Thursday, January 28, 2010

Aboriginal Initiatives Jan 27 discussion group summary

Bob Cowin facilitated our first face-to-face discussion on the strategic theme of Aboriginal Initiatives, yesterday at David Lam. He provides this summary of the discussion. Please feel free to comment on what you read here.

If you missed this discussion on Aboriginal Initiatives, there will be another opportunity on Monday, February 8, 4:15-6pm, at New West. RSVP online. --Scott

Learner Pathways discussion group summary - from Bob Cowin, Director of Institutional Research

I came to this session quite unclear and overwhelmed about all the things Douglas College could or should be doing with regard to the aboriginal community. While I remained overwhelmed and unclear, I left feeling rather more optimistic. Perhaps modest, Douglas nevertheless has some strengths on which to build. There's movement, and it's looking positive.

I arrived with some awareness of the Aboriginal Services Office, the new Gathering Place that will soon be constructed on the fourth floor roof, and the aboriginal stream of the Child and Youth Care program. I hadn't appreciated the extent, though, to which individual faculty members in a variety of disciplines have been working with aboriginal students and bringing indigenous content into their curriculum.

I don't want to minimize the challenges. We heard about stereotypes and racism. Students need to be supported without being coddled. Some come with a sense of entitlement, while other have low self esteem and just want to hide. Resources are inadequate and even just having a presence of the Aboriginal Services Office at the Lam campus is tough. Nevertheless, internal relationships at Douglas on aboriginal matters are perceived to be good, characterized by open communication and buy-in.

Much of the discussion focused on students' transition into Douglas College, but the importance of the transition out, including transfer to other institutions, was also mentioned. In terms of reaching out to urban aboriginal youth, Douglas has the potential to have a greater impact than SFU or UBC.

The group was interested in learning about initiatives at other institutions - let's not reinvent the wheel - but cautious about simply importing ideas and implementing them without considering Douglas' particular context. It's a delicate balance between being supportive and well intentioned and yet not stigmatizing students.

Students are of course individuals, but this discussion reminded me of the importance of students' broader community and culture. When its educators are simultaneously hard headed and compassionate, mindful of how students learn and not just what they learn, I think Douglas College is at its best. Somehow through all the discussion of problems, and details, and options, there was an undergirding humanity and seeking of wholeness that I value.

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What do you think? We welcome your comments on the Aboriginal Initiatives discussion.

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