Summer Institute provided a forum for powerful conversations on how to disrupt and dismantle the barriers to education

The Faculty of Education at York University in partnership with the Réseau de Savoir sur l’Équité / Equity Knowledge Network (RSEKN) hosted its annual Summer Institute (FESI 2019) August 21 – 22 at York University’s Keel campus. Over 250 participants attended the annual event which explored the theme “Dismantling the Barriers to Education”. Workshops were conducted in English and French following a bilingual keynote panel.

Educators, community partners, youth, parents, students, policy makers and researchers from across the GTA and beyond, gathered to explore the many dominant beliefs, policies and practices that have created historical and present barriers to student access, engagement, achievement and well-being.

Faculty of Education professor and Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora Carl James commented on the importance and timeliness of FESI 2019. “On the weekend before the Summer Institute, I participated in a workshop with school administrators from Ottawa discussing how as white administrators they might work to address racism,” said James. “I brought the conversation that we had from that session to the FESI at York where teachers, youth workers, policymakers, teacher candidates, students and others engaged in discussions on how we might work to dismantle barriers to education for Indigenous, racialized students and others."

FESI 2019 opened with a welcome from Dean Lyndon Martin followed by a Land Acknowledgement and traditional smudging ceremony by Knowledge Keeper Amy Desjarlais. The morning session continued with a keynote panel that responded to the question - What is the past and present history of colonial education in Canada? What long-held educational beliefs, policies and practices serve as barriers to access, opportunities and outcomes for Indigenous, racialized and marginalized students? Panellists Jeewan Chanicka (Superintendent Equity, Anti-Racism & Anti-Oppression, Toronto District School Board), Natasha Henry (President, Ontario Black History Society), Jhonel Morvan (Education Officer, Ontario Ministry of Education) and Nicholas Ng-A-Fook (Director of Indigenous Education, University of Ottawa), presented a number of unique perspectives about how to deconstruct the historical contexts that have perpetuated barriers for marginalized student groups.

During the afternoon session, keynote speaker Rania El Mugammar gave an amazing presentation exploring themes of identity, womanhood, Blackness, flight, exile, migration, belonging, gender, and sexuality to talk about oppression and anti-racism education.  A multidisciplinary performer, speaker and published writer, Rania explored the intersections of anti-black racism and Islamaphobia in a Canadian context, and challenged the representation of Muslim communities across Canada to deliver her message of decolonization and freedom.

Rania El Mugammar

The day ended with a keynote panel of district school board leaders made up of Cecil Roach (Coordinating Superintendent, Equity and Community Services, York Region District School Board), Jim Spyropoulos (Executive Superintendent of Equity, Engagement and Well-Being, Toronto District School Board), Jhonel Morvan (Education Officer, Ontario Ministry of Education), Mohamed Hamid (Superintendent of Education, Durham District School Board ), Poleen Grewal (Associated Director of Instruction and Equity, Peel District School Board) and moderator Jack Nigro (Superintendent of Indigenous Education and Equity, Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board). The panel discussed some of the most pressing issues faced by their respective school boards around equity including colleting identity- based data, belonging, accountability and dealing with persisting opportunity and achievement gaps that exist for students who have been historically marginalized.

Day two of the conference began with a screening of the film This is Not a Resilience Story (https://youtu.be/7wkh1sxKGxI), a documentary centered on problematizing ideas and practices around student and youth voice and leadership. The film highlighted the experiences of students, teachers and community partners by presenting 5 myths that problematize how we approach student voice; the myth of neutrality, the myth that we can create safe spaces for all students at all times, the myth of youth as passive agents in their learning and their lives; the myth that pain has no place in learning spaces, and the myth that we can address youth voice without addressing adult voice.

The film screening was followed by one of the major highlights of FESI 2019, a panel presentation by the Lorne Park Diversity Council (Peel District School Board). The diverse group of secondary students shared their lived experiences with racism, classism and homophobia at school, and the effects that these experiences have had on their learning. The students spoke about how their work can translate into changing systems of inequality in postsecondary education.

“I welcomed the opportunity to work with Ms. Monika DeSouza and the students from Lorne Park S.S. to further the conversation about the schooling experiences of Black students,” said Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora Carl James.  “This group of students have demonstrated their creative skills, competence and ingenuity in gathering data and engaging us in conversation so that we understand through their insights the effects of racism on Black students, and how everyone, including teachers and students are implicated in racism. It is systemic not merely individual or personal.”

Another highlight of this year’s conference was the ongoing commitment to center the experiences and voices of French speakers and facilitators that offered unique perspectives about the realities of marginalized Francophone and French as a Second a Language (FSL) community members.

The French Conference’s theme: Défaire pour refaire: bâtir une action communautaire, focused on ways that various partners (teachers, students, parents and administrators) can deepen their understanding of some of the key issues that currently impact marginalized youth and their families within French and English school boards and Francophone communities.

“Workshop topics were far reaching. Some explored LGBTQ+ realities and others challenged traditional curriculum views of what literacy instruction should look like by offering French Hip Hop as the basis for exploration,” said FESI co-chair and French as a Second Language course director Cécile Robertson. “Islamophobia and the implementation of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy within teaching practices rooted in the philosophy of CECRL (Cadre Européen de référence pour les langues) were also important topics that allowed discussions about student identity, families and community. Our Francophone parent panel also offered the unique point of views of racialized youth and their families within the wider context of systemic barriers.”

“The structure of FESI itself challenges the ‘canon’ of knowledge that is legitimated by ‘educational experts’, usually in bodies that afford them greater privilege or often sharing ideas that perpetuate oppression and injustice,” said professor and FESI planning committee member Vidya Shah.  “FESI is a conference that we build together to share knowledges as educators with varied experiences and expertise who share common goals about critical, equitable approaches to education. We look forward to building with you again, as we begin thinking about FESI 2020.”