Academic language is ever-evolving; within the realms of diversity and inclusion research, the term minoritized has gained popularity in recent years to describe marginalized groups within society. While proponents see this as a way to recognize dominant power structures and mechanisms that serve to maintain existing racial dynamics, critics see it as violent and disempowering. These are sensitive issues that are incredibly complex to navigate. As an immigrant and New Canadian myself, it has led me to ponder over the following:
What are the forces that lead to the widespread acceptance of a descriptor? Is it possible that language aimed at addressing inequity has a role in maintaining it by reinforcing deficit assumptions and stereotypes? Furthermore, who gets a say in how groups are described? Do we have individual agency to embrace or reject these labels? Are there alternative community-centered approaches available to develop better categorization frameworks?
While there are no simple answers to these questions, I hope that academics (and others) involved with these topics review critical discourse when engaging in dialogue that delves into these issues.
I was reflecting on a personal experience today; a few weeks ago, I was informed about a potential job opportunity by a recruiter that was later offered to another candidate. While I wasn’t actively looking for roles at the time, the experience was an emotional whirlwind that got me thinking about the tumultuous journey from university or graduate school to the workforce.
This graphic accurately represents the job search cycle; while this focuses on workers that have been made redundant, it can be applied to recent graduates looking for roles as well.
It made me think about how universities might approach preparing students for the emotional toll of job-hunting and the ups and downs that come with the process.
What could support look like?
Let’s look towards the entrepreneurship space for inspiration. Whether it’s the “fail fast” mentality adopted by the Lean Startup methodology, or the recognition of the normality of rejection, the industry is known to encourage risk-taking, resilience and experimentation.
I would advocate for workshops and mentoring sessions that bring these principles to the job hunt, and encourage applicants to build determination, grit and resilience to get through the process, especially in the high-stress atmosphere brought on by the current pandemic.
We are living in a time of sensory overload; with multiple sources of information, news and data, it has become more important than ever for the average citizen to develop sharp critical thinking skills to filter through this content. This is especially relevant when diving into the realm of opinion pieces, social commentary and debates on polarizing issues, where veracity and intent become key to understanding the overarching themes and potential agendas involved.
In the context of higher education, these concepts lead to a multitude of questions:
Should universities and colleges play an active role in bridging these divides?
How might critical thinking be assessed in the context of this increasingly polarized spectrum of ideas?
How might students that stand on opposing ideological grounds respectfully engage with one another in the same classroom environment?
These are complex issues to which I don’t have an immediate solution; my past experience (or ‘reality tunnel’ if you will) gives me the feeling that we need to create more opportunities for exposure to different people/places/ideas/narratives to broaden the tunnel and develop capacities for perspective sharing and consensus. Using the design thinking lens, I believe empathy is the first step to begin these conversations that can hopefully lead us to a common ground.
How should universities change to adapt to the learning needs of the 21st century?
Since starting my MEd in Higher Education, I’ve begun to adopt a systems-driven lens to understand universities and the forces that drive or impede change. The concept of isomorphism comes from the field of sociology, and looks at the forces that drive organizations to be similar to one another in process or structure. There are three main types: coercive (external pressure from laws, regulations, social norms or customer expectations), mimetic (imitating best practices of successful organizations, in this case, top-tier universities) and normative (internal pressure from groups ‘within the ivory tower’).
Universities are in the unfortunate position of being susceptible to all three types of isomorphism. When we think about adaptation and change, we need to look at evolving systems in and around universities as well. This could include international ranking systems, quality assurance and accreditation mechanisms, faculty employment and tenure, student (and parent) expectations surrounding higher education and relationships with corporate/industry leaders.
The question remains: how can universities work against these forces to differentiate and offer programming that truly meets student needs, and perhaps more importantly, keeps them engaged? With the rise of alternative education (think MOOCs, interdisciplinary degrees, open universities), figuring this one out becomes more important than ever.
Putting my design hat on, I think the concept of prototyping could perhaps be helpful; small experiments that are documented and evaluated by stakeholders could break through isomorphic patterns and start to bring about changes to programs, curricula and institutional structures.
I like this graph by Alexander Osterwalder that documents the increased complexity of a prototypes as success builds over time:
While this is rooted in the business context, something similar could potentially apply to the higher ed environment.