A reflection on the strike

Photo Credit:  (CC) Annie Spratt

In last week’s enlightening article written in The Walrus, “Ontario College Educators are on Strike for their students”, a quote was referenced from famous philosopher Nietzsche “When fighting ugly things, it is essential to run out into the sunshine as often as possible”   This resonated with me and I started reflecting, as over the course of this college strike especially in the last few days and hours given we are now at back to work legislation. In addition to walking the picket lines, attending rallys, e-picketing, writing for our local blog and maintaining as much normalcy as I could through the chaos, I also spent time reflecting, reminiscing and longing to be inspired by our administrators.  I love working in a student learning environment partly due to being a life-long learner myself as I suspect most of my colleagues are, as well as being able to witness the ‘carpe diem’ spirit of the student learning experience which deeply motivates me to do the work I do with commitment, passion and drive.

Equally important however, is working for leadership that inspires me.  I have been inspired by some in the college system, many of whom visited on the picket line and where I had the usual genuine and respectful interactions to which I honour and cherish.  Sadly, I have learned over the years to reach outside of the college system to inspire my daily work as a college faculty member.  This is no longer a choice but a necessity or else my commitment and drive to working with students would suffer immensely. During the strike, I also reflected back to my previous employer over 10 years ago.  Since I left, the Executive Director, went on to win the Ontario Newcomer Champion Award, given to those who promote Ontario’s diversity and creating welcoming communities. 

This news warmed my soul, as his genuineness, personal and professional integrity is ingrained in my mind, as I reminisced the years of standing side by side with him in various events.  Whether it was being cheered on by the yearly CN Tower Climb for the United Way, the countless fundraisers, Holiday Gala’s or the trainings in the Anti-Racism, Education and Training Team, I knew he “talked the talk and walked the walk”.   Meanwhile through our historic longest college strike in Ontario’s history, diversity was hurt at its core with International students being credited as being one of the most negatively impacted groups. Yet, International students are currently one of the biggest revenues to the college system. 

To this day, I haven’t heard of – or maybe I’m not aware of – the type of initiatives from our administrators in creating, developing or learning from other models/systems in society that actually “help” International students in their immense transition process to this new country.  This comes in many forms whether it’s adjusting to the learning and physical environment or the challenge of adjusting to English as a second language or to a differing education system.  I’ve heard of the “superficial” changes but isn’t helping the transition process during one’s education the type of macro interventions administrators are paid to research, create and implement?  I would do it but my role as a front-line worker is to work directly with students.

What I do know the administrators are proud as they are winning accolades for their business model in attracting and recruiting international students.  I am speculating, but I do wonder how many of them are helping in creating a ‘truly’ welcoming community that discusses the hardship and nuances of the transition process. It is time the government sees the current state of affairs that the college system has been primarily focused on: the business of recruiting the learner, and not on the social development of the learner. 

Post-secondary is the environment for social change as many of our learners are at a developmental milestone in their youth or in their lives. This is the environment where learners use their critical thinking, creative and interpersonal skills in addition to learning their field of study.  One could argue learners are becoming better citizens of the world and therefore the principles of equality, justice, fairness, inclusivity and ethics apply. We saw very clearly with the strike that students understood the issues we were promoting and representing. I’ve always envisioned post-secondary education to be the place where these principles are taught, applied and experienced, and thus need to be inherently proactive in their measures and policies.

Instead the colleges has been primarily reactive where it needs to be told by government: to institute a college wide sexual violence prevention protocol, implement more Indigenous practices and education, create gender neutral washrooms and have a college wide mental health strategy.  At its deepest level, this is also the spirit of academic freedom that college faculty talk about, as many of us have long tried to be proactive with no success unless things are legislated. 

Where did the administrators, with the open minds, inclusive and creative energy all while being proactive and encouraging our learners to become the leaders of tomorrow go?   More importantly how do we lead by example, when we cannot seem to agree on having these kinds of principles such as academic freedom properly explicated and enshrined in our collective bargaining agreement in a respectful manner?  We deserve more than tokenism as much as our students do, or else the “disconnect” will continue to pervade and dissolve the education system and the environment that is important to sustain the learning process in all of its forms.

So let’s stop the divide, and walk the walk together with both personal and professional integrity. Let’s agree to work together, share our knowledge, professional practices and ideas about being proactive while providing students the best learning experience so they can become informed empowered leaders in their professions.