In 2015, I began taking undergraduate classes at UNBC. As a returning mature student and single mother, I carried a lot of doubt with me through that first year of classes. What could I possibly contribute to academia? Intellectuals, experts, and specialists surrounded me, and I felt myself to be an outsider and a fake (I later learned the term “imposter syndrome” that is used to label such feelings). My plan was to get a degree, and then apply to the teaching college to become a high school teacher. In my second year, my confidence grew and I began to attend campus talks, panels and discussions, and to learn from and connect more with the academic community. In my third year, I took the time to get involved in clubs, and volunteer with the amazing series Inspiring Women Among Us (IWAU). It was then that I realised I had so much more to experience at UNBC than just classes, and that my life experiences had taken on different meanings and value, in terms of what I could contribute to campus life.
IWAU is a series of events developed and hosted by a dedicated team of organisers and volunteers trying to change the ways we experience gender relations. IWAU draws attention to forms of oppression related to gender, class, and racial discrimination, and encourages participants to work towards better alternatives. One original, and still core goal of IWAU, is to raise awareness of the Montreal massacre, and to encourage attendance at the annual ceremony held at UNBC in remembrance of that day, in conjunction with the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
IWAU works to disrupt patriarchal and Western narratives and worldviews by highlighting contributions of women and those of others who are often overlooked or under appreciated. IWAU organisers utilise feminist theories and activism to inform the series of events, and try to keep it accessible, inclusive, and affordable.
After volunteering with IWAU, I was inspired (pun intended!) to seek funding with IWAU organisers Drs. Zoë Meletis and Annie Booth, and student Ashley Riceman, through the Undergraduate Research Experience (URE) award. We were successful, and with a small grant each, we continued working with IWAU and analysing data from feedback forms collected during the 2017 series. This led to an ongoing relationship of mentoring, extra-classroom learning, and thinking about roles IWAU plays. I wanted to know more about the effects that IWAU might be having on UNBC and Prince George as a community. As part of my explorations, I even got to travel to and present at a national conference in Montreal!
As part of the URE, I had entered a new rabbit hole of research unfamiliar to me – the literature on public pedagogy. Public pedagogy has a broad definition, that acts as an umbrella term to encompass any format or process of teaching and/or learning outside of formal education sites such as schools and universities. According to Sandlin, O’Malley, and Burdick’s article in the third issue of 2011 in Review of Educational Systems, public pedagogy can occur at formal sites such as museums, memorials, and historic sites, and can also occur via arts and cultural presentations and performances. Public pedagogy has a long history, with the term first appearing in the literature in 1894. Since then, the term has been used frequently yet ambiguously, all too often without clear context or description. Helpfully, Sandlin et al. break the concept of public pedagogy into the following five areas: citizenship within and beyond schools, popular culture and everyday life, informal institutions and public spaces, dominant cultural discourses, and public intellectualism and social activism. This helps to clarify where and how public pedagogy can take place.
The reason I became interested in public pedagogy, once I came to know the term, was that participating in IWAU events had led me to think about IWAU’s role as an informal institution. I was wondering if or how it disrupts dominant cultural discourses, and also thinking about how it facilitates social activism – particularly feminism.
In the course of my research, I encountered several powerful articles that describe public pedagogy type processes and applications that I see in IWAU programming. For example, in their 2016 article from issue three of International Journal of Inclusive Education, Quayle, Sonn, and Kasat discuss “counter storytelling” as a means to disrupt residual coloniality, which “is maintained alive in books, in the criteria for academic performance, in cultural patterns, in common sense, in the self-image of peoples, in aspirations of self, and so many other aspects of our modern experience.” This brought to mind Dr. Maydianne Andrade’s presentation on unconscious bias and career progression during IWAU 2017. She combined data with personal storytelling and admissions, and delivered powerful messages about the biases we may harbour, in a non-judgemental way. Andrade’s approach moved beyond critiquing existing practices, and focused attention on personal and professional change, societal betterment, and improved social citizenship.
When we seek out educational opportunities, push beyond our comfort zones, and allow our traditional mindsets (often unconsciously controlled though “residual coloniality”) we can affect change within our personal and professional social spheres, not just here at UNBC, but both within and beyond Prince George.
While I suspected it at first, my research explorations further lead me to believe that IWAU is a vehicle for positive change, and we have easy roles to play in this – all we need to do is show up! So, please consider selecting IWAU events that interest you or better yet challenge you (our complete schedule will be out soon!). Alternatively, speak with your professors and ask them to acknowledge a powerful and inspiring woman in their field that could be included in a class lecture during IWAU celebrations! Most importantly, be open, show up and listen responsibly, and carry IWAU experiences with you, to see where they’ll take you next.
IWAU’s theme this year is “Women, Leadership & Power,” and events run from November 14 to 21, culminating in the memorial service that acknowledges gender-based violence, the Montreal Massacre, and the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women (11:30 am, Nov. 21, in the Wintergarden). Watch our webpage, unbc.ca/inspiring-women, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter (@IWAU_Events), and keep some space open in your calendar to stretch your learning sphere from textbooks and lectures to the public pedagogy of community, stories, mentorship, art, and culture. Come and celebrate some of our inspiring women! All genders welcome!