroom and how to best proceed with their thoughts and expressions. Training the trainer will cover all aspect of ‘safe space’ in the classroom and how to properly engage with students in linear types of conversation, learning will be based on exchange of knowledge to reproduce new knowledge.  

To continuously execute these conversations successfully, we require longevity and consistency in the form of support. We would like to continue partnering with OPIRG Ottawa. We ask OPIRG to continue supporting this project for the Fall, Winter, and Summer sessions (2023-2024), in the forms of advertisement, and finance among BIPOC university students and professors. We will extend to include all students in the near future.  

We believe these conversations will help the university to unpack and deconstruct centuries of whiteness, creating a new normal where “others” are counting equally. It is not about making space for inclusion, it is about a new baseline where all races, cultures, and pieces of knowledge are equally treated. In sum, the organizers of these conversations aspire to generate interest in decolonizing academic institutions. 

 Workshop titles: 

  1.  What is Race? In this workshop, we provide a brief introduction to the concept of race and its history. In doing so, we examine present-day racism and how it bears similarities to its roots.  
  1. Introduction to Intersectionality. Intersectionality has become one of the latest buzzwords, but what does it mean? In this workshop, we introduce the concept of intersectionality and review the scholars that first advocated for it. 
  1. Race and Sexuality: This session is concerned with the intersection of race and another factor of identity, namely sexuality. Theories that address this confluence, and other contexts outside of Canada (Iran and the Middle East) explore the social and historical consequences of the intersection of race, power, geopolitics, and sexuality. 
  1. Decolonizing Education: Drawing on the works of BIPOC scholars, we highlight the importance of their contributions. Moreover, we examine the need for decolonized education.  
  1.  The Many Forms of Racism. In this workshop, we explore the many ways racism manifests itself. We look at the differences between systemic, systematic, explicit, and implicit racism. 
  1. Environmental Racism. In our final workshop, we take a sociological and anthropological approach to explore how communities of people of colour are impacted disproportionately by environmental concerns like pollution and water scarcity. Using present-day examples, we analyze and discuss the reasons behind this phenomenon. 
  1.  Training the trainer: Content to be determined