Lessons Learned from CSSE 2021
This year’s CSSE 2021 has been a challenging one. Not only were we to work through a global pandemic, which meant we could not enjoy the usual in-person conversations that make CSSE the great opportunity that it usually is, but we also met in the shadow of violent conflicts in many parts of the world, the aftermath of racial violence in North America, and the terrible news of 215 bodies of children found at the Kamloops residential school. For scholars working in education, these events shape the very nature of our work, and must take center stage in our research, teaching, and other aspects of our scholarly work.
Presenters at CSSE 2021 commented meaningfully and thoughtfully on colonization, racism, and violence, and their relationship to education. These contributions were diverse and thought provoking. Vicenth Sen, for example, shared his observation of higher education in post-colonial Cambodia, where the English language is perceived as a currency, and where traditional ideas around the role of education changed to accommodate neo-liberal notions of capitalist accumulation of wealth and status. In a different talk, Shamiga Arumuhatas opened my mind to a rethinking of what otherness is in education, as she showed, rather convincingly, that our understanding of what it means to be an “international student” is very much locked within a North American system of higher education. However, Arumuhatas argued, international students exist elsewhere as well, and the meaning of the term changes from one place to the other according to the social and political context in which a student finds themselves. Thus, she argued, we must amend our understanding of the experience of being an international student, and open up this definition to include experiences beyond North American campuses.
And yet, for me personally, the most meaningful moment of CSSE 2021 belongs to the generous contribution by Elder Saa’kokoto (Randy) Bottle of the Kaikai Nation, who taught listeners about indigenous pedagogy, the indigenous conceptualization of learning as survival, and the importance of respect within learning spaces. His emphasis on respecting our students and our teachers, and entering into learning environments with respect, has highlighted gaps within existing structures of education, and even the very conference we attended, and gave a strong example of the importance of including indigenous perspectives in all conversations on education, curriculum, and pedagogy.
Elder Saa’akokoto Bottle’s words echoed with me due to the unique circumstances of this year’s conference. As the Black Canadian Studies Association refused to participate in this year’s Congress, CSSE has taken preliminary steps of solidarity and started conversations around how we as an association can better serve the needs of our members and make sure that our scholarly spaces are diverse, inclusive, and thoughtful in our engagements with one another. The recent surge of racist violence in North America, and the important protest that we have seen in this year’s Congress, clearly demonstrate the importance of respect, in the deepest sense of the word, within academic spaces. These teachings remind us of the work that we must do, and of the solidarity that we must not only declare, but act on, every day.